Right Place, Right Time: Sweet Prospects Beckon Nikki Sells After 25 Years At Express Personnel

After 25 years devoted to finding work for other people, Nikki Sells just found herself a new job. Or, more exactly, a new job found her.

Sells, who has held several positions at Express Personnel Services (most recently vice president of franchising) since starting there in 1983, moved this February 4th to Tasti D-Lite, where, as vice president of franchise development, she will to lead the brand's first foray into franchising.

The 20-year-old frozen dessert brand currently has 70 units, all licensed and nearly all in Manhattan. Plans call for 500 franchised units in 5 years, as well as conversion of licensees to franchisees.

Ambitious? Yes, but entirely possible. The brand is led by CEO Jim Amos (former CEO of Mail Boxes Etc. and past chair of the IFA) and COO Peter Holt (Great Hill Partners, IFA, MBE, and I Can't Believe It's Yogurt!). And there's money. In February 2007, SPG Partners, a New York-based private equity firm, acquired the brand, and with its co-investors is providing capital for growth.

Tasti D-Lite is a dairy-based frozen dessert with between 70 and 100 calories in a 4-ounce serving, depending on which of its 100 flavors you choose. Following years of rave reviews in New York, the brand is poised for growth through sales to single-unit and multiple-unit franchisees, area developers, and international master franchising.

Started in 1987 in New York, the brand is now based in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville. Sells will relocate from her familiar Oklahoma to the Nashville area, with her husband Robert--who's been with Express Personnel for 20 years and will remain a regional developer for a three-state area.

After 25 years with the same company, Sells says, the move is clearly taking her far from her comfort zone. But Sells, who has known Amos and Holt for 15 years, says she has a great deal of respect for their track record, calling them icons in the world of franchising, and she is looking forward to learning from them. Also helpful, she says, is that both men have respect for Bob Funk, Express Personnel's founder.

Apparently, Amos and Holt knew her, too. When they approached her with the opportunity, Sells says Amos and Holt told her, "We don't think we can blast you out of Express Personnel, but we'd like to try."

"It's an opportunity I felt I had to take," said Sells in mid- January, sounding highly enthusiastic, but still a little surprised at her new role. Sells says she's excited at the prospect of taking all the different roles she's played at Express Personnel--as well as its culture and values where that fits--to her new position building the Tasti D-Lite brand.

Nikki Sells, Vice President Franchise Development
Tasti D-Lite
Years in current position: 1 month
Years in franchising: 25

PERSONAL

Key accomplishments: Started as employee in franchise office (7 years); Express franchisee with husband (14 years); regional developer (10 years); and, until Jan. 31, on the Express management team at headquarters. My greatest accomplishment is being able to see franchising from all sides. To me it's an accomplishment to be able to put on those different hats and think like a franchisee or a regional developer. If we push something out from headquarters, I understand what it will be like for them.
Biggest mistake: Not starting out in the business world sooner. I was a teacher for eight years.
Smartest mistake: Or smartest move! Walking into the Express office in Fort Smith, Ark., in 1983, which turned out to be a wonderful career in franchising.
How do you spend a day, typically? Working with my franchising department team in closing deals; looking at our lead generation and figuring out to get more leads; meetings with other departments; lunch! (either at my desk or out with a co-worker). There is always the mundane part of the day: approving expense reports, answering email, etc.
Work week: Typically, M-F, 7-5:30; some weekends are necessary and travel comes in spurts..
Favorite activity: Doing anything with my husband; reading, music.
Exercise: Swimming in warm months, walking in cold months.
What do you do for fun? Cooking dinner for friends or going out; a short quarterly trip with my husband.
Book/magazines recently read/recommended: The Education of an Accidental CEO: Lessons Learned from the Trailer Park to the Corner Office by David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands. This is a great book for anyone in the world of franchising.

MANAGEMENT

Management style: Big picture and open-book. I believe in scoreboards for the world to see to hold us all accountable.
Greatest challenge: I'm not as much of a detail person as I sometimes need to be. Fortunately, I surround myself with people who are. I always live up in the big picture and keep my franchising department moving forward. Have a vision of where you want to go.
Personality: Outgoing and determined.
How do you hire and fire? Hire slow, fire fast.
Find good franchisees? Any way we can! Always looking for that important cultural match.
Retain them? Get them involved in the company culture as soon as possible. Get them on board with company goals, and believing their own success is possible very quickly.
Growth meter-How do you measure your growth?: If I am bored or too content, I am not growing. I'm always keeping myself challenged to learn new things and do the same things in a different way. n

Published: December 18th, 2007

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