From the January 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Time well spent: John Trometer, John Gosik, Judy Gosik and Gus Trometer researched the market for a year before opening their muffin and bagel franchise.

Too often, the idea to start a business remains just that: an idea. Unless the right ingredients are in place, the important transition from idea to reality rarely occurs. But just what are those ingredients, those precise elements that can transform the average Joe into the next great franchisee?

We decided the best way to find out was to go straight to the source--successful franchise owners. We asked them to reveal their secrets, tell us their tales and give us some advice along the way. Read on, and learn what it takes to turn a franchise dream into the real thing.

Taste of Success

Names and ages: John Trometer, 29; John Gosik, 52; Judy Gosik, 57; and Gus Trometer, 31

Franchise name and description: My Favorite Muffin & Bagel Cafe offers gourmet muffins, bagels, coffee and sandwiches.

Franchise location: Kokomo, Indiana (with another store in Indianapolis)

Opened: 1996

1999 sales projections: $1 million

Starting slow: Every aspect of Gus Trometer's business has involved his family-- mother, Judy, stepfather, John and brother, John. But getting started was a slow process: It took a year for the family to even open the doors of its new franchise. "We dragged our feet on a lot of things because we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing," says Gus. The family read books on franchising and did a lot of research. "We ate a lot of bagels," laughs Gus. They also spent a lot of time reviewing the building plans and adjusting the architect's work to get the restaurant just right. "It put us back timewise," says Gus, "but I think in the end, we knew more about what we were doing before we opened than many other franchisees in this company."

Taste of success: For Gus and his family, the time spent researching everything from bagels to the retail food market paid off: They had one of the most profitable openings of any franchisee in the system and are currently looking to open additional locations.

In the trenches: "The secret to success is being a hands-on operator rather than being an absentee owner," says Gus. "The benefits are worth it."

Driven to the Top

Names and ages: Joel Schlachter, 57; Anita Schlachter, 54; and David Schlachter, 28

Franchise name and description: The Schlachters' Maaco Auto Painting & Bodyworks franchise provides exterior work on older and damaged cars. The partners have also worked on cars for the local fire and police departments, as well as supplied cars for the movies FX and Batman.

Franchise location: Nutley, New Jersey

Opened: 1984

1999 sales projections: $1.2 million

Driving force: "We've always loved cars," says Anita about the motivation behind the Schlachters' entry into the automotive restoration field. "We've always gone to antique car shows."

When Joel's handbag manufacturing business began to fail, the husband and wife searched for other business opportunities. After speaking with several Maaco owners from surrounding areas, the Schlachters decided it was the right franchise for them.

A family affair: David, the couple's son, grew up in the business and loved cars. After graduating from college, David decided to join his parents in the family business.

Driven to the top: Success has come consistently for the Schlachters, who have grossed $1 million every year they've been in business. "If you listen to what your franchisor says and follow its policies and procedures, you'll be successful," says Anita. "Those who think they know more shouldn't go into franchising."

Hunger Pangs

Names: Judy and David Greenwood

Franchise name and description: Taco John's is a Mexican fast-food restaurant.

Franchise location: Havre, Montana (with 10 additional restaurants in Montana and North Dakota)

Opened: 1972

1999 sales projections: An increase of 5 percent over 1998 sales

Hunger pangs: After moving from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Havre, the husband and wife missed the Mexican food they'd enjoyed in New Mexico. Noting a scarcity of good Mexican restaurants in the area, the Greenwoods decided to open a Taco John's franchise to serve the food they missed so much.

Ingredients for success: Judy says creating a good relationship with the franchisor and a balanced franchise contract that protects both the franchisor and franchisee is the best way to cook up a strong business. "We've been blessed with good managers," she adds. "They've allowed us to expand our stores."

Bits and Bytes

Name and age: Taylor Bond, 37

Franchise name and description: Computer Renaissance is a full-service retailer that also builds, repairs and upgrades computers.

Franchise location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Opened: 1994

1999 sales projections: $4 million plus

Bits and bytes: After working at Domino's Pizza headquarters for eight years, most recently as the national director of market research, Bond felt the entrepreneurial urge. He financed his purchase of a Computer Renaissance franchise with an SBA loan that was eased by his familiarity with the franchise system. In addition to doing extensive market research, Bond made sure he was overcapitalized before buying the franchise.

Programmed for success: Some of the challenges Bond faced early on included building his staff and dealing with turnover. "It'll kill you," he says of the latter. And for the computer business in particular, he needed intelligent, articulate individuals who could knowledgeably sell the products. By placing his business in a college town, Bond found a pool of ready talent. Today, he has 17 employees, some of whom have been with him since the beginning.

Plan ahead: Bond cites preparation as the key to his success. "Be well-capitalized," he urges. "If a franchisor tells you you'll need $100,000 to get started, you better have $150,000."

Hole-in-One

Name and age: Aubrey Smith, 57

Franchise name and description: Putt Putt Family Park is a 40-acre recreational park that houses a 54-hole miniature golf course, a game room, a golf pro shop, a go-cart track and more.

Franchise location: Memphis, Tennessee

Opened: 1963

1999 sales projections: $2 million

Fresh greens: Immediately after graduating from Rhodes College, Smith decided to turn his passion for golf into a business by buying an existing local miniature golf course. With funding from relatives, he went on to secure the lease and renovated the Putt Putt course, doing the contracting work himself. Pouring in a minimum of 60 hours a week in the beginning, Smith never stopped enjoying running his own course. "I was single," he laughs. "You can do those things when you're single."

Hole-in-one: One of the highlights of Smith's 36 years in business occurred when he was able to renegotiate a buyout clause in his Putt Putt property lease four years after signing it. "I wouldn't be able to pay the [amount] they'd ask me for on this property now," he says. "It's too valuable."

Keep your eye on the ball: Smith urges prospective business owners to be well-informed before committing themselves. "Don't hesitate to go straight to business owners who are in the same business and ask them questions--hard questions. You'll find most are very willing to open up to you and help you."

Planting an Idea

Name and age: Andrea Brinkman, 34

Franchise name and description: Children's Orchard is a resale retail franchise that specializes in quality children's products, including clothing, toys and equipment.

Franchise location: Jacksonville, Florida

Opened: 1996

1999 sales projections: $425,000

Growing the business: Burned out on the world of giant, indifferent health-care corporations, Brinkman, a critical-care nurse for seven years, opened her own business hoping to relate to customers on a more personal level.

Planting an idea: Brinkman warns potential franchisees to be wary of shady franchisors. "If you want to buy a franchise, make sure you're not just another number for them to make their franchise grow," she warns. "If it's too easy to get in, then there's something [fishy] going on."

No Splinters Here

Name and age: Brian Fabre, 43

Franchise name and description: Guardsman WoodPro does touch-up wood repair for the home or office, as well as refinishing work for hotels and restaurants.

Franchise location: St. Charles, Missouri

Opened: 1996

1999 sales projections: $95,000

Woodn't you? Brian Fabre first noticed the Guardsman franchise when he saw an ad for it in an issue of Wood magazine. Woodworking was a hobby of his at the time, and feeling run-down by his restaurant managerial position, he thought the new franchise opportunity would better suit him.

No splinters here: Fabre says the franchisor's training program and the name recognition that comes with being a part of a franchise have boosted his business. "I tell prospective owners to be committed to the system," he says. "Some owners have tried to do things differently from what they learned, and it doesn't work." And working with the system has paid off for Fabre: He won the Franchise of the Year award at the annual Guardsman convention in 1998.

Father Knows Best

Name and age: Joe Doro, 43

Franchise name and description: Coit Drapery and Carpet Cleaners is an in-home cleaning service.

Franchise location: Buffalo, New York (with three additional locations in Syracuse, Rochester, and Albany)

Opened: Doro's father bought this Coit franchise in 1965.

1999 sales projections: $3 million

Father knows best: A third-generation dry-cleaner, Joe Doro was born into the business. He credits his entrepreneurial father for getting him started.

Playing both sides: While Doro operates the independently owned Doro's Dry Cleaning Co. Inc. in addition to his Coit franchise, he acknowledges the advantages of being part of a system: "Being a franchisee gives you an edge on the learning and operational curve."

Best advice: "You've got to come up with a vision or a goal for where you're going," says Doro. "And whether a franchise works or not depends on whether it fits into your primary aim."

Slice of Success

Names and ages: Brian Anderson, 31; Robert Anderson, 55; and Gloria Anderson, 52

Franchise name and description: Anderson's Mountain Mike's Pizza is a pizza parlor.

Franchise location: Concord, California (two locations in Concord and one in Walnut Creek)

Opened: 1994

1999 sales projections: $1.25 million

Wheeling and dealing: Brian Anderson used to deliver pizzas for two pizza parlors in Concord. Now he owns them with his parents, Robert and Gloria, thanks to a lot of research, some business savvy and just plain grit. Having owned small yet profitable gardening, Christmas tree and pumpkin businesses, Brian realized his first love was the pizza parlor business. He considered 15 to 20 other franchises before choosing Mountain Mike's. With the help of some promotional events, including pizza giveaways and community projects, his Concord locations are now recording healthy sales.

Slice of success: Although he's owned successful independent businesses, Brian recommends that first-time business owners take the franchising route instead. "You'll do much better with a franchise," says Brian. "You have to find somebody who knows about the business to help you."

Stranger in a Strange Land

Name and age: Arvind Gupta, 42

Franchise name and description: Kwik Kopy Printing provides printing and mailing services.

Franchise location: Reston, Virginia (with two additional locations in Northern Virginia and Canada)

Opened: 1987

1999 sales projections: $5 million

Stranger in a strange land: Prior to immigrating to the United States from India in 1986, Arvind Gupta owned a wholesale shoe store in his native land. With financing from friends, Gupta established his first Kwik Kopy store in Reston.

Do you copy? "Franchisees should keep in mind that franchisors will probably help educate you about the basics, but you have to find your own individual niche in the market," says Gupta. And he's done just that, with a location in Canada that provides full-color printing and electronic publishing services and a Northern Virginia location that offers offset printing and mailing services. He plans to expand to New York City and Chicago and have each additional store provide a unique service.

Contact Sources

Anderson's Mountain Mike's Pizza, P.O. Box 721, Clayton, CA 94517, startoys@value.net

Children's Orchard, 6000-11 Lake Gray Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32244, (904) 573-0300

Computer Rennaissance, tb@compren.com, http://www.compren.com

Cookie Bouquet, 888-COOKIES, http://www.cookiebouquet.com

Crestcom, (303) 267-8200, http://www.crestcom.com

Guardsman WoodPro, (314) 936-1999, WoodPro.BJFabre@worldnet.att.net

The HomeTeam Inspection Service, (941) 489-3334, hometmlee@aol.com

Kwik Kopy Printing, (703) 648-9000, arvindg@aol.com

My Favorite Muffin & Bagel Cafe, 1224 W. 86th St., Indianapolis, IN 46260, (317) 815-1174

Novus Windshield Repair, 5623 Clearwater Ave., Kennewick, WA 99336, novus@3-cities.com

Pak Mail, (305) 253-7131, amtsang@worldnet.att.net

Papyrus, 563 Northgate Mall, Seattle, WA 98125, (206) 363-8055

Sylvan Learning Center, (619) 668-4000, fax: (619) 469-8191

Taco John's, 1110 Fifth Ave., Havre, MT 59501, (406) 265-5787

Worldwide Express, (919) 845-3343, tmadine@aol.com