Saturday, June 22, 2024

Orange Leaf to be franchised by Azle veteran

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AZLE — Mike Higby, a United States Air Force veteran, will soon open an Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt shop in Azle. Higby is from a third-generation military family who has lived almost everywhere in the country. A considerable amount of his time was spent growing up in Alaska, where much of his family still lives. He first joined the U.S. Air Force in 1996 and served until 2019. In that time, Higby lived in California, Spain and Germany before eventually settling in Azle. He worked as an aircraft mechanic, maintaining large aircraft platforms.

Now back in civilian life, Higby hopes to use his military experience to succeed as an entrepreneur. He had never heard of Orange Leaf until he discovered a location in nearby Lake Worth. He and his wife quickly made the place a regular weekend habit.

“We were sitting there, Yvonne, my wife, and I, and we said, ‘hey this doesn’t look too terribly complicated of an operation, pretty low overhead pretty small footprint, great product, maybe we should think about opening up something like this.’”

Higby said he and his wife had discussed other potential franchise options, like pizza restaurants, but were concerned with the high overhead costs. After speaking with the company’s franchisors, the couple was sold.

Higby said his military experience has granted him three distinct advantages in running a business: a business mindset, mental fortitude and having the skills to work with others.

“I don’t think many people go into the military to learn business, but you learn about all the elements of business,” Higby said. “You start at a very technical level developing whatever skill you joined to do. Maybe three or four years in, you start getting elements of leadership. They start small initially and then they grow all the way to where I was when I retired.”

By the end of Higby’s 24 years of service, he said he was responsible for approximately 800 people in his maintenance organization. The longer one’s military career lasts, the larger the scope of their responsibilities becomes, the veteran said. In dealing with larger groups of people and more involved logistics, Higby said he believes he has grown many skills that are directly transferable to running a business.

“Aside from that, the business mindset — just the fact that in the military you’re taught giving up or stopping is not an option,” Higby said. “You have to have the fortitude to know what right looks like, recognize when it’s not right and get after whatever it takes to makes it right. That stick-to-it-iveness is absolutely going to transfer over. I think another key part of my experience is dealing with all kinds of different people in our U.S. military.”

Higby also credits his transition assistance program, where he studied the entrepreneurship track, for putting him on his current path.

“I think I learned a lot in that class that still sticks with me today, five years later,” Higby said. “In Texas we are lucky enough to have a state that is very fond of their veterans, and they offer things like the veteran’s commission here in Texas and the veterans secretary of state. Both of them have key resources for veterans who are looking to get out and start their own business.”

The Higbys have two sons, 24-year-old Austin who plans to move closer to his parents after graduating from the University of North Texas, and 20-year-old Bryce who attends Tarrant County College and volunteers once a week at the Community Caring Center.

Mike Higby has lived in Azle for two years and has been actively building a relationship with Orange Leaf for the last seven months. He hopes to have the business open by September in the strip mall at 832 Boyd Road, across from RaceTrac. Yvonne Higby has worked at Walnut Creek Elementary as a para-educator for pre-school classes for the last few years. She is looking forward to seeing her students and their families come into the shop over the years and establish deeper roots in Azle. Despite the naysayers, Higby is determined to open the franchise in the town that he now calls home.

“I think it’s going to be great spot,” Higby said. “Folks kind of thought Azle was small, not much to do there they tried to steer us toward Fort Worth but we felt like we had a tie to Azle, we want it to be in our community.”

The week of Memorial Day Higby plans to spend time with his family and remember U.S. military personnel who lost their lives in combat.

“I don’t know many folks that have been in the military for any length of time that can say they’ve not known loss,” Higby said. “So, it’s tough. You always want to remember those who weren’t lucky enough to be on the same timeline with us anymore. We were fortunate enough to rub elbows with all those people at some point in time but some of them aren’t with us. Some of them went and some didn’t return, so it sucks. I think you always have those folks in your memory who aren’t with us anymore. You try not to dwell on it, but you try not to forget them either, right? You try to honor them through your actions, through the way that you continue to live your life. It makes them proud that way.”