Finding New Life: Innovator Finds Purpose and Prosperity in Franchising

Gary Hughes turned 50 and decided he'd had enough of the corporate executive life. Based in the Seattle area at the time, he also decided he'd seen enough big city congestion to last a lifetime. Hughes soon found a picturesque, midsized town to call home and moved to Clarkston, Wash., pop. 50,000. "I used to say that we're so far out into the boondocks it's 120 miles to the nearest freeway," says Hughes gleefully.

He gave up the manufactured housing industry and a busy schedule that involved frequent flights around the country, and searched for a one- or two-store franchise deal that could support a life devoted to more laid-back endeavors, like hunting and fishing. "I found out that hunting and fishing was as much work as running a business," he says--and that it didn't pay as much.

Hughes has always thought for himself, starting early in life at achieving the ambitious goals he set. As a 16-year-old high school dropout and self-described youthful rebel, he took the advice of an Air Force buddy and enrolled in college, where he went on to graduate with a 3.9 GPA.

Later in life, when he entered franchising, he dove in with the same vigor that had served him in his suit-and-tie days, eventually building a 33-store chain of ColorTyme franchises in 7 states, specializing in rent-to-own furniture, appliances, and electronics. As a franchisee, Hughes instituted several innovations in his stores, spurring the franchisor to follow his example by adding financial services at all of the brand's stores--a smart move for a franchise that caters largely to customers who often don't have a bank account.

His second career has met with resounding success. Named Franchisee of the Year on five different occasions, he has taken the time to advise his colleagues in the business. And he still makes a daily habit of going through each day's numbers with a fine-tooth comb as he navigates through the worst economic downturn in recent history.

All this (and more) helps explain why Gary Hughes was selected as one of the first annual MVP award winners by Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine.

Franchising not only gave him a new purpose in life, it also gave him the money and time to travel the world, build a collection of exotic cars, and contribute generously to the local college and hospital and sponsor needy kids at the local Boys & Girls Club. Hughes believes that when a community supports your business, it's important to give back and help others.

Today, at 71, he has scaled down to 12 stores, each run by a partner, with an eye toward eventually selling out his interest. He's already helped set up nine of his former employees with their own franchises and partnerships, starting them down the same entrepreneurial path that has rewarded him so richly.

"Franchising has been very beneficial for us, especially in national product purchasing, national advertising, and training--and it's been a fabulous experience for me," says Hughes today. And he still likes to fish. His last fishing trip was in Costa Rica, where the daily catch can easily exceed 100 pounds.

Hughes likes to say, "What gets measured gets done." By any measure, his life and franchising career has been a success.

Published: February 21st, 2011

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