Women in Business: Q&A With Dina Mitchell, Area Developer for Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Dina Mitchell became the Area Developer for Tropical Smoothie Café at the age of 32. Her responsibilities include overseeing location selection and construction, training and support for her franchisees, and advertising and media relations for Nevada, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

In 2000, Dina opened her first franchise in Henderson, Nevada. Today, there are 23 Tropical Smoothie Café's in the Valley with six more locations in development. Since opening, her territory has seen an increase every year, even during the devastating economic downturn. Additionally, her area's average unit volume sales rank among the top in the franchise system.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've learned how to develop and execute a plan to obtain a goal. Playing sports taught me how to work with a team within a competitive environment. I learned early on that if I wanted more I had to figure out how to get it on my own.

I started earning money when I was seven years old by knocking on doors asking for odd jobs. The "it" at the time was Red Vines, then a bike, clothes, etc. Luckily, I had great doors open for me showing me very early that it was possible to do anything I set my mind to. Each time I achieved my goal, it raised my self-confidence. I have had many career paths that have led me to Tropical Smoothie Café, with each and every one adding a layer of experience that was relevant to my desire in helping people reach a dream of owning their first business.

How did your previous employment experience aid with your role at Tropical Smoothie Café?
I studied, researched, and learned very quickly how to analyze key business data based on market demands. An individual needs to know the market, the trends, thinking outside the box, and always be on the lookout for opportunities. My past experience as a real estate agent, a theatrical agent, media sales and the owner of an auto detailing business gave me the foundation for being a leader for Tropical Smoothie Café. Back in 2000, after research I narrowed the field and decided that Tropical Smoothie Café was the company I wanted to be a part of. I immediately flew to Florida to get a firsthand, ground level look at their structure. There were only 23 stores in the country and today there are more than 355.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
In my job, I love what I do so it feels like there is a balance. My advice is: "Choose a career that you love and it will never feel like work." However once in a while, there are those days that require a Hot Yoga Boot camp class, a long weekend at my favorite beach in Malibu, or what I love most, solving the world's problems over a bottle of wine with good friends.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Tropical Smoothie Café?
There is an exhilarating feeling that I get which is hard for me to describe when I help people reach their goal. My very first franchisee was a wonderful young woman with dreams of owning her own business. Through a great partnership, guidance and her commitment to hard work she became an extremely successful owner of a Tropical Smoothie Café. Many of our owners now own multiple stores; three have gone on to become Area Developers themselves. Every business has its challenges, and that's exactly what they are, "Challenges." I'm a problem solver, counselor, motivator, strategist, marketer, and business-building area developer. Every day comes with new opportunities as well has hurdles. I think Sheryl Sandberg nailed it when she said, "Visualize your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder." I see challenges as a jungle gym, if an obstacle presents itself I go over, under or around.

What advice can you offer women hoping to establish their own business?
We live in a country where anyone can achieve his or her dreams with the right education, attitude and work ethic. I believe there is still a glass ceiling that can be difficult to break through when you work in the corporate world. One of the greatest benefits of being a business owner is that the sky is the limit. Your own "glass ceiling" only holds you back. I think my half-full glass optimistic approach helped guide me to my success. If I had known some of the challenges involved in running and building businesses, I might not have attempted it. It's easy to imagine the goal of where you want to be but many are frightened and talk yourself out of making that leap of faith. And that is exactly what it is ... a leap of faith. You need to have confidence in yourself that you will persevere. My advice is to identify your goal, develop a roadmap, do your due diligence, never be afraid to ask for advice and go for it like it's the only chance you'll ever get!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have found that in business, some men are uncomfortable with women in a superior leadership position. For those men it just may be against their grain.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I agree with Sheryl that women should "Lean In" and be confident in their own abilities to lead and that one's gender shouldn't be the criteria for a leadership role. Just as it might be more comfortable for women to follow men, it may be uncomfortable for them to "Lean In." Learning and growing to the next level can be uncomfortable at first; with time and as you gain confidence it becomes second nature.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had numerous mentors in my life. Each one contributed to my experience, drive and education in the business world. I am the product of each mentor's expertise and advice. I love this question because it reminds me that to benefit from a mentor you have to be willing to stop, listen and learn. I am driven to learn, it is in my DNA. My passion is to give back by encouraging people to explore their dreams of owning their own business and become a mentor to others in their journey of life and career.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Oprah is a great example of someone who was not limited by her circumstances, but had the passion, vision and commitment to become the success she is today. She inspires my passion, and my drive to succeed. She seems to encourage people to always strive to be a better version of themselves. I admire Oprah because she doesn't focus on her past, but instead focuses on improving herself and trying to make the world around her a better place.

What are your hopes for the future of Tropical Smoothie Café?
Tropical Smoothie Café's success will depend on meeting the customer's ever changing needs. You can't be all things to all people, so we plan on continuing to do what we do better than anyone else. Finding, researching and delivering the best food and smoothies on the planet will continue to be our focus in the coming year. I hope to continue the Tropical Smoothie Café culture with our employees to give our customers an experience that goes beyond buying a smoothie. I'm not looking to build a store on every block. My goals are to identify great locations with qualified franchisees and continue concentrating on increasing same store sales. Most important to me is that I hope to always love and enjoy what I do today and if I am able to help people realize their dreams along the way then that is my bonus.
Eat better....feel better. I believe it... I live it!