Season 2, Episode 6: Transcript
Veanne Smith: Hello, and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio. I’m your host, Veanne Smith. I’m excited to have you join us for another episode of season two where our theme is “growing careers and building businesses.” In today’s podcast, we talk about a particular strategy of entrepreneurship for those of you who are wanting to make a change in your career. Specifically, we will explore business ownership as a franchisee, and discuss the wide variety of franchises that are available based on your skills and experience, as well as what it takes to make the jump.
I’m excited to welcome Leslie Kuban from FranNet as our guest today to talk on this topic. Leslie is herself a franchise owner. She is responsible for strategic relationship development, marketing and public relations of her own business. She is also a local subject matter expert on franchising, has been interviewed by business publications and local media, and has been a guest speaker on radio, television, and local MBA and executive MBA programs.
Leslie’s specialty is helping her clients determine if franchise ownership is right for them, and identifying franchise businesses that will offer them the best opportunity for success with the lowest risk. She has helped more than 400 people successfully transition from corporate life to business ownership. As a franchise owner, Leslie is able to give an insider perspective that helps her clients assess their real opportunities, risks and timing so they can make sound decisions.
Hello, Leslie, it’s so great to have you with me here on Atlanta Business Impact Radio.
Leslie Kuban: Good morning, happy Friday!
Veanne: Same to you.
Leslie: It’s great to be here!
Leslie’s story: operating her own franchise and guiding others
Veanne: It’s a beautiful day here in Atlanta. I want to get started here, we’re going to talk about franchises today. I understand that you had already operated a family-owned franchise by time you graduated from Vanderbilt, and that you were a franchisee of Mailboxes Etc. prior to joining FranNet and working as a franchise consultant. Given the more than 20 years that you have spent in the franchising world, what is it that you love the most about what you do?
Leslie: It never gets old. I’ve been in businesses like these for 20 years myself, and for almost 18 years now as a consultant helping other people. It never changes the reinvention aspect, and just the juice I get from that. Most of the folks I’m working with, they’re oftentimes coming in and part of their motivation is they’re looking for a new chapter. Maybe what they’ve been doing is stale, or what they’ve been doing just isn’t working for them anymore. They’re really hungry to try something new, but they’re scared, they don’t know what that would be. That’s really the core of my work is helping people find that next new chapter and have a whole new life that they’re really enjoying and thriving in. That never gets old, it’s so cool.
Veanne: I love talking to people who help others with self-reinvention and career reinvention. When I think of franchises – just my perspective – I always think of the restaurant chains, you know like Smoothie King, Subway, that’s what always come to my mind. I would love to know, are there many opportunities outside that traditional thing we think about in terms of franchises, such as in the B2B area and outside food and things?
Leslie: There is a huge universe outside of food. I don’t want to knock food at all; food is a very successful segment of franchising, and there are different sub-segments of food in franchising. I guess I want to be very careful not to talk about alternatives in a sense that food is not a good opportunity, because it’s great, but it is not for everybody. In fact, it’s not for a lot of people. A lot of folks may just completely dismiss the idea of franchising because all they see is restaurants.
Veanne: That’s the point I was getting at.
Leslie: That’s my opportunity and my business.
Veanne: That’s why they come to you for what’s really out there.
Leslie: That’s exactly right. There’s a huge world of business-to-business, and multi-unit retail, and services of all kinds. Just a tiny subset of examples would be the largest digital marketing agency in the world is a network of franchises and their vendors.
Leslie: Yes. I have a client who, he was in sales in the insurance business, did very well with that, but was ready for something new, didn’t know a lick about digital media. Now he’s one of the top franchisees in their system training other franchisees, so total reinvention aspect.
Veanne: That’s awesome.
Leslie: I’ve got a client who was in senior management in HR, big corporate America, and he’s about to open his premium indoor cycling franchise just around the corner here in Buckhead. We’re gearing up for that grand opening, and really excited about that. There is a slew of all kinds of opportunities in B2B services and multi-unit, semi-passive retail types of businesses that have nothing to do with food service.
Veanne: Is it more difficult in the work that you do in counseling and guiding those folks to look at B2B? Is it more complex or about the same?
Leslie: It’s really driven by the skills that someone is bringing into this process. There are people who only want to look at B2B. Actually, there are a lot of people who only want to look at B2B. If someone is coming from a marketing or sales background, they’re wired to be successful, and probably enjoy B2B more than in businesses that may have them – when I work with a lot of marketing and sales folks, leadership of large teams may have been part of their repertoire of skill sets. If it’s their favorite part of their skill sets, they may not lean toward something that is heavily emphasized on B2B, because B2B means sales and marketing. When I’m working with someone who loves sales and marketing, that’s probably going to be a better fit.
Choosing a Franchise
Veanne: Predisposition, yeah. I was having dinner the other night with my family and we got to talking about our podcast today. They were curious to know if there are certain franchises that are currently more in vogue or more in favor. Do trends come and go, or anything that historically has outperformed others?
Leslie: That is along the same flavor of question I get all the time, which is “What’s hot?” I think it’s a dangerous question, because you want something that’s sustainable. This is not a flash in the pan kind of thing.
Veanne: Good point.
Leslie: To answer your question, I’m seeing a rise in smaller health food café concepts, which is food service, but it’s simpler than what you’re going to see in a full-blown restaurant.
Veanne: Less choices, more focused.
Leslie: Yes. I’m seeing a lot of niching in different industries. There’s niching in fitness right now that I like. There’s a Pilates franchise doing really well that you’re going to see coming up on the scene here in Metro Atlanta. Just niching across the board – in your world in staffing, I’m seeing deeper niching in staffing in the franchising world. There’s one in healthcare that I think is really interesting.
Veanne: That doesn’t surprise me either, given how hot healthcare is right now.
Leslie: When you look at what’s done really well, the franchises that do best, it’s not because their industry is superior, it’s because they’ve done a really good job of recruiting the right franchisees for their business model. They’re really looking at alignments in terms of a skill match, a financial qualification match, a goal and motivation match. That’s really where you see thriving businesses is when they’re mindful of…you know, with any business.
Veanne: I was going to say, it’s no different, franchise or a new traditional business, it’s really the people. Is it the right match? Are they doing what they’re passionate about? Are they working diligently in their business doing the right thing every day? It doesn’t really matter either way, right?
Leslie: Yeah. There are pest control companies, there are dry-cleaning companies that have been around for ages and ages that are extremely successful, not necessarily new and flashy, but a darn good business.
What Type of People Become Franchise Owners?
Veanne: Right, consistent. Tell us about some of the clients that you consult with most often at FranNet. Do you see a common thread in terms of why they are looking at a franchise opportunity?
Leslie: I can put our client base into several buckets. There’s definitely the corporate professional who is ready for something other than big corporate, but they don’t know what, they don’t know how, that’s been the bread-and-butter. Someone who’s in their 40s, 50s, been in corporate America for 20-25+ years, and either through regular downsizings or just really being ready to do something smaller and on their own, that’s been my core client right there.
Leslie: Yes, the reinvention, but also words I hear from that group are “control” and “independence,” and wanting just a bit more hands-on day-to-day say-so over their own destiny is a common driver there. I’m seeing, often spouses, usually it’s the woman who’s been the caretaker of kids who had a career before, and now the kids are older. They’re wanting to do something, but they want more say-so and flexibility in their schedules, so a small business may enable that for them.
Then what’s really interesting is one of my biggest growing customer segments is a multigenerational client. It’s a parent who usually is working or they have another business, but they’ve got a bright 20-something year old adult child who is wired for something with a lot of growth to it, that they want to drive their skill set growth rapidly. They want more control and authority and autonomy, and a small business is a great place for all of those needs that a lot of millennials are looking for. We’re seeing the millennial baby boomer combo really on the rise, and it’s really exciting.
Veanne: It is exciting. Kind of a preview, I’ve got a future guest coming up here in a few weeks that we’re going to talk about, you know, this is the first time that we’ve had three generations all working together in business. We’re going to talk about how you mentor, and motivate, and deal with that because it’s such a different scenario that we have going on. That’s interesting that the same thing is happening in the franchise world as well, multiple generations working together. That’s awesome. I would imagine that your clients may consider the advantages and disadvantages of owning a franchise versus starting their own non-franchise business. What is your perspective on this? What advice would you offer someone who is having difficulty with the decision?
Leslie: It comes down to time, money, risk and control. Those things, which are all four very big things and they’re interrelated. The person who’s going to prefer franchise, what they’re going to like about it is that there’s already systems and processes in place. There are some people that they want full control – they want full creative control, they want full decisiveness control, and they’re willing to sacrifice some of their own time and money in developing all of that. The franchise candidate is the one that would prefer that there’s something that’s already partially baked there.
Veanne: Maybe they’re, “Great, give me a process and I can execute well. I don’t want to come up with a strategy in the process, I’m better at the executing.”
Leslie: Yeah, “I don’t want to be the one coming up from scratch with all the marketing systems, the technology systems. I would rather pay some money,” – a franchise fee – “that is going to reduce my time and reduce my energy in having to develop all these underlying business systems.”
Also, the good franchise candidate is someone who likes the idea of owning a business, but they’re not super married to it having to be any particular business. Most of my clients, they come into the process knowing that they’d really like to own something, but they don’t yet know what. They may have some interests, but it’s not like it has to be this or nothing. It’s the person who wants to own a business, but they’re open to what it is, they just want a good business that is enjoyable and gives them the life that they want. That could be a variety of different things.
Veanne: It reminds me of when I was graduating high school and thinking about college. I knew I was going to college and I knew I wanted to do something to make good money, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. It’s really the same thing, just going to someone who – and I sought some advice. I went and sought some advice of people that knew me and said, “These are some of my objectives, what do you suggest?” Luckily, somebody said, “You should become a systems analyst.” I got into technology, and that was a really good decision for me. I think it was great that somebody was able to give me some advice and perspective. We always need to reach out for experts in the field to help us out with some of those things.
Leslie: Someone who is not in-between your own ears who kind of brings a broader context to a conversation like that, and has worked with people before in that kind of a life decision process, and can bring some perspective from what has worked for other people can be a great way to go down a journey like that.
What Is The Process Becoming A Franchise Owner?
Veanne: Let’s peel the onion back a little bit more, if you don’t mind. If I were to come to you in this scenario looking for this career change and looking at franchises, how would your process work? Kind of walk me through what you do just at a high level.
Leslie: I do have a process. Again, franchises work because they have a process, so I have a process and it works. It begins with some exploration and me really understanding that individual. I have a list of questions in a first meeting, which is usually about 90 minutes. I always prefer to meet people in person, most of my clients are local here in Atlanta. Whenever possible, I like to see them and for them to see me.
Veanne: That makes it nice.
Leslie: I take them through a list of questions, pointed questions about what their motives are for wanting to be in business, what they’re wanting and needing to realize out of that from a personal, professional, financial standpoint. Who else is involved with this? Is there adult children? Is their spouse going to have a day-to-day role in this business? We delve into their resume. What are you really good at? What do you enjoy doing? Through this list of questions, I am developing a business model that is unique to this person. That is the roadmap, then, for me to go out and pinpoint the available franchises in their affordable budget that fit what they share with me that they’re looking for.
It’s a process of me getting to know some specific things about that person first, and then being able to point them in the right direction and helping them with their research. That’s a big deal. Most folks I’m working with them have never done anything like this before, and they don’t know what they don’t know. My role is not to say, “You should do this,” it’s to share ideas and then provide a research pathway for people to uncover all that they need to uncover, overturn all the stones, and make well-informed decisions for themselves.
Veanne: At the end of the day it’s their decision, you just help them with the process of how to arrive at the decision.
Leslie: Right, I’m giving them the tools, the questions, the other resources they need to consult with.
Veanne: If they are ultimately saying yes to XYZ franchise business, it’s with eyes wide open and confidence that they’ve done the due diligence that needs to be done.
Leslie: Right, which is extremely important.
Veanne: Outstanding. What do you tell your clients to expect, I’m curious, in terms of the upfront investment that they will need to make? The amount of time they’re going to need to commit to the franchise, and then the potential ROI? Can you shed any insight on those sort of things?
Leslie: I can give some generals. It’s a big world out there, and the answers to what you just asked depends on what it is. From a minimum standpoint, I would say a person needs to have about $30,000-$40,000 of their own resources. That could be cash, it could be a home equity line of credit, it could be money in a retirement account or an investment account, but it can’t be borrowed funds from an institution, it needs to be your own resources. $30,000-$40,000 and good credit, that would open the doors for a span of opportunities to be able to be considered.
Time commitment – a lot of these franchises, you need both feet in it. That’s going to be your full-time gig for a while, but there is a growing number of what we would term as semi-passive models.
Leslie: Yes. They’re usually brick-and-mortar, it’s a retail kind of environment. That might be in fitness, or education, or personal services like a hair salon, as an example, where you don’t really have to be there all the time. You need to be present and visible, and that’s about 15 hours a week to start. There are options for that person who needs to keep working in their job, wants to keep working in their job, or is kind of semiretired, or needs more flexibility in their time, but there is always going to be a time commitment. There’s no such thing as an absentee business that I have seen.
Veanne: It doesn’t matter, again, franchise are not franchise, that’s going to be the same.
What Are Some of The Challenges?
Veanne: Do you see the same challenges that your clients are facing when they make this change, what are the biggest challenges that maybe you see them going through?
Leslie: Self-doubt, I think, and the fact that – this is very natural that risk is a perception. When something is new and unfamiliar and different, it feels risky. I think people’s fear of stepping into something that is going to, no matter what, be new in some way is one of the biggest things that hold people back, and their doubt in themselves, which is really a shame.
The pathway for doing research is there. That’s, again, back to one of your other questions. My family has been in franchising for 30 years. One of the things that we love about it is there’s an aspect of predictability to it. You can go out and talk to these people who’ve already made the investment. They’ve pulled the trigger, they’re doing it, and you can learn about what’s great and what’s not. The numbers, and the time commitments, and a lot of that – there’s no crystal ball, but there are some aspects of what this is really going to be like that you can understand before deciding to do it. There are ways to reduce the uncertainty, but it never goes away.
Veanne: That’s great, thinking about that. There’s so much history there, there are so many people ahead of them that have done it. It’s pretty easy, I would think, to go back and really just sit down with these people, I’m sure they would all be glad to help, right?
Leslie: Most people are delighted to help. I think people are surprised sometimes.
Veanne: Some people are scared to ask, but most people just want to help.
Leslie: Yeah. Most people love to talk about their business and they like to help. From a franchisee’s perspective, everyone who has done it was, at one time, on the other side of the decision. They were asking other people for help. Most of the time, people are very generous and truthful about what their experience of owning that business, that franchise has been for them.
Success: seeing clients acknowledged
Veanne: Excellent. You alluded to some examples of some folks that you’ve been working with. Are there any other stories – we all like stories – are there any other great stories of successes or personal scenarios you’ve been through, anything else you want to share?
Leslie: I love seeing my clients get acknowledged in the press and within their own franchise system with awards. Not too long ago, one of my clients, who I helped into business 15 years ago, he was from an HR background and was finished with his corporate stint, and wanted to get into something that he could involve a couple of his children. He wanted to set his children up for a successful future. We helped him into a commercial sign manufacturing business that’s B2B; that’s an example of B2B up in Hall County. He’s done extremely well. He sent me a photo of his whole team, and half the team are his children and even a grandchild.
Veanne: That’s great.
Leslie: He was Hall County Business of the Year last year.
Veanne: Congrats, that’s great.
Leslie: So acknowledged by his local Chamber of Commerce as a successful contributing member. I talked to him and he is still involved, but he’s taken a step back and kind of let his son take over. That was the plan, and the plan worked. It’s delightful to see that.
Veanne: Look at your smile on your face. I know how much gratification we take in other people’s success through things that we’re doing. That’s why we do this, right?
Leslie: It’s the fruit of my labor, yes.
Veanne: It’s helping others, and we all have some passion we’re doing. It’s great to see that you’re doing yours. I know we talked before we started getting on the air here that someone that I know and respect a great deal, when she learned that you were coming she said, “I’m so excited, she is so amazing. When we were looking at franchises and didn’t know what we wanted to do, she was the first person we called.” It’s such a small world, and to see we even make some connections out there.
Leslie: I love those stories, too.
Where To Begin: consultations and recruiting
Veanne: Well done. For all of our listeners out there, if they want to reach out for advice, I don’t know if you take free consultations to help them out. How can they reach out to you? Just talk to us about how they can make a connection with you if they want to learn more about franchises.
Leslie: I just this year have set up a fabulous new local website called Atlanta Franchise Experts. There are loads of our client success stories, detailed information about our process. My services are of no cost. My business model works in that the franchisors that I know and have been working with, they’re employing my firm as a recruiting agent for them. They have successful franchisees and they want more of them. That’s where my fee structure comes from.
Veanne: I didn’t know that.
Leslie: There’s never a cost for the interested prospective business owner, prospective franchisee to come in and have a meeting with me. Take advantage of that.
Veanne: Very nice, that’s great. I’m glad we covered that at the end; I did not realize that’s how the model worked. This has been really, really a pleasure having you here today on Atlanta Business Impact Radio. Thanks so much for joining me.
Leslie: It’s a delight, thank you for having me.
Voiceover: The Atlanta Business Impact Radio is a project developed by SOLTECH, a software consultancy located in Atlanta, Georgia. Our host, Veanne Smith, cofounded the firm 18 years ago with her husband, Tim Smith, and together they strive to bring education to the community about technology leaders to improve the path to innovation for all. For more information about the podcast and learn about the work we do at SOLTECH, visit SOLTECH.net, or find episodes of the podcast on iTunes. Also, if you’re interested in joining us as a guest for an upcoming show, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening, stay tuned for more insight into the tech community on our next episode.