Yes, Franchising Is for the Young!
Many young entrepreneurs are discovering that franchising can jump-start them on the road to business success. While people in their 20s and early 30s may lack the business experience and acumen of their elders, with the right attitude, enough determination, and a little bit of help from their friends (and parents), they can plug their passion into a franchise model that has been proven over time. Here is the story of two young franchisees who have already made the jump to successful multi-unit operators at an early age.
Confidence, passion, and teamwork
Candace Marek spent her early years in business selling insurance and gym memberships. She loved being a part of the "feel-good industry" that helps people take care of themselves, stay fit, and look healthy.
Then, she says, "My husband and I decided we wanted to go into business for ourselves. We really liked what we saw in tanning salons and were intrigued by franchising." They tapped a silent partner for start-up capital and launched their first Planet Beach Contempo Spa in May 2004 in Raleigh, N.C., when she was only 25 years old.
"It's been one of the greatest things we've ever done," says Marek. "We love the constant interaction with people every day." Their first store did so well they were able to buy out their silent partner and open a second store, in Durham, within 18 months. After that, they opened a third, in Raleigh, and then became area developers for the surrounding Wake County area – and made plans to open an average of four stores a year.
Marek's forte is operations and staffing, and was so successful as an operator that Planet Beach asked her to handle the training for all the units in Wake County. Husband Brent applies his corporate background to manage the financial side of the business.
She understands how some might question their being multi-unit franchisees at such a young age. However, she says, "If you have it in you to be successful, and you're passionate, you're going to do just that, whether you have experience or not." She says there have been some awkward moments when she, as the boss, was younger than some of her employees.
Marek believes it's important for any young franchisees to be actively involved in the business. "Plan to be involved every day because nobody will have a passion for your business like you do," she says. "We really like the way we can function as hands-on operators with three stores, but we'd like to help sell and manage more locations." That's because one of the couple's longer-term goals is to earn a good living and retire early.
Determination, drive, and a culture of success
Operating multiple McAlister's Deli franchises in New Orleans in August 2005 was a blessing and a curse for Kyle Brechtel. Business was good when Hurricane Katrina swamped one of his locations under six feet of water. Another unit was located in the Harrah's Casino downtown. Neither was left in operating condition. To make matters worse, he was scheduled to open another location the week the storm hit. But Brechtel, only 24 at the time, did not succumb.
"We worked from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. to get those stores back open," he says. He did, and both were more profitable after the storm than before. He opened two more in the Big Easy, another two in Illinois, and had plans for a dozen more – all at the age of 26.
"I'd gone to college in Louisiana and thought I might want to be in building construction," he says. "From there I found my way to real estate development, and rather naturally to franchising." He had no restaurant experience but his father, through an associate, was familiar with the McAlister's brand – and paired up with another investor to lend him the seed money to get up and running.
"They're getting a great return on investment these days," says Brechtel. Having those investors behind him, he says, brought credibility to the table for him at the outset.
"I wanted to have my own business, and franchising offers that for people with little or no experience," he says. He concedes that he was "naive and didn't think I could fail. I was just going to be successful." But he had a few more things going for him: he was familiar with the New Orleans market, and he had a cousin willing to help him get the stores off the ground. Also, he says, "Being so young does have some advantages. I think I'm more in touch with relating to young employees."
And he knows that in franchising, making it on your own doesn't mean making it by yourself. "One of the keys to successful franchising is surrounding yourself with good people and creating a culture of success for everybody involved," he says. To do that, he relies on a director of operations, a training executive, and managers to oversee each location.
Brechtel says he stays involved with as much as he can on a day-to-day basis but is also actively seeking to develop new stores, and says diversifying concepts could be in his future. "I think the key is to believe in yourself, have financial resources, and surround yourself with great people. You may be inexperienced, but you can be passionate."
Note: These case studies are adapted from an article that appeared in Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine in late 2007. Some of the facts may be dated, but the observations and experiences of these youthful operators remain invaluable for younger franchisees seeking to build their own franchise empires. To view the full article, which includes interviews with three more young multi-unit franchisees, visit mufranchisee.com/article/361/.