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Breaking The Mold

Savvier than ever, today's franchisees are blazing new trails.

Bob Drake had attained most of the goals he'd set in his life. He had worked for years as a director of quality for General Motors, served as vice president for Nissan, completed a prestigious fellowship program
at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and was hired as president of a large automobile aftermarket manufacturer. But something was missing. "I was burnt out [on corporate life]," says Drake. "After a while, you just want to get out there and try it for yourself."

The final frontier for Drake? Franchising. In December 1993, Drake opened the doors to his Remedy Intelligent Staffing franchise and closed the doors on his corporate life forever.

Drake represents the new breed of franchisee: educated and experienced--we're talking cream of the crop. While in the past, franchisees tended to be working-class people with limited business experience, the white-collar group that's buying into franchising today is very well-informed, says Jerry Wilkerson, founder of Franchise Recruiters Ltd., an executive search firm in Crete, Illinois. "They know what it takes to make a business tick. They've already had a good dose of business experience, so they understand consumerism, marketing and advertising, and what service means," he says. "They know how to manage people, how to motivate them. They have a good [grasp] on where the market is moving, and they're not afraid of taking a step forward. In franchising, those are points that usually can't be taught."

"Many [new] franchisees have had impressive careers in corporate America," adds Gerry Rhydderch, Remedy Temp Inc.'s vice president of franchise development. "We have MBAs, PhDs, CPAs, you name it. And there's a common vein among all of them: They didn't want to be downsized. In the old days, employees were valued assets. Unfortunately, it appears in today's world, employees are there when they're needed, and when they are not needed, they're gone. The franchisees who join our system are very desirous of having more control in their own lives."

Often, the corporate world's loss is the franchisor's gain. "These are incredibly talented people, and that helps us," notes Rhydderch, who says the typical Remedy franchisee is now in his or her mid-40s to early 50s, and more than 90 percent are college graduates. "If you look at a roster of our franchisees, these are people we never could have afforded to hire. They were six-figure income earners who looked at franchising as a vehicle to earn that much without the threat of losing their jobs."

Drake agrees franchising is a comfortable fit--the perfect blend for his extensive experience and his thirst for freedom. "You see a lot of good and bad management styles over the years [as an executive] and see a lot of things you'd like to do," he says. "As a franchisee, you know that what you're doing every day--the decisions you make, how you treat your staff, how you treat your clients--has a direct impact on [your business's] bottom line. You see the results. You set up your business plan and watch the company grow, and see the things you've done right and wrong. I've seen many of the issues that come up here in my former corporate life, so I have a better idea of how to react to them."

Drake isn't the only one benefiting from this keen insight. Robert Kushell, a franchise consultant in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and one of the first proponents of franchise advisory councils, has always thought the idea of getting input from franchisees made sense. But Kushell struggled for years before franchisors agreed with him. Today, however, franchisors are realizing the pricelessness of feedback from their business-savvy franchisees.

"[New franchisees] are changing the system for the better," says Rhydderch, "and making the [entire franchise] more valuable."

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Breaking The Mold.

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