Franchising: Everything You Want to Be
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
In his time as a franchisor-and the years extend back to 1968, when his company began franchising-Russell Frith, chairman and CEO of Lawn Doctor, has seen people buy franchises for a lot of reasons. "They worked in the business and wanted to own. Their friend had one. They didn't want to deal with corporate life. They wanted to be their own business person. They wanted economic rewards commensurate with their work."
Be the boss
People seek many rewards in franchise ownership-and, sometimes, they get more than they bargain for. Gerry McGackin, a Lawn Doctor franchise owner of 23 years, was just 22 years old, recently married, and the father of a one-year-old baby when he bought his first Lawn Doctor franchise. He's got three now.
McGackin says he and his wife always knew they wanted to own a business, but they weren't sure what. He had become bored with his indoor, computer-keypunching job, and decided to go work for a Lawn Doctor franchise owner who needed help. At first he worked outdoors, but by the second and third years, McGackin was managing the business. A year later he bought his own.
McGackin admits that-in the beginning-the lawn business made no sense to him. He had come from a farming community where "growing" had a different conotation, but when he began to witness the march of new housing developments into the area, he "saw a pretty good opportunity."
He believes that being part of a solid franchise system has helped keep his business ahead of the market curve. "When I started, we dealt with high-income earners, but Lawn Doctor developed new equipment that enabled us to reduce the price substantially, bringing our services within the range of middle-class home owners."
McGackin's glad to have someone else paying attention to research and marketing and always coming up with innovative, new ideas."It's nice being that independent small business man, but having that big back up."
Get financially independent
Another Lawn Doctor franchisee, Bill Abbott, says economics drove his franchise purchase decision. "I might have stayed a teacher if I had been paid well enough, but the dollars and cents got me out of education and put me into the private sector, where there was room for growth and income."
Abbott got started by answering an ad in the paper to a Lawn Doctor franchisee looking for a manager. Like McGackin, he decided to go into business for himself quickly. "I was new at that time, so I wasn't sure what the business was all about. And, coming from education, I had no frame of reference with lawn care. After getting into it, though, I could see it was a real lucrative business, so it became my goal to become a franchise owner."
Abbott bought a Lawn Doctor franchise a year later, in 1977, and even though, at first, the business was more work with less pay, the rewards were more gratifying than they had been in teaching. "I was able to see growth and marketing decisions that I made come to fruition. The customer base kept growing and the business kept getting bigger." Abbott, who now owns three Lawn Doctor franchises, says, "I found some real fulfillment, knowing it was simply what I decided to do that made it happen."
Go for Excitement
Other motives for franchise ownership also emerge: people want to give something back to the community they came from; they covet a more direct connection between hours worked and money earned; they want to help people; and they want the excitement and fun of watching a business grow.
What excites PostNet franchise owner Steve Simmons is the chance to star with his own ideas. He gets that chance, thanks to the flexibility of this high-tech, business-support services franchise. "If a franchisee brings a particular ability, skill, or idea to the table that fits in with the services that our customers might need, you can do it," says Simmons. "I enjoy doing a lot of desktop publishing, for example, and PostNet lets me do that-royalty free-which is pretty unusual."
Just as exciting is PostNet's new partnership with NFL players, which pairs the Pros with franchise owners in specific territories to promote PostNet stores and services. Simmons, who opened his first store in Colorado in 1996, says, "It sets us apart from our competition. People like to be associated with a celebrity." Simmons points out that a call from his NFL pro partner-Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe-to a corporate CEO gets quicker attention than his own effort would.
Even the pros who already have been "somebody" are looking to continue the thrill by buying PostNet franchises. Mel Gray, a retired 14-year NFL veteran, says, "I just got bored sitting at home and I wanted to build something that was substantial that I would enjoy as well." He got excited about PostNet's Partner with the Pros program, which also helps him stay in touch with his NFL buddies, working as a team. "As players we seem like we are in this thing together, just like when I was playing the game," says Gray who moved back to his hometown when he purchased PostNet's southeastern Virginia territory. "It's a great situation for me in so many ways."
Nurture Others
Bill Shuman, owner of Prime Business Communication (PBC) in Cleveland, built up his franchise business both for himself and for others. A school teacher, counselor, and football and track coach for 30 years, Shuman first moved out of education and into the health care industry when he started negotiating network discounts for doctors and hospitals. Then he got intrigued with building a network of people to sell long-distance telephone service. As he researched the business, Shuman says he found that many telecommunications sales people had been burned by companies that went out of business or didn't pay commissions. Shuman believes that shouldn't happen. "Employers have employees who help them make millions. While the boss is driving a Mercedes, the employees are struggling to make a rent payment. These are good people who have dedicated themselves to helping their employers become successful."
Now Schuman is selling communications packages to hospitals and doctors, his niche. At the same time, he's building a sales force, one that he is determined to nuture. "In this industry, you have a lot of opportunity to help a lot of people win. That's what makes it worthwhile."
Have fun and freedom
What kind of business does a burned out clinical neuro-psychologist look for? "Something different," says Steve Swavely, franchise owner with The Entrepreneur's Source, a consulting and placement firm that matches potential franchise owners with franchise companies. "I got on the Internet and started looking for things that might appeal to me. When I ran across The Entrepreneur's Source webpage, something in it really appealed to me."
Once Swavely submitted his profile online, he was hooked by the process itself. "It was just like the commercial-I was so impressed with the razor, I bought the company." Swavely became The Entrepreneur's Source's first franchisee. With the freedom afforded by low start-up costs and a simple business-including a franchise fee below $20,000, a computer, fax machine and telephone-he's having a lot of fun. "It's been fantastic. Now my wife is involved. She helps me do the mailings and manages the e-mail program for me, sending clients updates on franchises they're looking at."
It's a snap doing business plugged into virtual reality, says Swavely, who is based in Charleston, SC. "I didn't believe I could do this over the Internet and have virtual clients. After training, I opened with no local clients. But, right away, headquarters sent me 50 inquiries from national advertising-folks from around the country-to start my first day." Swavely's enjoying himself so much that his brother, a psychologist, is now looking to move into the business, too.
Pick A Franchise That Allows You to Achieve Your Strategy
Finding fulfillment in franchise ownership is all in the pickin'-and smart choices is what Howard Bassuk's Franchise Network is about. This nationwide group of franchise consultants works both with franchisors and with people who are looking to acquire a business. "We're essentially match-makers, not sellers," says Bassuk.
He says the first thing people need to understand in making a decision about going into a business is how to separate the business they work in from the business they work on. In short, "You want a business that allows you to achieve your strategy. If your strategy is to have multiple units and to hire people, you're not going to be behind that counter taking orders for french fries or taking in clothing to be dry cleaned. Or, if you want a business that you can eventually back away from, you want the business to be simple enough to teach employees how to tend it."
Franchises, Spiced with Variety
Franchise shoppers have a wide variety of businesses to choose from, says Tom Portesy, vice president of Mart Ventures Group, a company that has been producing franchise trade shows for nearly 20 years. "There's a lot you can get involved in," he says, "and you're going to work hard in all of them. So try to make it something you really enjoy."
Portesy says that's easy when you check out the 100 exhibitors who will be strutting their stuff at Mart Ventures' upcoming trade show at the Jacobs Javits Center in New York City on November 20, 21, 22. About twenty-five different industries representing an investment range of between $500 and $1 million are in the show. Here's an example of the diversity of opportunities that will be on display:
_ traditional franchise companies like Blimpie, Subway, MinuteMan Press, Pizza Inn, Mail Boxes, Etc.
_ travel agencies like TeamTravel, that allow franchise owners to work part-time from home
_ a franchise travel agency called Travel Network that offers the option to own a storefront or sell through exclusive relationships with shoppers' clubs
_ food franchises of every description
_ franchises that teach you how to paint people's homes and how to get the accounts
_ companies that teach you how to make stained glass and sell it from a storefront
_ Pepperidge Farm, selling distributorships
_ Candy Bouquet, a storefront candy maker
_ Express Personnel, a personnel recruitment firm
_ King Bear, an automotive repair franchise in the northeastern U.S.
_ MacPherson Meistogram, which embroiders on clothing
_ Impressions on Hold, a business that creates company advertisements that play while the customer is on hold on the telephone
_ Gold Effects, a business-to-business franchise that gold plates any type of metal (car dealers' emblems, etc.)
_ Glamor Shots ("They swear that they can even make me look good!" says Portesy.)

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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