August 3, 2011

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Welcome: Discover the Buried Story of the Creator of Modern Franchising

Harper’s  franchising system empowered and enriched poor women, as well as herself!

Servant Girl Creates 500 Franchises Around the World

Bound out into servitude from the time she was seven years old, Martha Matilda Harper knew she had to change her life.

From Suffrage to Franchising

Susan B. Anthony while campaigning for suffrage cited Harper and encouraged every woman to have “her own pocketbook.”  Harper’s franchise system represented the economic emancipation of women.

Why Royalty & US Presidents Were Loyal to Harper 

Each shop was a classy retreat for the body and soul. Find out where these shops were located.

• Changing Lives Through Creative Business Know-How

  Learn why she created the first reclining shampoo chair. 

• Buried Business History –the Harper Story

History books forgot her.  Harper’s obituary was the clue that there was more.  Read her story.

Franchising-Changing the Lives of Poor Women

The word “franchise” comes from the French and means, “to free from servitude.”   Learn more about franchising here.

• Social Entrepreneurship –Turning Dollars Into Change

Join the discussion about how use business to do good, just like the Harper Method.

 Download Martha Matilda Harper’s Ten Commandments of Business Success, where you can learn Martha Matilda Harper’s tips and tricks to building a successful empire!

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September 15, 2016

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It Is Our Turn, Martha!

marthamatildaharper copy

Photo courtesy of Jane Plitt.

What an impact one poor Canadian girl  born on  September 12, 1857 had on thousands of other poor servant and factory girls.  Today that woman,  Martha Matilda Harper,  would have been 159 years old and her legacy lives on, but reminds us there is more to do.

Harper created modern retail franchising around the world, putting poor women in charge.

In 1891, with the help of Susan B. Anthony and other suffragists, along with the society ladies across America, especially Bertha Palmer, Harper opened her first franchise in Detroit, then Buffalo and ultimately 500 of them across the world.  She put poor women in ownership positions transforming their lives.

Today, franchising in the U.S. accounts for about $890 billion and 780,000 franchises.  Women independently own only about 25% of them.

Women in business remain dominated by men, whether in franchising or in the ranks of CEOs.

These statistics reflect the industry growth without the accompanying commitment to use business for social change (Social entrepreneurship), that Harper pioneered.  Martha would be promoting using these business for empowering the poor.

Women remain poorer overall, and are more likely to be impoverished than men, whether they are young  or old, a veteran or not in the United States.

Women earn less.  Today, full-time women workers still make 80 cents on the dollar earned by men.  In every profession, women, on average, earn less than men  according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and their children are more likely to live in poverty. Nearly 40% of families headed by women live in poverty.

Women vets are increasingly homeless.  Recently, that number has nearly doubled.

Senior women (0ver 65) are more likely to live in poverty than men.

We need to bring back Martha Matilda Harper’s spirit, values, and can do know-how to improve our society.  Happy birthday, Martha.  Sure glad you were born.  Now the gauntlet has been passed to us.



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April 22, 2014


Dare to Make Your Dreams Come True

An orphan saved by the Harper Method

An orphan saved by the Harper Method

Stop bellyaching that life is unfair.  You are right.  We don’t all get dealt a good hand.  The question is what will you do about it?

In the 1800s when life was totally gloom and doom for poor women, Martha Matilda Harper had a dream, to break our of servitude and control her life as a successful businesswoman.  It took her nearly 25 years to get that opportunity, but she quickly seized .  She left Canada and immigrated to Rochester, NY.  She continued to work as a servant for another six years before she broke lose and penned a pioneering hair and skin care salon for women!  She applied her creativity and sensitivity to delight the customer, by designing the first reclining shampoo chair and sinks with a cut-out for the neck.  The ladies loved it.

If she could succeed, and ultimately go on to create modern retail franchising, which has transformed retailing, anyone can succeed.  Harper had 500 franchises around the world.

Recently, the last owner of Harper’s original shop (the Founder’s shop), Centa Sailer,  has died.  She was a German refugee after World War 2 who immigrated to Rochester with a determination to be a successful hairdresser.  Again, the Harper Method delivered her, as it did for thousands thousands of poor women.

There was Eunice Galloway Van Allystyne , a Harper training instructor in her uniform.  Harper’s niece took Eunice under her wing .  Eunice was an orphan in the Depression and Miss Ann allowed Eunice to pay off her tuition with earnings from her Harper job.nI love looking at this photo and remembering that anyone, including  an  orphan could succeed.  It takes running a business with heart.

Define your dream.  Make plans.  Prepare, and then wait for the opportunity.  Remember, luck is opportunity meeting preparation!

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October 18, 2013


Martha’s Simple Lesson

Following the NPR Morning Edition story on franchising (,  Lea Kemp, Library curator at the Rochester Museum and Science Center called to share how sixth  graders were impacted by Martha Matilda Harper.  Seems the Museum’s charter school was teaching business to their sixth graders and Lea shared Martha’s story.  A youth piped up, “So, Martha treated her employees nicely, and then  they treated the customers nicely, so the customers brought in more customers, and everyone was very happy!”

That little boy did not need a MBA to figure out the payoff from not only good customer service, but from fostering a supportive work environment.  Thereafter, Lea started to leave, taking with her the life-size cut-out of Martha with her floor-length hair.  “”Oh, please let us keep it a while, ” the children pleaded.  The teacher later relayed to Lea that the children would individually go up to that cut-out and share their business ideas with her!

Martha’s lessons keep teaching, even the young.  Want to share your ideas with Martha?

Photo courtesy of Jane Plitt.

Photo courtesy of Jane Plitt.

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September 12, 2013


Reboot American Values

The game is stacked.  Unless you go into certain fields and maneuver a golden parachute, expect to watch the rich get richer and the poor poorer.  According to September 11, 2013 Associated Press article, “the gulf between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it’s been since the Roaring 20’s.  In 2012 the income of the top 1 percent rose nearly 20 percent compared to a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent.  That statistic makes me cringe.

In the generation of the Robber Barons, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan, and others believed their ruthless, but huge economic successes , achieved by unethical, and  perhaps illegal means based on today’s standards, was part of a Divine Endorsement.  Yet, we remember and even idolize their homes and think kindly of their charitable works, ignoring the lives they literally destroyed.

Why is it that many of us fail to embrace, showcase, and teach our children that it is simply wrong to maneuver others to turn over their time, products, concepts to a few , rather than justly compensate all?

Where are our social entrepreneur heroes and heroines  in history?  Can you find Martha Matilda Harper, Madame CJ Walker, and others as top examples of inventive poor women who decided to bring along others with their success and to insist that success had to be based on principles?

I love business.  I know how hard it is to create a business, hire , motivate and support people to form a successful team.  I believe risk-takers should be justly compensated.  But, how much is enough?  I think we need to begin at early childhood, rewarding and encouraging our children and grandchildren to be kind, inclusive, sensitive, along with bold and brave.  We need to acknowledge that our role models need to change as we reboot our values and truly walk the talk of being an admirable society.  We have those models; we just  need to dust them off from history and  spotlight them.  We can make societal difference; we simply need the will.  Are you ready?

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June 18, 2013


Inspiration All Around

Stumbling on the brief mention of Martha Matilda Harper in a Rochester, NY Chamber of Commerce publication, helped spur on my six year journey to discover and document  Harper’s story.  Criss-crossing the U.S. and Canada, visiting family and former Harperites was a blessed adventure.

Now two sixteen year old students, Jenna Fortunati and Margaret Mirabella,  from Connecticut have picked up the gauntlet and caught the Harper spirit. They  created a documentary on the history of franchising and won the Connecticut state finals and went on to be in the final finals at this year’s National History Day recently held in College Park, Maryland.  Their life ambitions have now been changed because of meeting Martha.  Now they, too, want to become  social entrepreneurs.  Says Jenna, “Before this project, I thought the business world was shallow and just about making money….Now I know I can make a difference through economics.”

Go Martha!  Go, Jenna, Margaret, and all of you who have yet to be touched by the amazing Martha Matilda Harper.  Check out their winning documentary. Image

Happy winners, Jenna and Margaret surrounded by fellow students!

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December 6, 2012


Making A Difference

As I reflect on the our world today and its incredible divisiveness, greed, and hatred, I find inspiration from those special people using business for social change, folks who are determined to apply good business thinking and practices in an effective way to make an economic  difference in people’s lives.  Surely Martha Matilda Harper was a path blazer in that effort.

Martha  demonstrated that a lowly, destitute servant girl of 25 years could change her life and the lives of others by persistence, innovation, deep faith, and good fortune.  As the creator of modern franchising,  she purposely recruited other poor women like herself to both franchise owner positions, as well as employees.  They were intensely loyal and followed her direction, thus assuring quality and delivery of great hair and skin care.  Martha also enabled those ladies to have choice, whether to marry or not, to seek education for themselves and others, to purchase a necklace, to gift something.

However, she also teaches us that individual behavior and decision-making are powerful tools to transform lives.  I spent six years combing through documents, interviewing  Harperites, family and friends who had known her or benefitted from her touch.  What was truly remarkable was how all spoke glowing of how kind and gentle she was.  Her husband’s  niece remembers how when she returned from town having purchasing a necklace with the dollar Martha had given to her, her mother told her it was a frivolous expenditure and took that necklace away from her.  Martha instantly removed her necklace and placed it on her niece’s neck.

Once Martha started her business, she continued to protect her former employer from her alcoholic husband ; she even spent her first profits in bankrolling them, so that they did not lose their home.

As we pursue our dreams, our goals, perhaps we need to also take a lesson from  Martha Mtilda Harper, that walking the talk, being kind and supportive is also part of being successful.

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June 19, 2012


Time for Business Basics

It’s graduation time and lots of young people are moving on up and becoming (we parents hope)  self-sustaining men and women.   Hopefully, they have been taught to read, write, and think clearly.  Perhaps they have even been to taught to think creatively and not simply regurgitate back answers, but to even think through new solutions and issues.

However, with a challenging economy, is there hope for new minds?  How do you get a first chance (and even a second and third!)?  By being strategic, creative, persistent and bold.

When I think of how George Eastman, Martha Matilda Harper, and Steve Jobs launched their innovative businesses, they did not form focus groups to “test the market.”  Instead, they observed their current situations and found opportunities where there was no prior significant business model.  Jobs explained that he didn’t use focus groups because, “How could I ask people for what they had never experienced?”

For you wannabe entrepreneurs, here’s my advice:

1.  Decide if you are a self-starter, able to work long hours and persist inspire of rejection.

2.  Save up or get others to invest in your idea, but don’t let that stop your idea from percolating  (Note, historically, men have had an easier time getting others to put up venture capital than women have .)

3. Launch with pizzazz.  Take advantage of timing, location, publicity.  Example, Harper used the photo of her with the floor-length hair to attract people passing by and then invited them to rest their weary feet in her salon with all the chairs.

4.  Combine your business zeal with helping the world, like Tom’s Shoes.  It’s a win win opportunity.

5.  Tell your story, again and again.  Think of ways to get people to learn/experience your product or service.  Take advantage of the internet, place stories in the newspapers, magazines, get buzz going.  If you are going into social entrepreneurship, then, surely, your business provides lots more opportunity for publicity.

6.  Check the books.  Have some trusted soul be responsible for the books.  (Could be you or someone else, but figures don’t lie.)  Keep track of what your bottom line is and be ready to carry your business for at least 1-3 years until it is a money-maker.

6.  Enjoy the process.  Whatever happens, it will be one heck of a ride, that you can do all over again!

Let me know how it goes. Best wishes.

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January 20, 2012


Turning Change Into Dollars $ – George Eastman Had It Right–Too Bad His Successors Did Not

On January 19, 2012  Eastman Kodak declared bankruptcy because its executives lost their way, drowned by their greed to stick with the profitability of film when the digital revolution was calling.   Just when they needed another George Eastman, who transformed the world with his KODAK concept by mainstreaming photography, the KODAK leadership got lost in the past and were unclear how to transform the company.  In the process, they dumped Eastman’s various commitments to his  employees, and his path-blazing efforts with  innovative compensation and health practices.  Before we forget about KODAK, let us remember George Eastman’s commitment to social entrepreneurship by making the world better with his corporate success.

George Eastman had a good idea and networked effectively.   In 1888 he launched KODAK with over $1 million of venture capital.  People believed in this young man, with his inventive thinking and practical know-how.  The KODAK name  and logo became recognized around the world symbolizing quality, reliability, innovation.  With ads that reinforced the ease of using cameras and of capturing special events and scenes, he turned KODAK into an understood adjective — shoot that KODAK moment or even signs on tour would appear promoting “KODAK picture spot.”

Yet, many forget Eastman’s pioneering business efforts such as:

Creative compensation.  In the first year,  he paid his workers an employee dividend out of his own pocket because he was  determined to  motivate his employees  by introducing the concept of an invested workforce.

– Thereafter, he institutionalized a Kodak bonus program, becoming an innovator of employee compensation designed to share the company’s success.

Shared Healthcare   He deeply cared about healthcare and under Marion Folsom, Kodak pioneered life insurance, retirement & disability employee programs within the company and advocated for them as public policy.

-Eastman built free dental clinics around the world where Kodak had  factories (Rochester, London, Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Rome)

Perhaps, most significant of all, he led the way for community-based healthcare enabling Rochester, NY to become a national healthcare  leader.  In 1991, because of Kodak’s leadership,  health insurance cost 33% less per Rochester employee than in the nation and 45% lower than in NY State.

George Eastman redefined our way of doing business, sharing profits and providing  visionary healthcare to local communities.   Perhaps other business leaders could learn from his priorities.

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November 15, 2011


Turning Coffee Grinds Into A Fertile Business

Back to the Roots founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora have proven that you don’t need  Wall Street to be successful, nor smelly compost piles to use coffee grinds creatively.  The Company uses one million pounds of coffee grinds as  a growth medium for their retail kits — Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden–gourmet mushrooms that […]

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