When Vanessa Barron's employer asked her to relocate two years ago, the airline sales executive decided to start her own business instead.
Barron's choice of business was partially the result of a chance occurrence: When her husband, Lawrence, had to visit BikeLine's headquarters regarding a damage claim related to his UPS account executive job, he liked what he learned about the West Chester, Pennsylvania, bike sales and repair company's franchise opportunities. The couple opened a BikeLine franchise in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in March 1996.
Vanessa, 42, found the franchise appealing because it came with a built-in support system--from the franchisor as well as from its company-owned locations. "You have a wealth of knowledge in the people who have been running the corporate stores," she says.
Would she recommend franchising? Absolutely. "A lot of the mistakes you're bound to make starting a business can be [avoided] with the guidance you get from corporate locations or your franchisor," says Vanessa.
She advises prospective franchisees to do their homework before signing up, however: Look at the franchisor's financial track record, and investigate the amount and type of support it provides franchisees.--Rachel Balko
If the Shirt Fits
Linda and Don Rienzo say they couldn't have asked for a more supportive parent company. When the Las Vegas couple opened their Definitions T-shirt kiosk in a mall in 1995, the business opportunity company helped every step of the way. "Whatever we needed in the beginning, they were there to help guide us until we felt comfortable dealing with it on our own," says Don.
The Rienzos had been selling another product in the same mall when a Definitions kiosk caught their eye. It looked like a good product--T-shirts with attitude--and when the owner decided to sell the business, they scooped it up. "We thought it had a lot of potential for the tourist malls in town," says Don. "So we approached the parent company and wound up becoming its dealer out here."
The Rienzos opened their second kiosk, which they called "Nationalities," in a large outdoor mall called the Freemont Street Experience, where crowds of spend-happy tourists have contributed to their success.
And they attribute much of this success to their parent company's support. Definitions extended credit to the Rienzos, walked them through the early stages of the business, provided manuals and gave pointers to help get them started. "Now they help us come up with new [products] to keep things fresh," says Don. "It has really worked out well. We like what we sell, and we're proud of it. I think customers can sense that, and it really makes things work for us."--Jesse Hertstein
Product possibilities are infinite in multilevel marketing, but how often can distributors say what they're selling promotes a brighter future? Junith Koon, a Discovery Toys Inc. educational consultant, makes this claim with conviction. The 20-year-old Livermore, California, company has given Koon the opportunity to better the lives of her children and others with its award-winning products.
This toy story began when Koon's now college-age daughters were toddlers. She signed up with another company that sold educational toys and books, but nine months later, that division folded. Her growing customer base wasn't stranded, however: Koon had heard about Discovery Toys and sought out Discovery's educational consultant in her hometown of Atlanta. "It was a flexible, part-time business I could run from my home that, instead of taking time away from my children, really benefited them," she says.
What started as a brief selling stint until her daughters reached school age turned into a full-time success story for Koon, now 50. After 16 years selling Discovery's developmental children's products, the former librarian has earned the title of "ruby sales director"--only one step away from "diamond sales director," the apex of Discovery's selling stardom. Koon's downline--approximately 1,200 people--should make more than $2 million this year.
And reaching new heights shouldn't take long: Climbing the ladder of success is much easier when you know you're making a difference. "I've become a better parent as a result of working with Discovery because it taught me so much about children and child development," says Koon.
Koon can see how fortunate she's been. "I was able to go to [my children's] swim meets and honors assemblies," she says, "while having a very successful business that brought me income and a sense of personal accomplishment." Who says you can't gain success through fun and games?--Michelle Prather
Andrew A. Caffey is a practicing franchise attorney in the Washington, DC, area; a former general counsel of the International Franchise Association; and an internationally recognized specialist in franchise and business opportunity law. E-mail him at ACaffey@compuserve.com