What Makes A Franchise Owner Run
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Pat Flynn was "rightsized" out of his corporate job at UPS in 1995. He took up with Guardsman WoodPro, a fledgling furniture repair and restoration franchise backed by a brand name that every furniture buff knows. Last year, Flynn became WoodPro's top producer. How come this ex-exec can deliver the entrepreneurial goods?
For one thing, he loves making furniture. For another, Flynn has a profound respect for the Guardsman name. Then, there's his previous experience running a part-time printing business in the garage, a penchant for perfection and a bulldog work ethic. The result is one successful -- and happy -- proprietor. "It's so great to see the end result. Many times the customer feels that the item will have to be trashed. They feel they'll give it a last shot and see if I can fix it. They are very surprised when the piece looks great again."
Ken Jenniges came out of corporate America, too -- the retail grocery business to be precise -- but Jenniges gravitated to a Steamatic franchise. That was in 1991 and his business has been growing at a healthy clip ever since. Ken says his success boils down to hard labor, cash flow and people skills, not necessarily in that order. "I'm a farm boy with a strong work ethic. We go six days, 70 to 80 hours a week. The other challenge is in the accounting area, managing day-to-day, week-to-week cash flow. We also have to work at maintaining a level of customer service so that people will not only use again and again, they'll refer us to their friends and colleagues." Jenniges agrees the pace is hefty, but wishes he had gone with Steamatic 10 years earlier. "I like it. I liked it from the very first day on the job."
Franchise companies would love to clone owners like Flynn and Jenniges. In fact, companies routinely go to considerable expense and effort spotting franchise owners with just these attributes. Most prospects don't even make the first cut.
"Research shows that half of the people seeking information from a franchise company have zero capital," says Stuart Dizak, president of Video Data Services. "They think the SBA is going to buy their franchise for them. So, we've starting asking, 'Do you need financing?" And then we ask, 'How much?' If they say 'All of it,' we know it's a problem."
Dizak says the second qualifier is gumption. "When push comes to shove, most people simply don't have the guts to open their own business. They say, 'If only I had this-or-that, I could do this-or-that.' But they're really risk aversive. "
Several skills transcend industry lines
Tony Ziegler, director of franchise operations at Guardsman WoodPro, sites several attributes that differentiate a very successful owner from the average franchise owner: customer relations skills, detail-orientation, an ability to communicate product value and hard work.
Don Hay, president of Maid Brigade, Inc., believes that the best franchisees are well organized and have basic business skills. "Good communication skills are very important, too, because they will be dealing with an unskilled labor force and a large number of customers."
Jim Darland, director of franchise licensing at Miracle Ear, says his company is looking for franchise owners with a strong management background and the ability to deal with the clientele.
For Miracle Ear, that often means somebody from middle to upper management, with good marketing and sales skills. The company hunts for desirable personality traits in a detailed profile test, which is the last step a prospect takes before entering a franchise agreement. Evaluations expose the test taker's behavior style, personal interests and values.
Franchisors also love enthusiasm. "The most important attribute for our owners is a passion for booking cruises," says Tony Persico, president of CruiseOne. "We're selling dreams, so we're looking for a person with a passion for life, sensitivity to people and the ability to communicate color, senses, feeling."
Patience doesn't hurt, either. "Somebody booking a cruise may start out a little dictatorial at first, so we need to be patient and caring, never abrupt, but listening well and taking the long-term attitude."
No prima donnas please
"If an executive is used to passing the buck in a ten million dollar corporation, it won't work here," says Dizak. "You can't be a prima donna and excel as an entrepreneur."
Franchisors agree that a willingness to do whatever is required, while strictly following the franchisor's system, spells the difference between success and failure. Dizak puts it this way. "We have 236 franchise owners. The few failures we have had have been mostly Fortune 500 executives who came to us with large buy-outs. If somebody is used to delegating or used to responsibility for only a small portion of the business, that sometimes won't work."
Dizak has learned to recognize the danger signals. "Sometimes we can tell if there's going to be a problem, just by the questions people ask. I've had people say to me, 'Let's see... my investment is $20,000 so I'll need to make $60,000 the first year to recoup.' I say, 'If you find a business that works that way, let me know.'"
Smart owners harken to what they pay for
Owners who won't follow the system puzzle Dizak. "Sometimes an owner will say, 'I don't need any information on marketing. I already know everything there is to know about marketing.' If the franchise owner comes in with a chip on the shoulder, I know it's a problem. Look, you're paying for our expertise. We only ask that you come to us with an open mind, willing to listen."
Jim Darland agrees. "Our franchise owners need to follow the system. When we first ventured out to recruit people from outside the hearing aid industry -- in 1992 --that's when our business really began to grow. But, a corporate mentality can be a problem. We have had cases where things haven't worked out because someone wasn't willing to deviate from the way they had always done things.
We hope, though, that through the testing process, we now are able to identify the person who is willing to refocus, roll up their sleeves and learn from the ground up."
And, franchisors themselves aren't the only ones who recommend toeing the company line. Successful Maid Brigade franchise owner Stacia Glavas couldn't agree more. "It's amazing how many people won't do what their franchisor says. I did every single thing they told me to do. Sure, I added things, tried this or that: but first, I always asked, "Has anybody else tried this? Did it work?"
They do different things, but they all work hard
There's no magic formula to success, but hard work seems to underlie every success story.
Recently CruiseOne had a meeting at the inaugural cruise of the Destiny. The meeting theme was theme How'd You Do It? "When we do find somebody successful, we invite them to come and talk to others," Persico says. "After listening to that panel of successful franchisees, the common denominator was not what they did --because they all did something different -- but the intensity and exclusivity of their plan. One does nothing but newspaper ads. Another does some newspaper, but loves their direct mail. One who attends every Rotary, Kiwanis, and chamber of commerce meeting, shaking hands and meeting people, is hugely successful at that."
The key, Persico says, is to focus. "Some people are always looking at what somebody else is doing. They tell me, 'Well so-and-so is doing this-or-that.' And I say, 'Yes, and you can do that, too. But still do only four or five things.'"
There's no telling who might succeed
If every franchisor would like to bottle (and franchise!) the attributes that make a successful entrepreneur, where do they look for the right stuff?
Persico looks for prospects primarily at franchise shows and through magazine and newspaper ads. "We're not looking for people by age and we're looking geographically all over the country. We want people who are ready to make a full-time commitment now or who hope to grow this into a full-time commitment. We want people who think it would be exciting, fun, rewarding."
Dizak says his company has several very unusual franchisee success stories. "Don Seils, an Episcopalian priest was not earning enough. Within two years he become one of our most successful franchisees. He also has assisted many new franchisees in getting their business started."
Kelly Ryan of Pensacola, FL, is another Video wunderkind. She has been with VDS for two years, joining right out of college. "I was reluctant to take her on as a franchisee, since I felt she did not have enough life experience. She has proved me entirely wrong as. Last year, she was the most successful VDS first-year franchisee."
Better to acquire than possess knowledge
The attributes a franchisor looks for in an owner can change over time. Jim Darland says that has happened at Miracle Ear. "Ten years ago, we looked mainly at conversion franchising. We felt that people who already were in the hearing aid business would be very qualified. Today, we have found that people coming from the corporate world -- people from all walks of life with no experience whatsoever -- work better because they are open to learning the business from us."
Dustballs, Debits and Dedication
Maid Brigade, Inc.'s most successful franchise owner has taken her cleaning business from start-up to over $2 million in just five years. In the meantime, this powerhouse lady with an MBA has had three babies. A few months ago, Stacia Glavas' husband-an ex-lawyer/lobbyist-also quit his job and came to work at Maid Brigade. If Glavas sounds driven, think again. She started this business so she'd have time to raise a family!
"I came to Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill. I was living downtown, the fast-paced lifestyle, but I realized I wanted to have a family. I didn't see myself doing both, being away from home 70 to 80 hours a week."
Business ownership made sense to Stacia, who grew up in Oklahoma, on a farm, where the family ran a John Deere dealership.
"I took the plunge the Christmas of 1988. My goal was to be up and running by April 1, 1989."
Stacia began her search with a three-step strategy. "The first step was to nail down the industry. The second step was to choose the specific business. The third was to set up."
She approached step one methodically. "I got Entrepreneur magazine and contacted every business offering a franchise for under $50,000. There aren't many, you know: the postal services, the maid services, the carpet cleaning businesses."
Stacia narrowed her choice to Maid Brigade because she liked the concept, the look, the name. "It all fit me. It was important to like the people I was going to be working around, to have a network."
Stacia ended up buying an existing site from somebody who already had a manger and three employees. Things didn't go well. "My first day at work the manager never showed up and neither did one employee. I found myself cleaning toilets on Saturday morning."
Glavas had no problem going from a three-piece suit to a maid's uniform. "I absolutely LOVED it. I loved the freedom. I loved wearing jeans. I worked from 7 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day for a year. I remember on Thursday nights I'd do payroll while I watched LA Law."
That sense of enthusiasm and Stacia's eye for a dollar underlie her success. "My philosophy from the very beginning has been to keep really good records. I monitored advertising expenses and every dollar we spent for desk supplies and staples, I wrote on the front and back of every piece of paper. That's what enabled me to grow."
She's strong on the small things, too. "I have a memory for details. I remember one customer who felt we were growing too fast that he wasn't getting enough attention. When I called him I was able to remember that he had a dog and which person he liked as a supervisor. I focus."
Unlike some die hard franchisees, though, Stacia managed to grow a private life, too. "I decided that the business was here to serve me, not the other way around. My husband and I went to Tahiti for two weeks. And, yes, there were problems. The manager got into a car accident and houses didn't get cleaned for three days. When I came back I called all the customers. Sure, I lost two or three. But long after I'd forgotten those three days I remembered that trip to Tahiti very, very well."
Balance means a lot to Glavas. "My whole point in this was to have a family. So when I got pregnant eight months after buying the franchise, I hired a manager and then I entrusted the daily stuff to her. I have hired people that are good, with the skills I need and then I delegate. I can't see doing all of this if I'm going to be a slave."
Stacia says she couldn't be happier. "I'm glad I was willing to do it. Yes, it's hard and I've worked hard. There's been some luck and it's a risk. But, frankly, even though I don't rely on the franchisor as much I once did, I absolutely would not be where I am if I had gone on my own."

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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