For Cindy Gaston the key to success has proven to be herself. May 10, 2013
Cindy Gaston in her soon-to-open bakery.
Photo by Jon P. Uzzel
Special to the Business Press
For Cindy Gaston the key to success has proven to be herself.
Now, in the midst of opening her third business – a new bakery in Coppell – Gaston has a proven track record. But that wasn’t always the case.
Besides having a sound business plan, one’s personal story is critical to determining whether a lender believes a potential borrower will succeed in a new entrepreneurial endeavor, said Community Bank Vice President Mark Thielke. It was Gaston’s story that convinced Thielke to take a chance on her.
A nursing school graduate and 25-year American Airlines ticket agent, Gaston purchased franchise rights five and a half years ago to a prominent downtown 7-Eleven at Summit Avenue and Seventh Street.
“I saw in the paper that 7-Eleven was going to start franchising,” said the 47-year-old Fort Worth native, who spent her early childhood in a project community in Haltom City with seven brothers. “There was a 7-Eleven downtown, a half-mile from my condo, and there was a sign that said available for franchise. I knew I could do something on my own and work for myself and always believed that everything I did was with the help of God.”
Gaston bought the location and worked 18-hour days for the first year, finally hiring an experienced manager after two years. At the recommendation of 7-Eleven’s market manager, she gradually began to let others help her and gave her employees more
“When you’re new, you don’t know. You just have to keep the business running,” she said.
While seeing an average of 1,500 customers daily, constantly cleaning and restocking, learning the ins and outs of labor laws and how to cope with employees and delegate tasks, Gaston grew revenues from $1.7 million when she acquired the location to $2.4 million today. In 2011, she was ready for a second undertaking – turning a closed Wendy’s restaurant in Azle into an Arby’s franchise.
“I like the franchise business because it’s a turn-key operation,” Gaston said. “They teach you everything and are right there with you as you’re progressing along. They train you to make sure all the employees are where they need to be. You get a lot of support.”
But with zero restaurant experience, Gaston needed to convince a bank to lend her the money to pursue her first fast-food project.
“Community Bank was the only one who wanted to venture out and take a chance on me opening a restaurant,” said Gaston. “I guess they saw that I knew was I was doing at 7-Eleven, because my sales have increased tremendously over the years.”
Now Gaston owns the Arby’s at 201 N. Stewart St., which is averaging $750,000 to $800,000 in annual revenues, and is preparing to open her third business – Bistro M cafe at 215 S. Denton Tap Road in Coppell, a spin-off of Grapevine’s Main Street Bistro & Bakery. Gaston will be the restaurant’s first franchisee and is helping the owners establish the franchising process. She’s hired a culinary graduate from Dallas to be Bistro M’s chef and is anticipating an early June opening. Within a year and a half she hopes to open a Fort Worth outlet.
“I’m ready for the next level,” she said. “It’s not really a turn-key like Arby’s or 7-Eleven.
“They’re working on getting their system in place and I’m helping them as we go along. It’s a big undertaking. I’m nervous and excited but I think overall it will be a good experience.”
Thielke says Gaston’s diverse resume and genuineness contributed to his belief in her capability.
“First, she has a degree in nursing. My wife teaches nursing at TCU [Texas Christian University] and I have come to believe nursing graduates are smart and disciplined,” he said. “Travel and corporate employment at American Airlines gave Cindy the benefit of exposure to the world and people skills while fitting into a corporate structure. These are important for folks interested in franchise operations. When she bought her ownership in 7-Eleven and I understood her management success there, I knew she could handle the entire spectrum of customers in a fast-paced service
Thielke said he studied her 7-Eleven store, unannounced, and favorably noted her employees and the cleanliness of the environment. He also appreciated Gaston’s caring for her ailing, incapacitated mother.
“This indicated to me she was kind and of good human character – a good personality make-up for a manager-owner who wants to retain good customers and employees,”
Gaston acknowledges the importance of employees and the reciprocal loyalty that’s required between her and her team in her success thus far.
“You’ve got to compensate them well and take care of them,” she said. “You need to be there for them just like they’re there for you. I always say you treat people like you want to be treated. When an employee needs something they know they can come to me. If you don’t have good employees there’s no way for you to continue on to do other