New customers of eBay drop-off franchise iSold It in Chatsworth, California, are usually taken aback by the booming cry, "Where's my lunch, woman?" that regularly ricochets off the walls of the store from the back office. However, if they stick around long enough, they will quickly learn that it's just Richard Chemel's friendly banter with his equally sarcastic wife and business partner, Helene. Married for 26 years and iSold It franchisees for two, the Chemels keep the spice in their marriage and their business with their lovingly unconventional exchanges. And it's working. In fact, customers are so drawn to the laid-back family atmosphere in the store that they regularly stop by to say hi--or to snatch a cookie that Helene's father has brought on what has affectionately come to be known as "Pop Tuesday." Meanwhile, business is booming for the Chemels--the customer return rate is more than 50 percent, and they project 2006 gross sales to hit at least $500,000.
They give much of the credit to the fact that they run the business together. Says Helene, 48, "People know we're a family, so when they're dealing with us, there's a comfort level on both [sides] of the counter."
Running a franchise with family members can be great, and the Chemels make it look easy, but they're first to admit it can be anything but. "The stress can get to you and it can flow over into your home life," says Richard, 56, who vividly recalls the early days, when Helene would dissolve in tears, unsure of whether they had made the right decision in purchasing the franchise. "We've seen divorces come from franchises, and then they lose the business, so what's the point?"
The Chemels are certainly not alone in their effort to juggle family life with business. According to James Olan Hutcheson, president and founder of Regeneration Partners, a Dallas-based consulting group devoted exclusively to working with family-owned and family-managed companies, more than 75 percent of all firms in the U.S. are family-owned and family-controlled. And there's a growing recognition of the complexity behind running a family business.
In family franchises, challenges are a fact of life. Here is some advice that Hutcheson and several families we spoke with shared about the challenges they've faced--and solutions they've found--to not only survive, but flourish in a family franchise.