From April 2022
Catherine Monson and I bond over our shared California roots as we settle into a booth at Maguire’s restaurant in North Dallas. Taking her suggestion, I choose the Thai Beef Salad. She opts for the same—without noodles. “Only because I try to live a low-carbohydrate lifestyle,” she explains.
Monson, the CEO of Propelled Brands, a collection of North Texas-based franchise companies, had an early introduction to entrepreneurship as she watched her parents build a chain of preschools in her native Orange County. “Starting at 8 or 9 years old, on the weekends with my dad, I would go to the school and we’d mow the lawn, clean the toilets, clean the kitchen, cook dinner together, then head home,” Monson recalls. In the car and over dinners, the two would talk business, sparking her dreams of one day running a company. “In my high school yearbook, my goal was to be president of Exxon,” she recalls. “It was the biggest company I knew.”
A few years after graduating from Pepperdine University, Monson joined California-based printing franchise Sir Speedy, where she worked for a dozen years in the U.S. and the Netherlands. She then joined its parent, Franchise Services Inc., running various companies and ultimately serving as president of PIP Printing and Document Services, which FSI bought it in 1996.
Her strong track record of successful reorganizations and turnarounds caught the attention of a private equity firm that owned FastSigns International. When they reached out to woo Monson in 2008, her first instict was to decline the opportunity. She couldn’t imagine leaving Southern California, and she loved her job with PIP
The recruiting exec asked her to think about it. In the end, it came down to making a difference, Monson says. “I searched my heart, and I thought it was a company I could have a huge impact on.”
She joined FastSigns International in 2009, and three years later made headlines by appearing on the reality TV show Undercover Boss. After FastSigns acquired NerdsToGo in 2020, it created Propelled Brands as a corporate umbrella. Last fall, the company added salon operator Suite Management Franchising to its portfolio. “With any luck, we’ll have one or two more acquisitions this year,” Monson says.
She also is focusing on growth opportunities with the brands it already has. For FastSigns, which has saturated most major markets, the goal is to increase same-store sales. NerdsToGo, which has 37 locations, is forecasting 300 locations in the next half decade. And for Suite Management Franchising, getting to 100 percent occupancy while opening 250 more franchises is top of mind.
Monson’s goals for ongoing growth come at a time when franchising is expected to boom, with more workers leaving their jobs and turning to entrepreneurship—a phenomenon The New York Times calls “the YOLO (You Only Live Once) economy.” Propelled Brands topped $632 million in revenue in 2021, and Monson says she’s grateful for the difference she gets to make in the lives of others. “I get to help people create generational wealth, create jobs, and provide training for employees,” she says.