It's A Brave New World of Franchising
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Pete Fry is a man who's turning ice into gold. As president and founder of the new Puckmasters Hockey Training Centers, Fry has not only set up a workable hockey training system for kids and adults, heÆs figured out how to franchise it. The concept is so exciting that two prospective franchisees booked flights to corporate headquarters in Vancouver even before a franchise offering circular could arrive in the mail.
Puckmasters is one of those contemporary franchises that breaks the mold. Two decades ago franchising was synonymous with fast food. In the nineties, the word can mean ice hockey training, educational toys, backyard decks and women's golf. "It's really about taking care of people"
Even the established franchise companies are looking for new ways to serve.
A driver searching for a tuneup in 1975 could either take the car into the dealer, find a neighborhood mechanic or do the job alone. Not much of a choice. Precision Tune Auto Care, founded that year, stepped in to provide a quick, convenient, inexpensive tune up service.
But that was then. Today, with more than 550 franchises worldwide, the basic Precision store is more one-stop shop than a one-trick pony. A Precision Tune customer now can have anything done from sophisticated diagnostic work, to brakes, to air-conditioning maintenance, to a basic oil change..
By widening the variety and quality of services offered, Precision Tune franchises aim for repeat customers. As Paul Bernstein, vice president of communications puts it, ôIn this business, customer loyalty is extremely important.ö
Meanwhile, start-up franchise companies are finding potential in even more unusual markets.
The Grass Ceiling
In the trenches of the gender wars, Patricia Dixon walks softly and carries a big stick. Actually, itÆs a bag full of golf clubs.
An above average golfer herself, Dixon was unhappy with the condescending attitudes she encountered at local golf shops. Her final frustration came when she saw an ad in a golf magazine picturing a woman heading for the 19th hole. Dixon called a golf pro friend, complaining, ôWhen are they going to do something about thisö
ôWhen are you going to do something about this?ö said her friend.
The result was Empowered WomenÆs Golf, a Dallas-based franchise that puts Dixon at the crest of a promising wave.
Women account for more than 20% of all golfers and spend a proportionate share of the green dollar on merchandise and fees. Much of EmpoweredÆs clientele is drawn from women who not only want to participate in golf as a sport, but who also see it as a way of forging business contacts in a manner traditionally open to men. In these numbers, Dixon saw an underserved market waiting to be tapped. She must have been right because, following heavy publicity in the area, as word of the opening spread, women were lined up waiting for 10:00 a.m. on the day she threw open her doors for the first time opening day. Already have four franchised units have been sold, with several more coming on stream.
Under the Boardwalk
Find a way to do something better than anyone currently can or find something that no one else does. Stelio Flamos and Joe McClellan, the founders of Deckare, believe they have both.
Statistics show more than 40 million residential and commercial decks in the United States. Three million new decks are built every year. ThatÆs a lot of exposed wood to take care of, but probably not a lot of homeowners anxious to spend time maintaining those decks. Deckare would like nothing better than to do the dirty work .
Stelio brings 20 years in the surface preparation and protective coatings industry to the franchise opportunity. Joe adds another 20 years of franchising experience. Together they hope to endow bring the deck-treating franchise quick visibility.
Deckare was founded in 1995 in Ohio and now has seven units in five states. The franchise is offered to part or full time operators as a stand alone business or one that can be bundled with other home care services. "Combining Deckare with another business is a tremendous opportunity to expand both operations" says Stelio.
New Franchises for a New Age
The world's first one-on-one hockey training franchise might seem like a strange idea to most people. Hockey coaches don't think so. In fact, a lot of coaches have thought about offering such training. They just couldn't figure out how to do it, says Tod Wilcock.
Why would this arcane franchise offer seem so enticing? For one thing, the allure transcends hockey, to encompass such new age goals as life mastery and coping with disappointment. ôOne of the things that club members get to do when they come in is talk about the greatest success they had the previous week,ö says Tod Wilcock, who recently becamethe second master franchisee for Puckmasters Hockey Training Centers. Wilcock says one hockey playerÆs mom found this exercise so appealing that she began to practice it herself every time she brought her child in for lessons. She ended up returning to college for her degree. In short, franchises like Puckmaster add up to a tantalizing opportunity for business owners to link what they love with what they do for a living. In the new age of franchising, that's the whole point.
Live and Learn, Learn, Learn
The way Sharon DiMinico looks at it, Learning Express was an idea waiting to happen. ôI knew that I could franchise this from the very beginning.ö
Somewhere between the purely entertaining toys kids love to get and the brainy educational toys which their parents prefer, lies a happy medium. Sharon saw power in the right mix of high-quality games and child-friendly shopping space.
Her first Learning Express opened to benefit a local community school of which she was President of the Board. in her area. Sharon waived franchise fees and royalties for the location. Within a year the second store was launched and franchises started to roll out in full two years later.
Sharon was wary of expanding too fast.She didn't want to compromise the relationships which were the foundation of the success of the stores. At the same time, she knew that the company had to grow. ôWe needed to expand our market or lose market share.ö The solution was an innovative model that allowed regional developers to share the responsibilities and benefits of sticking to the standards which made the stores a success.
Franchise owner Shelley Hobson, who opened a Learning Express with her husband in Wilmington, North Carolina, explains the philosophy this way. ôSharon provides the structure for the integrity of the store. But we have the freedom and the trust to test things that will work in our markets. We're all over the country and, the neat thing is, if we hit a home run, we can share it with other owners.ö
Such creative freedom is important for entrepreneurs, says Hobson, who searched for several years before settling on Learning Express. ôMy husband came home one day and said, æDid you know Learning Express is franchised?Æ Right then we knew that was what we wanted. Meeting Sharon we knew we were right.ö
Through the application of regional development, Learning Express will have 80 units nationwide by the end of 1997. ôThis is a very hot business right now.ö And what of that pioneering fledgling store in her hometown? It currently contributes more than $200,000 annually to the school.

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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