This Time, Make It A Franchise
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Donna Corey used to be a secretary juggling paperwork for five Pizza Hut stores. Her husband, Ken, was in the horse business until an auto accident made working with the big animals impossible. Now the couple owns two Subway shops in their Worcester, Massachusetts, neighborhood.
Luanne Littleton-Stoltz taught math, chemistry and biology in a Portland, Oregon, public school. Uh-oh: Now she owns MAACO.
They come from every walk of life-these gutsy franchise owners and thousands more like them. Many migrate to franchising for a second-even third-career. Sometimes they wait to retire. Sometimes they get retired. Other times they just up and quit.
People with people skills
At CruiseOne, CEO Tony Persico notices a lot of franchise owners with excellent communication and people skills: former teachers, trainers, sales and marketing people. "Our franchise owners have to like people-even people who may start out a bit dictatorial. [People who sell cruises] can't be abrupt. It takes listening, patience, caring, and a long-term attitude."
CruiseOne attracts a lot of professional women who want to stay home with young children, too-mothers drawn to the ease and convenience of this homebased franchise opportunity. From the other end of the spectrum, CruiseOne appeals to couples near retirement. "They've often moved out of their starter home and into a bigger home. They like to look at the pool and golf-course and conduct their business. And, these couples often are tired of going in opposite directions. They want their lives to come together," says CruiseOne president Charlotte Luna.
People down, but up
Downsizing has helped Sandler Systems fill its ranks with high-powered corporate drop-outs, according to executive vice president and COO Jim Martin. "We have highly-skilled professionals from Fortune 500 companies-people who had titles like 'vice president of sales' or 'CEO.' Downsizing gave folks who wanted to leave corporate America that opportunity-even when they didn't have the courage."
For a company like Sandler-which offers sales and management training and coaching to corporate executives-the ability to identify with the target market boosts success. "The development of our program has been driven by our franchise owners, because of the type of people we have. They have helped us decide what to offer corporate America."
Norrell Services, Inc., a company that prides itself on "strategic workforce management" and staffing services for corporations, also covets the know-how of franchise owners who have come out of corporate America. "There is no consistent industry or job title that our franchise owners come from-it could be sales, possibly marketing; but they all have a thorough understanding of, and experience in, business," says Conrad Helms, Norrell's franchise development manager. "Besides, they understand the importance of developing and maintaining relationships. That's critically important in this industry, particularly in trying to partner with a client organization that's investing in the future."
Ex-execs, tired of the roller coaster
Some corporate executives would just as soon discard their pinstripes, though. At Pressed4Time, most of the franchise owners once wore three-piece suits and wing-tips. Now they dryclean and resole these corporate trappings instead.
"Most of our franchisees are coming from corporate America," says Randy Erb, Pressed4Time's director of franchise development. "They're former white-collar people who-due to downsizing, buyouts, and uncertainty in the industries-want their own business."
Pressed4Time franchise owners work out of a home office, arranging for pick-up and delivery of employees' dry-cleaning, typically in urban office buildings. "The owner does sales calls and has customer contact, but other people do the actual pick-up and delivery. Most franchisees have no employees and work normal business hours-no nights or weekends. It's simplicity personified."
Similarly, most franchise owners of Goddard's preschool learning centers have chucked a successful corporate or professional career to go into business for themselves, says Phil Schumacher, Goddard's president. Goddard prefers to have an active owner on each site, but some professionals, including physicians, have opted to buy a center and then work in partnership with a spouse or daughter who runs the school. The arrangement works for franchisor and franchisee alike, because, with the required investment of $245,000, Goddard favors owners whose lifestyle and background fit with the upscale community where most schools are located.
Lifestyle seekers
Val-Pak Direct Marketing Systems-the company that mails dollars-off business coupons to residences-allows franchise owners to not only work from their homes, but to locate in communities of varying size. A Val-Pak direct-mail coupon enterprise needs at least 10,000 households to support the business, a requirement that means Val-Pak can maintain some people who want to move back to smaller communities. "We're finding more sales executives and talented advertising people who want to move home, particularly people from the broadcasting business. We're fortunate to have a number of pretty high-powered franchisees who have chosen this business and who have the opportunity to get close to their advertisers because they are, in essence, functioning as an advertising agency for them in the mailbox. That's a great way to get involved in your community," says Joe Bourdow, president.
At TruServ Corporation, the parent of TrueValue Hardware, ServiStar, and Coast to Coast Hardware stores, corporate communications manager Debby Robinson says her company also has noticed an influx of corporate executives. "We're getting baby boomers who want to cash out of corporate America, who have done their 20 to 25 years and want to move to a small town to improve their quality of life. They may want to work for themselves or have some nostalgia for main street and the way it used to be."
Some folks just want to go back home, like Learning Express franchise owner Shelley Hobson and her husband, who are both Southerners. "We were living in Boston and making a trek to the North Carolina coast every summer," Hobson says. "We used to say, 'one of these days we're going to be back down here.'" She was a news producer for WBZ in Boston while her husband was the chief financial officer at a Boston bank. When his job moved to Pittsburgh, they started looking for a business they could do together in a coastal town in North Carolina. When they discovered that Learning Express, the educational toy store, was a franchise, they researched the market support demographics of towns along the North and South Carolina coast until they found the perfect fit-Wilmington, NC. "Now, we're only three miles from the beach and we really thrive on the entrepreneurial and creative freedom to implement an idea without going through 50 filters," Hobson says. Does Learning Express benefit? You bet! The Hobsons doubled the size of their store in the first year.
Folks who used to work there
When it comes to capitalizing on corporate experience, you'll find no grass growing under Lawn Doctor's feet. Lawn Doctor franchise expansion blossoms from the ground up, as employees take advantage of the lawn care company's employee-discount program to push their way up to ownership. "When an employee works for a franchisee for five years or more and receives a letter of recommendation from the franchisee, we offer that employee a discount program equal to our multiple ownership program," says Russell Frith, Lawn Doctor's chairman and CEO. "It makes sense to expand the relationship. With a former employee it takes us less time to get over the initial bumps and fears of a new franchisee. It should result in accelerated growth in the new territory with less involvement from our staff and less likelihood of failure."
Don't Quit Your Day Job
"Get the loan!"-and don't quit your job until you know the financing has gone through. That's the first thing Express Personnel franchise co-owner Mary Allen would tell anyone purchasing a franchise. She should know.
When Mary and her husband, Tommy, purchased an Express Personnel franchise in 1995, Mary had merely taken a leave of absence from her full-time teaching position. Tommy, hadn't quit his job as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, either. Good thing, because-with all systems go-the couple was told that the SBA wasn't going to approve their loan-guarantee application.
"We were told to put our dreams on hold," Mary says, "but we couldn't because we had the building lease signed and all equipment in place. There was nothing to do but go forward."
Express Personnel was equally shocked, because they had already granted the Allens a franchise. Worse yet, no one could explain why the application wasn't being approved (to this day, Mary says no satisfactory explanation has ever been offered). So, to keep the cash flowing, Mary headed back to the classroom. "You can imagine trying to juggle running a franchise with teaching," she says.
The determined franchise owner's background in accounting, business law, computers, and computer programming helped a lot, but the rest was pure grit. "We were not deterred. We were insistent. We got people in on a part-time basis to run the business. At least with teaching, I got out at a decent time and was able to give the business all my attention when not in school."
The Allens, who always wanted to have their own business, had considered going into security because of Tommy's background. Ultimately, though, they settled on the employment service industry, in which Mary was experienced. "I was a job developer and career counselor for the Los Angeles unified school district-assisting youth in finding employment and choosing careers-so Express Personnel appealed to both of us."
Today, the Allens' franchise is taking root, even in the competitive Los Angeles market. Mary now devotes full time to the business, although Tommy still works as deputy sheriff. "I know it's the future for us. I wouldn't say it's better than teaching. We train our associates to keep their skills upgraded and more marketable. So it's still teaching in a way."
Mary applauds all the help that the franchisor provided during difficult times. "I don't think we would have lasted if we didn't have the franchise company support. But you have to believe in yourself. We had major hurdles to jump. But we made a decision that we were going ahead. And, we're glad we did."
Oh, yes, there's one other small satisfaction. "We don't have an SBA loan to pay back!"

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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