Ciara Stockeland has startup life in her blood. Not only is she a third generation entrepreneur, but she started young. At the age of 13 she created an acting company for other homeschooled students just like her. That fun little project turned into a full-time theater company that offered drama lessons and acting opportunities to students from ages kindergarten through college.
By the time I catch up with her, the 37-year-old still has the startup bug and has taken it to a whole new level. As Founder and COO of MODE, Stockeland took the boutique concept and applied it to a designer outlet, successfully creating a franchise with 12 locations and growing. Her all-female team has their eyes set on new heights as they plan to open six stores in 2016 and have 75 open stores by 2024. They are targeting states in the Midwest and from North Dakota down to Texas along the I-29 corridor.
Earlier this month Stockeland testified on Capitol Hill about issues facing the franchise industry. She believes wholeheartedly in the benefits and opportunities franchises can offer women. “Franchising is such a unique model because it allows women to start their business with the blueprint I didn’t have. Every decision, every road, every step I have taken has been mapped out by myself. I have made many costly mistakes along the way. As a franchisee you can bypass that stress and open your business with a proven model for success. That is so exciting!” Stockeland said.
She continued, “I started by testifying before the U.S. Senate HELP committee on Tuesday, Oct. 4 about an issue facing the franchise industry. On Wednesday I was invited to attend the White House Summit on the Worker Voice. It was an amazing experience to spend a full day at the White House with the President, Vice President, Secretary of Labor; meeting other professionals and participating in a day talking about job creation.”
Stockeland is proud that her team is comprised of women. She said some come from corporate America and some started with her in college and worked their way up. “Ninety percent of my franchisees are women and all my franchisees’ employees are women. Again, creating franchisees that don’t want to just ‘own a store’ but instead have a desire to be leaders in their communities,” she explained.
Starting was no easy feat. Stockeland founded MODE in 2007 with the help of her husband Jim and a small conventional loan. Two of the things she ascribes to her success was the ability to pivot when things weren’t working and finding a mentor.
“I have always had a big vision for MODE. I did not just want a hobby. I wanted to build a brand. I cannot even count how many times people said ‘you will never do that’ or ‘that will never happen.’ But I always take that and turn it into a fire in my belly to move forward, to grow and to achieve the success I know I can,” Stockeland said. “I found tremendous value in mentorship, and to this day am a huge proponent of mentorship. The biggest challenges I faced were made smaller when I could go to my mentors and ask for advice and guidance.”
Stockeland found a mentor at her local SCORE chapter the day before she launched and continues to be a strong supporter of the organization. This year MODE won the National SCORE Outstanding Franchise Small Business award. She has brought that same level of mentorship to the MODE franchise. “We have internal mentorship programs at MODE as well. We connect our franchisees with mentors from other franchise industries so that they can work one-on-one with a mentor peer.”
When asked how she manages to juggle her company with the demands of family – Stockeland and Jim are parents of two children – she said she often thinks of a statement she once heard: “Prioritize what’s eternal.”
“This filter helps me turn off work at the end of the work day. It helps me put work aside on Sundays to focus on my children. It is the statement that has helped me make a routine of turning work off (for the most part) every evening at 8:30 when the kids are in bed so that I can spend an hour with my husband,” she said. “My success and my brand is not eternal. But my family relationships ARE eternal. I work to prioritize my work/family to that end.”
What advice would she give to her fellow sister entrepreneurs? “Be prepared to be agile and adjust the sails when needed. If I would have stuck to my initial concept idea, I would not have a successful 12 stores. I had to be willing to listen to what the consumer wanted and adjust accordingly.”
We couldn’t get enough of Stockeland, so we asked her to stick around and tell us what motivates her and what it takes to build a sustainable business. Come back tomorrow to learn what keeps this successful Lioness fired up.