Divorce from the corporate world
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
In his line of work, David Prewitt has seen many corporate executives divorce. He's probably even helped some reach that decision. Not just any corporate executives-the right corporate executives. At Adventures in Advertising, where he works in franchise development, Prewitt counts about 85 ex-corporate employees among those he and his organization have lured away from their old ties to "the company." Next year he expects that number to reach 150.
Prewitt is proud that after deliberating and soul searching so many executives choose to buy an Adventures in Advertising franchise. And why shouldn't he be pleased? Like many other franchise companies, Adventures in Advertising can offer corporate executives life after divorce from the corporate world.
According to the International Franchise Association, an industry trade association, franchising is an excellent way to be in business for yourself but not by yourself. The franchisor is always there, says IFA, providing expertise, experience, and continuous advertising and marketing support. With back-up like this, Prewitt and other smart franchisors have no trouble enticing executives to leave corporate America. Most find their professional lives better "the second time around."
Should I stay or should I go?
Couples who leave a relationship do so for many reasons. It's the same for corporate executives who decide to break away from corporate life. Some want to be in charge of their own financial future. Others are seeking a more direct connection between effort and reward. Lately, more and more seem to hanker after a different lifestyle. "We have people who have decided that money isn't the only criteria they are looking for in their lives," says Jerry Perch, vice president of sales and marketing for Kinderdance. Instead, some are looking for control of their time, more flexible schedules, and the ability to control their own businesses. Kinderdance-a homebased business-offers owners a chance to own a franchise that teaches dance and gymnastics to young children.
Adventures in Advertising, which offers a franchise opportunity in specialty marketing of promotional products to businesses, also has found that lifestyle can influence a buying decision as much as economics. Prewitt describes prospects who have worked with outplacement services, analyzed their skills, and decided that the next rung up the corporate ladder is a steeper climb than they had bargained for. So they choose franchising.
Merger Mania Motivates
Buyouts and mergers are driving even more executives into franchising. "It was downsizing years ago, now it's consolidation. You have two or three companies coming together, which leaves redundant positions," said Ron Rezetko, chief executive officer and founder of Batteries Plus, a retail outlet specializing in selling thousands of batteries. He says that mergers leave middle- to upper-management employees especially vulnerable because companies tend to keep workers rather than managers.
Al Hornstein, director of public relations for MAACO, an auto painting and bodywork chain, has also noticed the trend. "Anyone who has been in corporate business for a number of years almost can see the writing on the wall. Particularly with mergers and buyouts. Years ago they were safe in their job. Now they know they're not, so they obviously start looking."
Merger drove Jody Walder-Biesanz from a six-figure job selling advertising time to TV and radio stations. "When I started working for for my company, we were an employee stock ownership company. During that time there was major incentive to work for the company and to work hard." But a buyout changed all that. Soon, the company was publicly traded, and she found the incentive for growing the company had gone. Walder-Biesanz decided she wanted a change that couldn't find in corporate America. So she bought a Kinderdance franchise. "I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be able to work for a company whose values matched mine was if it was my own."
Why franchising?
One of the characteristics that Walder-Biesanz said appealed to her was the franchising success rate. The Department of Commerce reports that, since 1971, less than five percent of franchise outlets have failed or been discontinued each year. By contrast, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 65 percent of business start-ups fail within five years.
Even with the numbers on their side, some people still have reason to be concerned. Prewitt says the largest hurdle to overcome is taking on all the jobs, from the most lofty to the most menial. "We always hear, 'I want to be in control of my own economic future' And those things are real, if you are willing to accept all the responsibilities of being your own CEO."
That's because it's not just being the boss that potential franchisees need to consider; it's also being the worker. Many executives leave positions where they were responsible for divisions of companies and go to smaller businesses where they have to take a more hands-on approach. "They have to wait on customers, and they aren't used to doing that," says Rezetko. "They have to be more service conscious, and they have to wear more hats."
Do I have what it takes?
It takes more than a willingness to be boss and worker to make the successful transition to independence. Character, capacity and capital are the three Cs it takes to become a Batteries Plus franchisee. "We look for character in the interview. Capacity means you have to be able to do the job. And you have to have the money," says Rezetko.
People skills are another critical component. "If they don't have the attitude that they want to serve and make people happy, they won't make it in a small business."
Aside from executives determining if they have the right personality to be a franchise owner, they must determine if the franchise they choose has the right personality for them. Prewitt tells prospective franchise owners to look for franchises that fit their skill set and background. "If you've been in sales and marketing all your life and suddenly you find yourself behind the counter of a retail store, that might not be the best place for you to be."
It also helps prospective franchise owners to know exactly what they're looking for. Hornstein tells the story of Jan Marshall and Charlesann Nugebauer, two women who surveyed many potential franchise opportunities before settling on a MAACO business in Oklahoma City. Car repainting may seem an odd choice for two women from corporate beginnings, but the high ticket sale associated with a MAACO transaction proved decisive. "In auto painting, the average ticket is between $400 and $500. We have a position where they could make $200 to $300 on one car," said Hornstein. The two women were so successful, they have since sold their business to employees.
When Walder-Biesanz analyzed her background, she also saw a close match with Kinderdance. She found she had "tons of sales and marketing skills" and a degree in Theatre that she had paid for by teaching music at preschools. Moreover, she had a four-year-old daughter. As a self-described "awesome salesperson," Walder-Biesanz said she had no real burning desire to do any particular business until she bumped into a Kinderdance advertisement in a parenting magazine. With her background and her interests, the possibility of Kinderdance ownership seemed to jump at her.
Prewitt has found that even Adventures in Advertising customers-most of whom are in corporate America-sometimes see the light of franchise ownership without much prodding. "A lot of people who are interested in us come from the consumptive side of what we do, They usually understand that promotional products are a very effective medium for motivation incentive and recognition as well as reward for employees and clients." In addition, Prewitt says customers understand how the products are used and why they have value. Many also are creative and relationship-driven. That's why, once a person with these attributes begins to consider whether or not to stay in corporate America, Prewitt has a good shot at seducing them away. Some, he will eventually talk into divorce.
The road to franchise ownership
If you think you are a "total manic workaholic," should you really consider owning a business? For Jody Walder-Biesanz, the answer was no and then yes.
In the beginning, Jody worried that, if she owned her own business, it would be impossible for her to separate. "I would never stop working." She was right. Eight months ago, Jody purchased a Kinderdance franchise and drove herself to work 20-hour days, even with help from her husband and four-year-old daughter. Jody also propelled herself to a position as the company's fastest growing franchisee. How did she go from no to yes?
A 16-year career selling advertising time for TV and radio companies proved very successful for her. She'd worked her way up to a six-figure salary, but then a series of buyouts robbed her of the incentive to stay. "I came to the conclusion after eight months of informational interviews that the majority of the large companies were as dysfunctional as the one I was leaving."
The smaller companies she found appealing were not able to meet her salary requirements, either, so that's when she started to think "maybe, possibly, I might do my own thing."
For almost six months, Jody talked to franchisors around the country. Then, after seeing an advertisement in a local parenting magazine, she focused on Kinderdance, a company that teaches young children dance and gymnastics.
With Kinderdance, she hopes to replace her big corporate salary income within three years. So far she said she is on track to reach her goal. "Of the 300 sales calls I've made, I've only had about five people refuse"
This early success has enabled her to cut back the work load. "We're averaging 12 hours a day now, and my family is much happier," says Jody.

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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