Kacee Colter began her franchise career in 1991 owning and operating units of The Body Shop and Baja Fresh brands. Kacee is currently a managing partner at Adventure Investments Group, LLC, which started as a franchisee nine years ago with the FiRE+iCE restaurant, Anaheim location. They acquired the South Lake Tahoe store, the franchise company, trademarks, and recently the brand’s flagship restaurant in Boston . Better Way Franchise Group, who has partnered with FiRE+iCE, announced in July 2018 the launch of a nationwide franchise program to expand the concept.
- How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I was 10-years-old, I was the first girl in Palos Verdes, CA to have a paper route. I was an entrepreneur at heart and was always thinking of new business ideas. While attending college at the University of Southern California, I opened a small import/export business. In my late twenties, I bought my first franchise. All of these experiences, including my time in the corporate world, provided me with a wealth of experience that I look back on even today. What I hold particularly close are the ones where the people I worked with made the experience a success rather than a lesson learned. What I mean by that – and the overarching message I would like to share – is that making sure you surround yourself with the best people possible is the key to any successful venture.
- How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
Running my small businesses before I got involved in franchising definitely aided in my current role as COO and Managing Partner of FiRE+iCE restaurant. I do have to credit my time spent working in corporate America. I went to work for a Fortune 50 company right out of college and those experiences, as positive and rewarding as they were, made me realize how much I wanted to work for myself. To own and operate my own businesses. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had it not been for trying out different opportunities when they came along. In a way, it helped me define and focus what I really wanted for my professional life.
Another important experience was working in commercial real estate. This taught me a variety of lessons from viewpoints I may not have experienced otherwise. It taught me how to navigate and find balance in a predominantly male profession. At the time, commercial real estate in Los Angeles was largely a “boys club” operation. This was something I recognized but was not particularly bothered or swayed by it. I knew that hard work and perseverance would win in the end, so that is what I set my mind to do. I worked very hard as a challenge to myself, and nobody else, that I could survive in any business environment that I wanted.
Through that hard work, I found out just how ‘driven’ I was to succeed and to continue with my passion of being a business owner. It was during this time, on a business trip that I walked into an up-and-coming hair and skin care product store in New York City and was hit with a wave, and vision, of what I wanted. I was passionate about this story. So, I left New York, returned to southern California and, in 1991, opened my first franchise, The Body Shop.
- What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
The highlight of my job is hands down the people I work with. I get such joy in going to the FiRE+iCE restaurant and connecting with that team. They motivate me, I motivate them, and I strongly believe that much of our success is based on that energy. Of course, I do have my office days that need to be done. That comes with operating a business, but I truly enjoy the days I spend inside the restaurant, around the energy of the staff and the customers. That is the thrill of operating a successful restaurant.
The biggest challenge any business owner needs to overcome is patience. For example, having the patience to know when the right time to expand, or introduce something new is always a test of patience. Instinctually, you want to charge forward or experiment, with a great idea. In the end, patience wins over, and I appreciate the time to listen, calculate and execute. That is a strategy built on patience. Another example is FiRE+iCE. We’ve been working on this restaurant concept for more than nine years, and it took that time for things to fall into place. Having the patience to calculate the right moments gave us the confidence to expand. We have a total of three locations – two of our own stores, (Anaheim and So. Lake Tahoe), we are working on building two new corporate restaurants and launching an aggressive franchise plan.
Another notable challenge is finding the right people to join in your vision, your passion no matter what their role. Each role plays an intricate part in the overall success of any business and finding the right people, with the right attitude and spirit – and keeping the right ones when they come along – is always a challenge. At FiRE+iCE, we’ve worked hard to find and retain the right people, which is demonstrated by a less than 25 percent staff turnover rate. That did not happen overnight but we practiced patience and found the right people and welcomed them to be a part of this experience, which brings all of this together.
- What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Be patient and ‘Go For It’! I think that some women don’t get involved in starting their own businesses because of fear. You can’t be afraid. I hear many say they fear the money side of starting a business. I hear this too many times and it is valid, but you have to overcome that fear. If you have the passion and drive, then you will find a way. I am a firm believer that where there is a will there is a way. Obstacles will get in your way, that is what obstacles are supposed to do, but you must overcome them with pure will, passion and confidence in your vision. When we started my first body shop franchise, we didn’t have lots of money in the bank, but we believed in ourselves and found a way to raise the money we needed. It was the same with Baja Fresh and with FiRE+iCE. We started slow, overcame obstacles, but we remained passionate and committed to our vision. Just put your head down and go, if you have that passion and drive you will find a way to get it done.
- What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Listen, listen, listen. Whether it is listening to your staff, or listening to your customers, you need to listen. Be mindful of the ego trap. This is when your ego takes on everything, and you feel confident that you are doing the right thing for every project, every decision. After a while you find yourself operating a silo. When you recognize that, stop, pull back and get back to listening. Sit back and listen to what your trusted staff is saying. They are on the frontlines and can be a great resource of information. Use that to refocus on the big picture, to check in with yourself. This is especially true with FiRE+iCE and its unique food concept. Because we don’t have a set menu and are constantly adding new foods or ingredients, you have to listen to what those on the frontlines are reporting back and adjust as necessary. Also, don’t forget to listen to your gut. Especially when you are starting out and making a name for yourself. Going back to what I said before, if you are passionate, go for it and listen to your gut when navigating the decisions that will unveil your path forward.
- How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Balance in your life is extremely important. I encourage our staff to take their vacations, take their time off each week and disconnect from the tasks, worries, and stresses of work. The restaurant business can be uniquely consuming, and you can easily let it overcome your every thought and action. With anything you are doing in life, disconnect, create balance, and you will find a much more rewarding experience.
- What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Drawing from the previous question, I think finding that perfect life balance is a big issue for everybody, especially women. You want to be the best businesswoman you can be; you want to be the best mom you can be; you want to be the best partner for your significant other; you want to be the best you for yourself. This can be a big issue for people, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Just breathe, you are not alone in these feelings and thoughts. This brings everything we’ve been discussing here to an exact point. Be patient, lean on the good people you’ve selected as part of this journey, find that balance and enjoy the ride.
- How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
As women, I think we have to lead by example and communicate our successes. This interview and opportunity to share a bit of my story and philosophies is an example of this. For women who are in a position to mentor, or lend advice, please mentor! Make sure your door is open for young women to contact you, to ask advice, to learn from your successes and mistakes. It is also important to help young women entrepreneurs face their fears. As mentioned before, running your own business, or working hard to get ahead is just that, hard work. It won’t be easy but can be very rewarding.
- How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I 100 percent believe in mentors. I have had mentors both personally and professionally my entire life. Each amazing in their own right and I have learned different things from each that has molded me into the woman I am today.
- Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The one who stands out from a professional standpoint was Anita Roddick. She was a British businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner best known as the founder of The Body Shop, which was my first franchise venture. She built over 2000 units globally and was a woman truly ahead of her time. When we purchased our first Body Shop, she was doing things unheard of. This was the late 1970’s and her philosophies ushered in cutting-edge business practices such as no product testing on animals, creating a recycle and refill program for the product bottles, a ‘trade not aid’ program where she was purchasing product from developing countries but making it a rule to pay industrialized-world prices because it was the humanitarian, and right thing, to do. She was an amazing businesswoman, more importantly, an amazing human being and I am so thankful for the time I was able to spend with her. Coming up as a woman entrepreneur, I spent a lot of time in London, with her at speaking engagements, having one-on-one conversations. She inspired me to be a better leader, a better business executive, and a better woman altogether.
- What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
With FiRE+iCE, I would like us to have two solid commitments for corporate stores and to have a franchise partner within the next year. We are working both sides of FiRE+iCE expansion simply because of the responses we’ve seen from our existing stores.
From a personal perspective, I want to continue working on the balances of life we spoke about earlier. I want to enjoy my family, focus on a healthy lifestyle and it wouldn’t hurt to lower my golf handicap. Though not sure if that last one is going to happen.
- What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
- Eliminate fear from getting in your way.
- If you have the will and passion for doing something, then get out there and do it.
- Be patient and surround yourself with good people. People who inspire you and who are inspired by you.