A reader wrote to me asking me how to decide whether to buy a franchise and whether there are any happy franchise owners. I investigated and found 11 franchise owners who are happy and willing to share information about their businesses. Franchise owners profiled below are from Anytime Fitness, CruiseOne, Elevation Burger, Fetch! Pet Care, Golden Corral, and IKOR. The article is continued in Happy Franchise Owners, Part 2 featuring Kiddie Academy, Labor Finders, Postal Connections, Primose School, and World Adult Kickball Association.
Roger Aaron, Anytime Fitness
Mr. Aaron owns Anytime Fitness locations in Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Most days, you can find him working in one of the clubs as he is very active and involved in all aspects of the business. He enjoys getting the clubs up and running profitably and building the member base. If he buys an existing club that is struggling, he likes the process of turning it around.
Two things that have been challenges are staffing and accepting all the rules that come with owning a franchise. Mr. Aaron comments, “When I bought my first franchise, Anytime Fitness was a young company and they didn’t have a lot of rules as far as build out of the building and things like that. As they have grown, they have become stricter and tighter with what they require. I struggled at first with not having the freedom to do what I wanted. However, as I followed what they wanted, I realize it was a good thing.”
In 2005, Mr. Aaron came to the franchising world with a strong retail background. Before he retired from the retail industry, he was a Special Divisions District Manager for a major retail company. He said he was making a good income in his retail career, but he is earning more now.
Mr. Aaron’s advice for someone considering buying a franchise is to try to work in the field first. He observes, “It will be harder than you think and there are a lot of unexpected expenses so be prepared.” He concludes, “Because I worked retail for so long and I loved what I did (I was a dedicated company man), I thought I would miss it. I do not. I love what I do and I would do it over again.”
Kathy Freer, CruiseOne
Ms. Freer purchased a CruiseOne franchise in January of 2010. She says the best thing about owning her business is that loves her work and she enjoys the flexibility of her schedule. The most challenging thing is finding time for a personal life. Ms. Freer explains, “I am very driven and I want my business to grow. Sometimes I don’t shut down!”
Ms. Freer advises anyone considering buying a franchise to do research and realize that it isn’t a great fit for everyone. She cautions, “It does require a lot of work and a lot of dedication. There will be many stumbles and frustrations and you have to be able to work through that. You cannot expect to buy a franchise and have business pour in. With my CruiseOne franchise, I am constantly learning and investing in myself to set myself apart, whether it be courses offered by cruise lines or land suppliers or courses offered by CruiseOne Corporate.”
Another challenge is the financial side because it requires patience to build the business toward profitability. Ms. Freer recalls, “When I purchased my CruiseOne franchise, I knew it would be a big commitment because I put any money made by my franchise back into my business to make it grow. I did not expect to have income for at least four years. My goal is to invest the money back into the business, which is certainly paying off.”
Ms. Freer continues, “I am ahead of where I planned to be at this point in time. With a non-franchise career, working for someone else, my income may be higher at this point, but I am confident that with my hard work and dedication, my income from my franchise will at least be equal to what I could make working for someone else. I really enjoy what I do and I love the flexibility I have. I cannot put a monetary value on that.”
Daniel Magnus, Elevation Burger
Daniel Magnus owns two franchise locations of Elevation Burger and plans to open many more. He opened his first Elevation Burger location in October of 2011 and the second opened in July of 2012. He identifies his chief responsibilities as finding great real estate locations for stores and then building beautiful restaurants. While Mr. Magnus employs General Managers at each store, he describes himself as a “very involved owner.” He visits each store every day.
Mr. Magnus notes that it is challenging to achieve a good work/life balance when you don’t have a set schedule of traditional employment. He explains, “As an entrepreneur, you have to decide when you step away from the work. I am very disciplined with my schedule and I feel it is critically important that I make time for the other areas of my life that are important to me. It is very easy to see how people get consumed by their businesses.”
Mr. Magnus has advice for anyone considering buying a franchise. He cautions, “Do your homework! It is amazing to me that there are people who sign franchise agreements without reading through them completely and/or understanding them fully.”
Mr. Magnus jokes that the best part of owning a franchise is “FREEDOM!” He laughed, “Freedom to work 90 hours a week, freedom to get phone calls in the middle of the night, and freedom to write very large checks.” He also says, kidding aside, “Seriously, I find it very gratifying building my own business. It is a tremendous amount of work, but at the end of the day, I am building something meaningful for myself, my family, my employees, and the communities that we are serving everyday.”
Sue Cashin, Fetch! Pet Care
Since 2009, Sue Cashin has been the owner of Fetch! Pet Care of McHenry County, Illinois. Ms. Cashin is involved with all business operations including sales, customer service, marketing, staffing, accounting and information management.
Ms. Cashin says that even though it is challenging to stay competitive in the pet care market during tough economic times, there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to provide our clients that peace of mind by offering the utmost professional and reliable pet care service.
Ms. Cashin has advice for anyone considering buying a franchise,
“Do your homework! Ask to see the business model of the franchise you’re seeking to buy. Understand any binding contracts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the contract or business model! Research your competition in the territory you wish to purchase. Don’t expect the business will come to you. You must be a dedicated individual willing to give 110% the first couple of years in order to be successful. For any business owner, compensation is purely based on how much revenue you’re bringing in. Be realistic when creating your business plan by creating achievable goals. You can determine your compensation based on how well those goals are met.”
Mickey Chance, Golden Corral
Mickey Chance of Chance Hospitality is the owner of 2 Golden Corral franchises. While he has been an owner for six years, his total number of years working with Golden Corral is 27. Mr. Chance works at the restaurants seven days a week, about 65 hours. He says, “I’ve always been a worker.”
Mr. Chance is an evangelist for Golden Corral. He says enthusiastically, “Golden Corral has a great structure and I just love being able to build and improve on it. I’ve got customers that eat here five days a week, and I always enjoy making my rounds and saying hello to everyone. It’s like a big family.”
The most difficult part of his job is that the cost of food fluctuates on a day-to-day basis. He also mentions that it can be challenging to find the right people for the right positions, although he adds, “I’ve been blessed to have 10 employees that have been here for over 20 years. I have guests that come requesting to sit in different sections each time just so they can visit with the women working that section. It’s like they’ve become friends over the years.”
Another thing that Mr. Chance appreciates about his employer is their business model. He explains,
“Golden Corral is such a unique business because you have a sense of ownership the first day you start working as a general manager. You have a salary, but you also receive compensation based on the performance of the restaurant. After one year as a GM you can become an operating partner which puts you in line for ownership in five years. But by the time you’re an owner, the only real difference is that you’re now responsible for everything. When you run a company store, the corporate office handles things like payroll, taxes, marketing and such. Now, it’s my responsibility.”
Mr. Chance echoes other franchise owners when he recommends that before buying a franchise, you do due diligence so you know what you are buying into. He concludes, “I can honestly say that anybody buying a Golden Corral franchise cannot go wrong because they set you up for success. You can’t go wrong if you go by their guidelines. You’ve got all the support in the world, and if you‘ve got a problem, the corporate office is right there to help you.”
Dennis Mahoney, IKOR
Since 2010, Dennis and Chris Mahoney have owned an IKOR franchise in Delaware and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. IKOR helps families manage short-term health crises and long-term care issues for seniors and disabled adults and children. Mr. Mahoney is responsible for client-facing business including sales, marketing, operations, hiring/firing, day-to-day financial management, HR, etc. Ms. Mahoney handles most of the behind the scenes activity such as client/employee record keeping, technology issues etc.
Mr. Mahoney says the best part of running his business is the independence to create the outcome. He enjoys the ability to trust and rely on himself to be successful and he finds it rewarding to impact people’s lives and make a difference. He identifies the biggest challenges as managing expectations about business growth and startup staffing. He explains that in the beginning in startup mode when there was less business coming in, if nurses weren’t sufficiently busy to earn a good income on a billable hour basis, they left. Then Mr. Mahoney had to find more nurses and go through training all over again, hoping to have sufficient business to retain the new staff. It took awhile to get to the point where all the nurses were busy and engaged so that Mr. Mahoney could sustain the best workforce. Mr. Mahoney is happy to say the first part of 2013 and last part of 2012 have been the most successful time in his business, building on the foundation he put in place the first couple of years of ownership.
Mr. Mahoney’s background included a position as vice president in a significant healthcare company. This means that his compensation fell when he launched his new career as an IKOR owner. Over time, however, he expects to exceed his previous compensation.
Mr. Mahoney’s advice to anyone considering a purchase of a franchise is to recognize that it will be very hard work, no matter how good the product or service seems to be. He warns,
“You have to be realistic in terms of growth expectations. You should look at a ramp up time as far as really arriving at where you want this new venture to take you as far as rewards of business ownership. You also have to make sure you can focus on making the business successful. The business needs your attention on a daily basis. The market needs your attention – you have to get out there and meet with the right people who will help you build your business. When I started out I was all over looking for the low-hanging fruit that didn’t exist. I was wasting my time, although it did give me a chance to hone my message. You have to focus on the market you’re in because without seeing the right customers regularly and without them seeing you regularly, you don’t have a chance to make a name for yourself with them and earn their trust. Finally, if you have a business partner, be it a spouse or anyone else, it is critical that you share the same realistic expectations from the beginning and continuously communicate about them along the way.”
Read about more happy franchise owners from Kiddie Academy, Labor Finders, Postal Connections, Primose School, and World Adult Kickball Association.