Corporate America was draining Tonya Brigham.
As a successful event planner helping others celebrate the happiest days of their life, the married mother of two was traveling so often that she as mentally and emotionally drained.
Needing a break from it all she turned to prayer to seek counsel on finding peace, asking God to release her from the confines of an 80-hour work week.
Instead, she was promoted and received a hefty pay increase. In order to save her marriage and protect her mental health, Brigham finally made the tough decision to quit, and spent the next two years devoted to her family. The decision fulfilled her, until things changed in her life. Her husband lost his job—their only source of income—and she had to make a decision to get back to work, and fast.
Brigham turned to Smoothie King, became a franchise owner and set her sights on success. She quickly rose to the top.
In the two years since opening the doors of her very own location in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Brigham has spawned accolades unparalleled for someone in her position, including being named the #1 producer in the Smoothie King DC Market and #1 store in the Northeast demographic.
Here’s how faith and family helped Brigham become a queen in the Smoothie King empire. Within a month and a half of her grand opening,she was number one in sales in the DC market, number one in the Northeast and in the top 4% in the nation and she has been on top ever since.
Name: Tonya Brigham
Current Title/Company: Owner of Smoothie King Shop in Bowie, Maryland
Location: Bowie, Maryland
Hometown: Kenansville, North Carolina.
Educational Background: B.S. in Psychology at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Her humble beginnings: I grew up in a very small rural little town in North Carolina, and was a psych major. When I first got out of school I worked in patient psych at a psychiatric unit. I moved up to DC and worked at a children’s hospital in the adolescent psych unit and eventually became burned out. I became a flight attendant with US Airways. My routes were to Rome, Paris and Madrid. It was pretty cool, and insane and crazy. It was really great, except for, when you get over there, you’re so jet lagged, and you don’t know anybody. I did it for about a year, and after a while, it was like “Eh, this isn’t so great.” I moved back to DC, and eventually became an event planner. My largest one was with the National Association of Home Builders, and that was about 97,000 people. My last position was with the National Retail Federation. It was one of those jobs where there’s just so much stress and so much pressure. You’re working on a convention that takes you six, seven months to plan, but you’re also working on five or six other meetings. The deadlines just never stop. You have all these different stakeholders. The buck stops with you when you arrive on site and something goes wrong, it’s in your lap.
Her calling: Every time I would get on an airplane to go somewhere, something traumatic would happen. It was, literally, like God was prying my fingers off of a job that made me sick. One morning I can remember getting up very early in the morning before five o’clock, doing my devotion, my time with God, and I’m just writing and complaining and put the pencil down. I picked up and wrote “Just quit.” I’m like, “Lord, was that you?” I know I want to quit, but I wasn’t just thinking that. He took me to scripture and confirmed it. I turned in my resignation that day. What He said was, “Get in your house, and get your house in order. Get your marriage in order. You’re out of order. For three years, he put me in this house and he stripped me of those cute little suits. All he had me do, every single day was serve my husband. Serve my family. Clean my house. Stay before him. On this journey of this three-year walk through the desert in my house, I started saying, “Lord, I need to make some money. My husband’s like saying ‘Well, when is this spiritual journey going to be over, because we still have a mortgage?'”
Her journey: During this journey, at some point, I started just kind of doing some research online and I discovered Smoothie King. The more I discovered, the more research I did, the more excited I got about it. The number one guest is that soccer mom. It’s women who are just like me. They have a gazillion balls up in the air. My husband initially said “No. Where are we going to get the money from? We live in an upper-middle class neighborhood. We have a mortgage. We have responsibilities here. Where are we going to get the money to do this?” And God just said, “I told you to move. I told you to move.” It’s truly been a faith walk. It was so hard to do this. Even with getting the loan. The first bank denied us. The second bank said the same thing. The third bank said the same thing. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I opened my doors 10 days before Thanksgiving, November 2014. I’m thinking, “Dear God, I sell cold drinks, and I’m opening up at Christmas time.” Within a month and a half, two months, I was number one in sales in the DC market. Number one in the Northeast; in the top 4% in the nation. I have stayed there ever since. Corporate is calling saying, “What’s going on in Bowie, Maryland?” “What in the heck is happening?” “How are these numbers?” What they said is, your first year, you literally are not going to make any money, because you just have to put so much into your company.
Her biggest influence: My greatest mentor really has been following God. He orders my steps. He’s put some amazing mentors in their 70s and 80s around me who speak into my life and their wisdom applies across the board. Whether it’s with my husband, my children, my business, it’s the wisdom of God.
The biggest misconception about the industry: Because you see a lot of people in my store and you see it flourishing, folks do not realize the sacrifice that it has taken to reach that point. It is a huge stressor on the marriage. It’s a huge stressor on your children. Nothing is more important than my family. That is the hardest thing, I’m sure with many business women, is I will lay down my life for my children, but at the same time, I have real responsibilities.
Success will cost you. Success always comes at a price. I think until you go through it, and I love people who’ve gone through it, because they understand that price. They can emphasize with where you are.
Her biggest lesson learned: I look at what my biggest problem has been, then I figure out my biggest lesson. My biggest problem is I tend to hire my team to be of the demographic of teenage and early college. I take very seriously everyone God has put under me. He’s going to hold me accountable by how I treated them, and what I poured into them. I think the biggest lesson has just been, “When I give these lessons to these kids,” I say this all the time, “I’m not training you for Smoothie King, I’m training you for the board room.” Your personality may get you in the door, but working your butt off is going to keep you there.
Her biggest career accomplishment: Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce just named me entrepreneur of the year for 2016. I go to First Baptist Church of Glenarden. In the middle of last year, I’m doing the best I have done. I was so tired, I tried three times to get up to go to church that day. At the end of one of his sermons, Pastor Jenkins says, “You know, there’s a lady in our church. She owns a Smoothie King at Bowie Town Center, and her courage, when she would come up and talk to me, has just blown me away. She kept pushing.” This one man speaking about me for seven seconds, like 600 people rushed through my doors—for months! They would say, “I heard the pastor mention you.” They replayed his sermons on the radio and I got a whole fresh crop of people who don’t even go to my church who were like “I was listening to the radio, the fact that you’re African American, the fact that you’re a Christian, I want to support you in my community. I want my children to see you.” That for me was like the biggest thing. I wasn’t expecting, to have someone who had heard my journey just say “I am so proud of her courage,” was just like “Wow, God, I thank you for that.”
The smartest advice she’s ever received: You work and you earn, and you make a living. You treat people fair and live life to God be the glory.
In her downtime: I love Sudoku and reading my bible. I can just chill by myself, literally just listening to music and talking to God, and I’m good.
What she never leaves home without: My phone, my keys and my checkbook — inside there’s a picture of my family.
Her theme song: The song from the Jeffersons, “Movin’ on Up.”
On her bucket list: Purchase a vacation house in Lake Tahoe.
What’s next for her: My goal and what He told me is that I was going to have 25 of these stores. I may be 65 when I open up that 25th, that’s His business not mine.