Rising Tide (Cleaners) "If your dream doesn't scare you, it's not big enough."
Name: Justin Sharbutt
Company: Conquer the Day & Edit Clean
Units: 54 Tide Cleaners with 12 new stores under development, 7 Dunkin’/Baskin-Robbins, 3 BurgerFi, 1 Blo Dry Bar (owned by my wife, Hillary)
Family: Married to Hillary Sharbutt, 3 girls and 2 boys ages 7 to 18, and 2 dogs
Years in franchising: 8
Years in current position: 8
Franchising just made sense for entrepreneur Justin Sharbutt.
“The playbook maps out the steps, you follow the guidelines, you achieve your goals,” says the 38-year-old. That’s just what he’s done for more than 15 years as an entrepreneur and with several franchise brands, including BurgerFi, Dunkin’/Baskin-Robbins, and Tide Cleaners.
His franchise journey began when he opened his first Dunkin’ location in 2014. A year later, he signed on with BurgerFi. He was growing his business in the restaurant space when he and partner Brandt Stravlo ran across a magazine ad for Tide Cleaners.
“We called that day, and by the next week we were at a discovery day,” he says. They both liked the brand’s name recognition and reputation and opened their first location in 2015. They now have 54 Tide Cleaners locations throughout Texas and Colorado, with 12 more in the pipeline. His goal for his company is to reach 100 locations in 10 years.
Overseeing dozens of locations with multiple brands is a challenge for any operator. Sharbutt and Stravlo employ a strategy to divide and conquer. Stravlo, the company’s COO, spends most of his time in the stores making sure things are running smoothly. Sharbutt spends his checking out real estate, reviewing contracts, and searching for new acquisition opportunities.
“You start with one location, but as they say, ‘If you want a job, buy one store; if you want a career, buy multiple,’” he says. “You can get consumed with daily operations with just one location, but if you have multiple locations and the right team, it’s easier to manage.”
In addition to being a successful multi-brand franchisee, Sharbutt also has served on his brands’ franchise advisory councils as well as in advisory roles with local charities. He also has a family—five kids with another on the way—and counts being a father as one of his greatest accomplishments.
By the end of this year, Sharbutt’s empire will have close to 70 units open and more than 600 employees across Texas and Colorado. As he says, “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough.”
First job: My two best friends and I started a leaf raking business when we were 10 years old. We would go around the neighborhood cleaning peoples’ yards. We named the business The Tree Amigos.
Formative influences/events: When I was younger, I was told that I would be an entrepreneur when I grew up. I heard this from both teachers and my father! But the one moment that sticks out the most was when I dropped out of college my first semester and moved to Colorado to become a ski bum. I quickly realized that I hated living paycheck to paycheck, so I decided to go back to school and get my degree. It was then that I knew I wanted to work for myself.
Key accomplishments: I’m torn when it comes to my key accomplishments. Owning a business while going to college is a big achievement for me, but so is opening our first Dunkin’ location in 2014. These two accomplishments opened my eyes and gave me true insight with regard to real estate, construction, and training staff. Not to mention balancing that with my most important job of spending time with my family and awaiting our new baby!
Biggest current challenge: Inflation is the biggest challenge for us right now. The rising cost of goods and wages has created challenges for us. I am certain, though, that with my team and corporate support, we can overcome these obstacles.
Next big goal: Our next big goal is to cross the 100-store count and get to $25 million in EBITDA. I have no doubt that we’ll achieve this through acquisitions and organic growth.
First turning point in your career: There have been so many turning points that come to mind that I’d be hard-pressed not to think of something daily that has had an effect. However, I will say that the moment we signed with Tide Cleaners, I truly felt a shift. The brand recognition, corporate support, and immediate success of our first location left us on a mission to open as many as possible.
Best business decision: Hire key people early and trust their skills. Find a mentor and never stop your quest to learn.
Hardest lesson learned: That it’s okay to close or sell stores that aren’t profitable. As a multi-unit franchise owner, I’ve learned it isn’t a failure to close one; it just allows us to focus and grow in the profitable areas.
Work week: Typically, I like to get to the office around 7 or 7:30 and stay until 4 or 5. Now with technology, you can work all hours of the day. This isn’t ideal with a family, but I can still answer emails while sitting in the stands at our kids’ games.
Exercise/workout: My wife is an instructor at CycleBar, so I try to go when I can and get a killer workout. I like playing basketball with my kids, walking my dog, and working out with The Mirror.
Best advice you ever got: “You don’t lose money when you’re making a profit.”
What’s your passion in business? I love starting new businesses or producing wild ideas. The acquisition side of business is extremely fun for me, too! One sentence that plays on repeat in my mind is, “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough.”
How do you balance life and work? My wife and I have to be very diligent about this. We sit down on Sundays and go over what we have coming up for the week regarding ourselves and our children. As I mentioned earlier, technology has come so far in allowing work to be done outside the office. A bonus is my entire family is very entrepreneurial and always curious about what I’m doing, so we talk about different business topics as a family.
Guilty pleasure: Vanilla Bean Coolatta from Dunkin’ and/or butter pecan ice cream from Baskin (but don’t tell my wife!).
Favorite book: The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason.
Favorite movie: It’s way too hard for me to just pick one, so I’ll give my top three: “Braveheart,” “Lone Survivor,” and (of course) “Dumb and Dumber.”
What do most people not know about you? I love to cook. I almost went to culinary school.
Pet peeve: Liars and lazy people.
What did you want to be when you grew up? After I quickly realized that I had zero chance of playing in the NBA—I’m 5’8’’—I wanted to work in the front office of an NBA or NFL team. I love sports and business, so I thought that was going to be the best of both worlds!
Last vacation: We have a place in Telluride, Colorado, that we enjoy going to as a family. I’m here now.
The person I’d most like to have lunch with: Michael Jordan.
Business philosophy: Work hard, play hard.
Management method or style: Participative leadership. I thrive on getting input from my team first. However, a close second is to come up with a team challenge and then we all come up with a plan of attack.
Greatest challenge: Employees and inflation.
How do others describe you? Loyal and fair.
One thing I am looking to do better: Follow-through. I’m good at coming up with new ideas or plans, but rarely follow through with them.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: I let them have a voice. We have a weekly meeting on Mondays. Before we meet we’ll ask questions, with the expectation that everyone will bring a response to the table. But we also encourage the team to brainstorm and bring ideas. Our Monday meetings can range from favorite quotes, to describing the person who most inspires you, to management and procedure ideas. It’s one of the things I look forward to the most each week.
How close are you to operations? I’m closer on the dry cleaning operations side than the restaurants, but my partner is the real operations guy. He knows his stuff inside and out of any industry we’re in. He still puts himself on the schedules and loves to get into the trenches.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Marketing and innovation.
What I need from vendors: Vendors could help with more maintenance support and more supplies on hand.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? Yes, for the restaurants, it’s more delivery and pickup-focused. For dry cleaning, we focused on how casual dress became during the pandemic, and more on wash-and-fold. Now, we’re focusing on people back in the office.
How is social media affecting your business? Social media is an amazing resource. It allows us to show people all we truly have to offer, as well as being a platform for our guests to comment, tag, and post about their great experiences.
How do you hire and fire? When we hire, we hire based on our values and theirs. An example of a question we ask would be, “Are they a good fit with our culture?” When we’re evaluating employees, we rate them red, yellow, or green. Reds are a no, yellow has a chance to turn to green, but they are on notice and have a time period to change.
How do you train and retain? It depends on which franchise. Ultimately, it’s up to the manager we’ve put in place at that specific location. Our management, along with the corporate team, creates a great hiring process. Once that’s done, it’s up to my team to abide by and live up to our mission statement and create a culture that allows employees to know that there’s always room for growth.
How do you deal with problem employees? My partner and I are quick to decide if it’s going to work or not and we like to get to the bottom of an issue. We want the right people in the right seats.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Lies or laziness.
How did Covid-19 affect your business? For dry cleaning, it went down 50% to 60% overnight. People weren’t going to the office or to events where they needed to dress up. Food went to 100% pickup or delivery.
What changes do you think will be permanent? I think delivery in all businesses is here to stay.
2022 goals: To be above 2019 numbers in all current stores. Most are there now.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Store count, revenue, labor, and EBITDA are some of the measurable ways we hold ourselves accountable. These metrics are our “Pulse Meter.”
Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? Yes, we’re in a couple of different segments (clothing care and food) and always looking for more. I think from the past couple of years we found out food is tough and there are so many brands now, so we are looking outside of food and fitness.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? Big time in Texas!
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? There’s only so much you can do to combat changes in the economy. We stand by our brands and what we have to offer, and we have already seen how resilient our country and people can be.
How do you forecast for your business? We like to set multiple factors for our business when we forecast. For example, we take into consideration inflation, interest rates, and the health of the economy. Pre-Covid, it was easier to forecast. In 2022, it’s all about getting back to or better than 2019—which we are on track to do!
What are the best sources for capital expansion? This is where being in and growing up in a great city like Lubbock, Texas, pays off. Not only is it the best place to live and raise a family, but the local connections with businesses and banks are always the best for us. We have built the best relationships with our bankers.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, and other institutions? Why/why not? We have had experience with both private equity and local/regional banks. These are both really good routes to grow and expand fast. The local banks, in my opinion, are the easiest to work with.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? At the end of the day, as important as our P&Ls are, our employees are at the forefront of our minds on a daily basis. Just as every guest, customer, and region is different, so are our employees. We strive daily to figure out how to create the best work environment for everyone—and to create a culture that they want to attach themselves to.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? Raising our prices is one way, but we’re always trying to get creative on benefits for our people.
What laws and regulations are affecting your business? Minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, along with the joint employer regulations around buildings and build-outs across different counties and states.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? My business partner and I think about this a lot. We are growing rapidly and want to have a large company, so we don’t know if our strategy is to sell to private equity or hold on to an asset with cash flow and pass it down to our kids. Fun to think about both!
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