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A Natural Disaster Created a Beautiful Journey for this Multi-Unit Franchisee

Before becoming a Winmark® multi-unit franchisee, Sarah Abbott Biss was a military spouse living in North Carolina.

She and her husband at the time, a pilot, had a 14-month-old baby and needed to sell some of their baby's things after a catastrophic hurricane destroyed their house.

While their house was being rebuilt, Sarah drove to her parent's place. On the way, she stopped at Once Upon A Child® in Greenville, NC to sell some of her baby's things.

At the store, Sarah thought, "Well, I can do this!" While she was a stay-at-home mom, Sarah had a background in restaurants, retail and a degree in public relations, and she was looking to return to work. "I decided I wanted to go from being a stay-at-home mom to owning my business!" Sarah explained lightheartedly.

Sarah and her son

And 20 days later, while her husband at the time was deployed, her Winmark journey began. "It was a very strange beginning to things," Sarah said.

Father-Daughter Duo

Sarah's dad had a franchise in the fuel cleaning business for 20 years and was also a head hunter to find talent and locate individuals who meet specific job requirements. "I watched my dad have an experience with a franchise. He was the only one that financially survived because there was no support. So, he wanted to make sure that I was delivered a business opportunity that offered the support you would hope to get out of a franchise relationship," Sarah said.

After Sarah and her father first met with Winmark, she knew the resale franchise opportunity was a good fit for her.

"They wanted to make sure I was going to be able to have the quality of life I was looking for as well as the opportunity to be my own boss. That set the stage for the partnership," Sarah said.

Sarah always thought she'd be able to work with her dad. Although the timing of it didn't work out back in the day, sure enough, he became her silent partner at their first store, Once Upon A Child, in November 2012 in Jacksonville, NC.

Early Success Led to Franchise Expansion

Sarah was the first franchisee to be awarded a second store in less than a year. "We just took off with Once Upon A Child and set up the Plato's Closet® just 2,000 yards away," Sarah said.

Sarah and her father opened Plato’s Closet just two years after Once Upon A Child.

Sarah explained that although Jacksonville is a small territory, it's the largest amphibious war base on the east coast, making it a unique military town. "It's small but densely populated," she added.

Roughly 300 babies are born a month in a population of fewer than 70,000 people, making it quite the baby town. Jacksonville is also the youngest city per capita in the United States. The average age is 22 ½. "It's a great fit for both of the brands in terms of their target and demographics," Sarah said.

Community Involvement

"The service both of these stores provide to the community is what drew me to them in the first place as a military spouse. And with the expense of providing for children, most spouses have a difficult time taking care of children and working simultaneously. So, it's tenfold being able to employ military spouses and be flexible to their needs. It's a true joy of mine being able to give back service to the community," Sarah explained. "We try to spread the love around as much as we can — not just for our customers, but in all areas of need."

Sarah and her team worked with the United Service Organizations in the past when they were short on Thanksgiving food for veterans. They've also done things for Susan G. Komen®, a breast cancer awareness organization, in special honor of a Winmark associate and Sarah's mom who beat cancer last year.

In addition to these involvements, Sarah explained they have a wildlife rescue group and partner with Christ Family Mission by passing along donation items to be repurposed.

Loyal Partnership and Ongoing Franchisee Support

Through store shutdowns due to hurricanes wiping out the town, the pandemic and more, Winmark has supported Sarah through it all. For Sarah, the partnership and the ongoing support are some of the best parts of working with Winmark.

"The synergy between both of the brands is great. I have greatly enjoyed the process of expanding our brands with Winmark. The continuous improvement is something I felt from them," Sarah said.

From the 10 years she's been a franchisee, the additions and improvements they've made in terms of operations, the product they sell and the customer experience, Sarah appreciates Winmark's encouragement for growth.

"In the same breath, they respect your role as the owner. You're still in control of taking your businesses in the direction you want to. You still feel like you are in business for yourself, but the support has been fantastic," Sarah said.

Plans for the Future

"Given the world has suffered a great deal across all industries, whatever we can do to create positivity is my next goal for 2022," Sarah said. "My advice to other franchisees and my employees is to keep an open mind and accept challenges. Try to improve yourself and always look for joy."

Sarah plans to start 2022 with a fresh start and use all she's learned throughout the years to pay it forward.

"I think this is the year for everybody to take a look at how to become more efficient in everything they're doing," Sarah said. "Things are different now, but it's more important than ever to invest in your human capital."

Looking to join a retail resale franchise and make an impact on your community? Contact us to learn more about Once Upon A Child franchise opportunities today!