From Hoses to Flip Flops: Niche franchising continues to add fresh and unique players to the world of franchising

Think of it as hoses-to-go.

A broken hose can spell disaster for many businesses. A machine breakdown at a job site or factory can cause work to grind to a halt. And sometimes it can take days or weeks until the proper replacement hose can be obtained and the machines repaired. In purely economic terms, a $20 broken hose can bring a $3 million crane to a standstill - not to mention the paid employees who are idly standing by.

This is where Pirtek, a 24-hour, on-site hose and assembly replacement service comes in. The franchise, founded in Australia, offers hoses and fittings for machines in industries like manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, and engineering among others.

Ken Adair can handle any of those hose needs in the Chicago area.

Since 1998, Adair has been operating Pirtek O'Hare in Elk Grove Village. In 2003, he opened a second Chicagoland location in South Holland. He's served clients such as Walsh Construction and Tyco Healthcare as well as various car haulers and forklift companies.

"We bring the hoses to the customer, usually in under an hour," says Adair, a former commodity broker.

He says each of his 12 fully equipped service vans is staffed by qualified, trained technicians. The vans are stocked with a full range of hoses (1,000 feet each of variable sizes) and more than 700 different fittings and adaptors (as many as 2,000 parts), along with a crimping press and cut-off saw to manufacture hose assemblies on site.

Adair says his biggest challenge in the beginning was the lack of name recognition and the need to change old behavior patterns. "People have always just gone offsite, ordered and purchased the repair hose, and then had the repair done. But what we can do is much more efficient."

He says and support from the franchisor are ongoing and of the highest caliber.

Flipping to another niche market can be a "sole-ful" matter.

In Nashville, Tenn., Leanne Moor has become the very first franchisee for Flip Flop Shops. She signed on with the company in February and is scheduled to open her store this summer at the Opera Mills Mall in Nashville.

You may laugh, but flip flops are a $20 billion a year industry and are continuing to grow in popularity. As a matter of fact, in 2006 flip flop sales were higher than athletic shoe sales.

The new concept, which until now consisted of a handful of company-owned stores, keeps it simple. They sell nothing but flip flops and sandals. Walk in any store and you'll find more than 600 pairs hanging on the racks.

"One of the main qualifiers for this franchise is that you love flip flops," says Moor, a CPA with more than 20 years of experience. "That's an easy one for me."

The process of choosing the Flip Flop Shops franchise was easy for Moor, too. She says the corporate staff has been there to assist her at every turn. "I came from a professional background and I've loved the professional manner of treatment that I've received at this franchise."

She was also attracted by the relatively low start-up cost and the simplicity of the model. There currently are 7 locations operating, with another 5 to 10 slated to open by the end of 2008. Over the next five years, Flip Flop Shops plans for 236 units throughout the U.S.

"Flip Flop Shops are laid back, fun places where customers who love flip flops have a huge selection to choose from. Inside the stores they smell the scent of sun tan oil and can watch outdoor sporting activities on TV screens," says Moor.

Moor says she can run the store with just a couple of employees, and that once she feels comfortable with her first location she'll be ready for more.

"I love shoes and I love the environment," she says. "It's the perfect business for me."

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