So you’re thinking about buying a franchise. Even in this shaky (but slowly recovering) economy, it’s something that many are not only considering, but doing. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report forecasts that franchising is poised for growth in 2011 with the number of business format franchises expanding from an estimated 765,723 in 2010 to 784,802 in 2011, a 2.5 percent increase.
Whether or not you fall into the buying group will ultimately come down to some questions only you can answer: Will it grow my existing business? Am I in the financial position to do this? Is this the right franchise for me? Besides these questions, you’ll also want to consider some of the experiences that your fellow landscape business owners have had.
Bottom line: If you’re serious about franchising, you need to get out there and do your homework.
Systems and support.
While everyone has their own specific reasons for considering a franchise, an overarching theme of “systems and support” emerged from the franchisees we spoke with about why they got into the franchise business.
Being part of a successful and well-known brand – instead of doing it on your own – seems to be one of the biggest selling points. Before moving to the United States, Bruce Sheppard ran a small lawn care business in Canada. Now he owns and operates the Winchester, Va.-based Weed Man franchise with his two sons. “When I ran that little business in Canada, I didn’t have anyone to help me with marketing or to bounce ideas off of,” he says. “If I had known what I know now through Weed Man, my business might have exploded.”
That was exactly the reason why Paula Smith and her husband Kenny, equal part owners of the Washington-based The Grounds Guys of Spokane Valley, decided to purchase a franchise. “My husband was working his butt off every day and just not making as much as we thought he should,” Smith says. “We didn’t have the systems in place that we needed. When he started researching Grounds Guys he realized it was everything he wanted out of a business but was struggling to achieve on his own.”
Having integrated their existing clientele into the new Grounds Guys franchise, Smith says that business is stronger than ever. “We’re doing things we never knew how to do on our own like approaching an apartment complex or other commercial sites to get their business,” she says. “We just landed the biggest job we’ve ever had and never would have been able to approach the site if it weren’t for the backing of a big name like Grounds Guys.”
While growing and improving an existing business is a common reason to consider a franchise, Phil Fogarty, master franchisor for the Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York Weed Man franchises, says to be careful you’re not going out and adopting a new brand and integrating its systems just because you have some imperfections or questions about your existing business model.
“That’s what a consultant is for,” he says. “But if you find a franchise that has better systems and can help you put out a better product than you’re doing on your own, then that’s something of real value and a good reason to consider a franchise.”
Prior to his involvement with Weed Man, Fogarty had grown an independent lawn care business on his own. “For more than 15 years I tried out all the systems, quality control issues, marketing materials and budgeting with no support, template or guidelines,” he says. “When I sold that company, I had to rethink what I was going to do next, and I considered starting over with a new business. But I’d equate it to open heart surgery. It’s always worse the second time around because you know what you’re facing.”
Fogarty decided he didn’t want to start all over again and began to consider a franchise. “I initially thought ‘What could they do for me when I’ve already learned how to do all of this for myself?’” he says. “But when you see the systems and support that are already in place, it’s a huge weight off your shoulders. It allows you to focus on the two things that make your business run, which are sales and customer service.”
Ben Harrell, owner of U.S. Lawns of Northwest Arkansas and U.S. Lawns of the Ozarks, says that having the systems already in place allows you to be the best salesman you can be.
“Personally, I never thought I was a salesman, but I never equated being a salesman with selling a product someone actually wanted,” he says. “I used to think of salesmen as the guys that sold used cars or went door to door selling vacuums. Now I realize that being a salesman is about confidence in yourself, and that’s easier when you have support and when you’re selling a product that people truly want and need.”
Whether you’re taking an existing business and merging its customer base into your new franchise and to create a new brand, or adding a franchise to a stand-alone business that offers other services, it’s important to make sure that it’s the right fit for your business – and for you.
If you’re not the type of person who can follow guidelines, you might not be the type of person who can successfully own a franchise, says Brandon Sheppard, general manager/sales for the Winchester Weed Man. “You have to be willing to follow the systems lock, stock and barrel,” he says. “A lot of the stuff you look at in a franchise might not line up with what you do or how you’d typically run things. You have to be willing to accept that someone might know things you don’t and be willing to trust in something that might not be familiar to you.”
While there are positive reasons to consider a franchise, and the backing of a big name brand may help you produce more sales, it’s important to remember there is no get rich quick program. “I would be very wary of any business that claims you can turn a profit in X amount of days, weeks or years because the time it takes to become profitable is really based on each and every individual and also differs from territory to territory and brand to brand,” says Fogarty.
And remember that even with the support and systems a franchise might offer, it’s still hard work. “You still need to put in long hours and work hard,” says Mike Sisti, owner of the Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based Weed Man. “The franchise does not run itself.”
Sisti says he’d recommend talking to franchise owners, both new and old, since each will have their own perspective to share.
Stephen Loomis, owner of U.S. Lawns Philadelphia, says when he was looking at buying a franchise he spent a lot of time doing research – looking at as many as 50 different franchise opportunities, not just in the green industry. “My best advice is to talk to as many franchisees in that system as possible,” he says. “Don’t talk to five people – talk to 30 or 40. That’s how you develop a real consensus.”