Edwin Sarkissian escaped the oppression of his native Iran with his family in 1996. Believe it or not, once in America, one of the first things the young Sarkissian longed for was a computer.
"When we arrived in America, we didn't have much. I remember being so excited to go to Best Buy and look at computers. I couldn't afford one. My mom tried to get a credit card, but because we hadn't been here that long she was declined. I was so sad that day," recalls Sarkissian, now 28.
Fortunately, a church member donated an older computer to him. "It had a lot of problems, but just moving the mouse made me so happy," Sarkissian says. "Now, my laptop and electronic devices are in perfect condition. I take good care of them because I learned how to appreciate everything I have."
To earn money for a bike, the young Sarkissian rode the bus to work at McDonald's. When he got his bike, he rigged it with a radio so he could listen to music while he rode and began saving for a car. When he graduated from high school, he went to work building out hotel franchises in Denver.
"But I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to own my own business and make my parents proud and ultimately support them at some point," says Sarkissian, winner of Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine's 2012 MVP American Dream Award. As he learned about his new country, he began to understand the concept of franchising and how people are drawn to brands with a reputation for good food or products and great service.
He took the plunge, taking on Best Western and Fantastic Sams franchises in California near his family. The grand opening of his first salon in Turlock, Calif., was a huge affair with community marketing and direct advertising. Surrounded by Supercuts, he and his team started branding Fantastic Sams in the community even before it opened by using logo-emblazoned trailers, cars, and trucks and blanketing the area with stickers and flyers. Soon everybody in town knew about the salon and its young owner.
In June 2011, Sarkissian opened a second salon in Modesto, and less than a year later opened his third.
"Edwin is a branding guru, whether he's directing his advertising on a market level or on the individual salon level," says Scott Colabuono, president and CEO of Fantastic Sams Hair Salons International. "He uses all the tools available to him, follows the Fantastic Sams System, and has developed a very strong team with high standards. He features the brand and his salons on everything he touches, whether wrapping his vehicles or partnering with movie theaters. Edwin's three salons and three hotels--plus two hotels he manages for investors--are gems in his portfolio. I wish I had dozens of Edwins in our system."
Sarkissian says franchising has been the best path to success for him. "I knew from the start that the chance of failure with a franchise was much less than with another kind of operation. The franchisor's job is to make sure you succeed, so even though franchisees pay the price (royalties, etc.), we're all in this together."
Despite his seven-day work week, the young franchisee says he is grateful every day. "I come from a country where people aren't given these chances. Yes, there are economic and political problems in this country, but those mean nothing to me. At the end of the day, we have a nice, comfortable bed and a nice meal and we get up in the morning and do it again. Fifty percent of the world doesn't get to do that. It's important to appreciate that."
Name: Edwin Sarkissian
Company: Six Nineteen Management
Brands/units: 3 Fantastic Sams Hair Salons, 3 Best Westerns