This Little Gym Franchisee Started from Nothing and is Now a Multi-Unit Owner
Connie Tator was born and raised in Huntsville, AL, in the late 1970s under challenging circumstances. As daughters of a teen mom, Tator and her sister, Martella Turner Tyler, who died last year, did what they could to make the best of what they had. As with many generations of struggling Black families, her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother pulled together and raised the girls. The absence of her birth father and stepfather created even more hardship for the family. However, the lack of money and privilege would not be an excuse for them not succeeding. In 1996, Tator graduated from Hampton University with a Mass Media Arts-Broadcast Journalism degree and became an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member. Three years later, she received her M.B.A. from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and married her husband, Neil, who she had met at Hampton University.
Tumbling into Opportunity
With her degree in Mass Media, Tator had a career in television news while living in Fayetteville, NC. Unfortunately, the opportunity was untenable with the nearest TV station being in Raleigh, the desire to start a family, and her husband being active-duty military. “I always knew I wanted to own a business, so I started looking at my options,” Tator explained. “In 2007, my son was young, and we had gone to infant and child fitness gyms, so I was familiar with the concept. A friend suggested I look at The Little Gym franchise. The first time we visited The Little Gym, it was so much different! The combination of music, physical skills, cognitive learning, and sharing taking turns – he was in his element. He enjoyed every moment of that class.” After that impressive first visit, when her family was traveling, Tator took the opportunity to visit other Little Gyms in Huntsville, Virginia, and Seattle.
In 2008, Tator began a new chapter, deciding to become a Little Gym franchise owner. “It was challenging finding funding because of the recession, but after two years, I decided to take out a few small loans, which motivated me to work ten times harder to get them paid off quickly. In June 2011, I opened my first location in Fayetteville. I was pregnant when I opened my first gym, and my son was only five!”
The business grew so rapidly that just three years later, in 2014, Tator opened a second location in Wilmington, NC, and in 2019 purchased a resale site in Cary.
Black, Woman, Business Owner – Say What?
It’s hard to believe today that Black women are still encountering prejudice when it comes to business ownership, but it happens. Tator’s success, not only as a woman but as a woman of color running multiple businesses, came as a shock to many members of her gyms. “I’ll never forget someone asking me to speak to the owner. I was like ‘I am the owner. How can I help you?’ Their eyebrows raised and they seemed shocked, not expecting me to be that person.” Tator sees why that could make a business owner of color upset or feel inferior. “But for me, it’s part of what keeps me motivated. I thrive in those times. I feel even more proud. I think to myself, yes, this little Black girl from Alabama is doing big things now. I am one of a handful of Black owners in The Little Gym franchise. I am the only Black woman multi-gym owner. I really want to see more of us in the franchise system.”
Getting to a New Normal and Beyond
Breaking down the barriers to increase the number of BIPOC franchise owners is one of my personal missions and why I became part of the franchise industry as a Certified Franchise Consultant. Tator couldn’t agree more. “Education is the biggest piece. I think there needs to be more recognition of who we are within the brands. There also needs to be opportunities to speak locally and at national conventions and events for businesses about the importance of multi-business ownership.”
Tator is a prime example of “if I can see it, I can be it” when it comes to entrepreneurship. But she wants to do more. “It’s my goal to get out in the community and speak more about entrepreneurship for Black women, especially in franchises.”
With her two children, David (16, soon to be 17) and Simone (11), Tator has her hands full but enjoys being a mom and multi-unit franchise owner of The Little Gym and knows she chose the right business. “I love that The Little Gym was a safe haven and family atmosphere for my children growing up. It’s been our home away from home. Both my children and I have made many friends and created an extension of family! I’ve appreciated the flexibility, allowing me to have opportunities where I could be there for my kids’ activities and some of my own. I’ve loved the community of the franchise owners, and developed bonds with friends across the country that I feel will be for life.”
Franchising has allowed Tator to be a business owner, employer, mentor, and coach, fulfilling her commitment to not letting her childhood circumstances define her and creating more for her life and her children’s lives.