Winmark Franchise Story: Siblings Nicole LaFountain and Michael Thoman’s Business Journey

Nicole LaFountain and Michael Thoman grand opening

The story of Nicole LaFountain and Michael Thoman, a sibling franchisee duo in Waterford, CT, is a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship, resilience, and the drive to make a meaningful impact. As franchisees with Winmark - The Resale Company®, they've embarked on a journey that combines their unique strengths and experiences to bring affordable sports gear to their community.

The Road to Entrepreneurship

Nicole's journey to entrepreneurship was far from conventional. As a dental hygienist for 15 years, she had settled into her part-time job, content with her career. However, life took an unexpected turn when she was involved in a car accident, which left her with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and Carpal/Cubital Tunnel. Nicole physically could no longer work as a hygienist, and with two kids to support, she found herself in a challenging situation.

Instead of giving in to adversity, Nicole opted to rehab through yoga instead of surgery. She obtained certifications in six different modalities and began teaching kids yoga. As a mom, she didn’t have time to go back to school to find a new career, so she kept looking for more opportunities while teaching, and working part-time as a hygienist.

A Motivation to Help Others

Around that time, Nicole’s son outgrew his hockey skates three weeks before the end of the season. She searched for a used pair but found nothing near her home, and there were no hand-me-downs available from friends or family. As a parent, she also didn’t have time to scour platforms like Facebook Marketplace or eBay, so she ended up driving over an hour to a specialty store and paying hundreds of dollars for a new pair. “I didn’t even know if the skates would fit next season, but what else do you do? It’s crazy!” Nicole states.

After this experience, she realized she wanted to ensure all kids could participate in sports and make quality gear both accessible and affordable to families. Driven by her desire to make a difference, Nicole and her brother started exploring franchise opportunities, where she soon learned about Winmark and our five brands. Nicole and Michael soon opened a Play It Again Sports® near their hometown of Waterford, Connecticut in an ideal location to serve their community.

“I want to give kids an opportunity to find what they are passionate about,” she emphasizes. “Sports are expensive, but Play It Again Sports is such a cool model, my hopes are that it helps get kids active, puts some money back in busy parents’ pockets and allows all kids to play the sports they love- or try them all until they find the right one.”

The Winmark Example

The Winmark support team has played a pivotal role in Nicole and Michael's journey. Both siblings emphasize the invaluable continual support and training they have received as Winmark franchisees, which has helped guide them through their journey as first-time business owners.

At Winmark, we have been partnering with our franchisees for over 35 years and have established a proven track record with first-time franchisees and family teams. Our reputation in the resale industry and experienced support help our franchise partners get on the right path to success. Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or looking to start your first business, Winmark offers a rare opportunity to fill a crucial marketplace gap in many communities, just like Nicole and Michael’s, to offer high-quality, eco-friendly items that appeal to many consumers.

Operating as a Family Business

As co-owners, Nicole and her brother, Michael, form a dynamic partnership. The sister and brother split up tasks and responsibilities according to their strengths, creating a balanced business approach. Mike is experienced in network engineering and tends to look for solutions that help them save time and money, while Nicole has two kids in sports and takes charge of management, human resources, ordering inventory, and organizing community events.

Together, they share a vision for what truly matters. Nicole and Michael engage in healthy debates, make it a point to inspire and motivate each other, and prioritize check-ins and honest communication.

“We always know what the other needs to hear and getting to work together keeps us both laughing,” Nicole states.

Both siblings grew up in Uncasville, just north of Waterford, and although they moved away for college, they eventually returned to the area. Nicole now resides in Niantic near Waterford with her two kids, embracing the opportunity to become a significant presence in the community.

Plans for the Future

Michael and Nicole’s location has already embarked on its journey, as their Play It Again Sports store officially opened in April 2023. The future holds the promise of making a difference and building strong community bonds. Nicole and Michael are poised to revolutionize the sporting goods industry in their community, all while creating a memorable and rewarding experience for their customers.

Interested in an opportunity that allows you to make a difference in your community and run a successful business? Contact us today to learn more about franchising with Winmark.

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