Mary and Ferrel Freer often finish each other's sentences. That's most likely because the Flagstaff, Ariz., couple have been married 49 years--and for most of that time have worked together as franchisees for brands including Sizzler, Del Taco, and Hampton Inn & Suites.
The winners of the 2015 MVP Influencer Award for a Husband & Wife Team say they've learned a lot about franchising over the years. After 43 years together as franchisees, they are ardent supporters of the franchise business model and continue to influence and inspire younger team members working in their 16 units in Arizona and Colorado. Their advice to would-be franchisees is to find a franchise home where they "have a voice."
"It's important to work with a franchisor you trust. We felt that way when we purchased all our franchises, and right now there's never been better rapport with and support for franchisees with our franchisors. To me, that's key," says Mary.
"Potential franchisees also should make sure the franchise they're involved with is reputable and highly regarded," says Ferrel. "We probably just fell into some fortunate circumstances with our franchise (except for Mr. Swiss of America, which went bankrupt), but we couldn't have been so successful if not for our chosen brands."
Their final words of wisdom? "Surround yourself with great people," says Mary. "Find the right location--it can make or break you," says Ferrel.
Name: Ferrel and Mary Freer
Title: Ferrel, president, CEO, owner; Mary, vice president, operations owner
No. of units: 7 Del Taco, 8 Sizzler, 1 Hampton Inn & Suites
Age: Ferrel 75, Mary 74
Family: Married 49 years with three children and 10 grandchildren
Years in franchising: 43
Years in current position: 43
We were influenced by the care and training of good parents who instilled good principles and virtues in us.
After graduating from college, I worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Mary was a teacher before franchising became our passion. We've been fortunate to experience success in each of the franchise endeavors we've involved ourselves in. Most notably, this included Mr. Swiss of America, Sizzler, Del Taco, Hampton Inn & Suites, as well as independent restaurants Big Steer and Ruby Lew's, which was named after my mother and father as a tribute to them.
40 to 60 hours.
What are you reading?
New York Times best sellers Standing for Something by Gordon B. Hinckley, and The Bank on Yourself Revolution by Pamela Yellen. Other recent books include Make Today Count by John Maxwell and To My Friend by Stephen Holland.
Best advice you ever got:
A veterinarian friend told me, "You'd better marry that girl," referring to my wife of 49 years. Or maybe it would have been advice from my wife in our first year of marriage, when my confidence was waning and she offered: "I believe you can accomplish anything you set your mind to." More to the point, someone once suggested that if you want to be successful in business, surround yourself with people who are smarter than yourself and remember that attitude is everything.
What's your passion in business?
To watch the business grow and become profitable and successful, realizing this is an extension of oneself. Our passion is to show we care about people, place real value on their well-being, and how we make them feel as if they have ownership in our business. Helping others achieve their potential to be successful is our passion.
To hire (when you can) those with great attitude, perhaps surpassing your own skills and abilities to make your company better, more viable, and more profitable.
Management method or style:
We hire employees above the industry standard and pay them accordingly. We treat employees with dignity and respect, never talking down to them. We try to lift them up and make them believe and have confidence in themselves.
Our greatest challenge is maintaining the resources to see it through and hiring the right people to accomplish the task. I think of the words of President Woodrow Wilson: "We should not only use all the brains we have but all that we can borrow." Teamwork can be the difference between failure and success.
How do others describe you?
Passionate about our work, family-oriented, honest, detail-oriented, thorough, caring, good business sense, fun, and respectful of others.
How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
We try to hire from within or by referrals. We show interest in our teams' families, pay enough so they aren't out looking for something else, offer incentives like bonuses, rewards, and recognition, and demonstrate sensitivity to their needs.
$15 million to $20 million.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
Our vision is that we may continue to show passion in running and growing the businesses we are presently affiliated with. Because we have been blessed with so much, it is our desire in future years to give back to those who are less fortunate.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
Offering bonus programs, incentives, health insurance, gas allowance, paid vacations, rewards/trips, and hotel stays.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
We're looking at upper management and family.
Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
There were so many who were as deserving or more deserving than we. We were totally taken by surprise when we received the call about the award. I guess it's related to our different and unique franchising story.
How have you raised the bar in your own company?
By not becoming complacent. It takes constant nurturing, being dedicated, being tenacious, believing, being confident, and above all, continued hard work to continue to be successful.
What innovations you have created and used to build your company?
We've been strategic in knowing when to involve others and to what extent to grow the business.
What core values do you think helped you win this award?
We credit, in a broader sense, our belief in God, love and respect for our country, putting family first, and cultivating relationships that are genuine and values that are not to be compromised.
How important is community involvement to you and your company?
We're involved in Boy Scouts, sponsorship of summer softball leagues, local charities, school awards, library awards, Wounded Warriors, NAU events, and national charities.
What leadership qualities are important to you and your team?
We recognize that working together as a team is at the heart of realizing the desired accomplishment. Sometimes we need to let go of our pride and empower others to achieve the better result. Personality conflicts need to be put aside to make this happen.
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