Got Laid Off? Buy a Franchise

Getting laid off may feel like an unhappy ending, but it could be where your franchise story begins.

Fans of the reality show The Apprentice loyally tune in each week to watch Donald Trump eliminate candidates with two simple yet dreadful words: "You're fired!" Of course, we're not all candidates competing for the next golden Trump position, but every day, people are getting laid off and facing the harsh reality that nothing is quite as it appears. Some are given reasons, but even more are dismissed with barely an explanation.

Bob Higgins clearly remembers the day he was laid off from Chili's after 25 years. He says, "About all they would really tell me was, 'Bob, it doesn't have anything to do with you personally. It doesn't have anything to do with your job performance.'"

When the ax falls, it falls, regardless of qualifications, loyalty or age. The impact is painful, but the decisions the laid-off employee makes afterward will ultimately determine the severity of the wound.

We spoke with three survivors who were all in different stages of life when they were laid off. They each have different stories, but they all used their layoff as a catalyst to take back control of their lives and become their own bosses by opening a franchise. Here's a look at how they persevered and what their post-layoff lives are like.

Leap of Faith
Higgins is proof that nothing--not even outstanding job performance and the ability to grasp the big picture--ensures job security. After all, of the 17 regional directors at Chili's, he had the third-best key performance indicators, and throughout the years, he had consistently demonstrated his ability to oversee the budget, quality control and profit growth of 50 to 60 restaurants in regions that saw up to $200 million in sales. But when Higgins, along with five other regional directors and four vice presidents, were unexpectedly laid off in March, even he was at a complete loss for what to do next. "You lose that security you've had," he says. "Working hard, having the paycheck come in--you think you're working for this big corporation, so there's this security, and then all of a sudden, you get a severance."

Having to start from scratch after 25 years with one company wasn't quite what Higgins had envisioned for his life. Until then, he had followed a single path and lived a safe, conservative existence. But the layoff forced him out of his comfort zone and onto a new path of self-discovery. Higgins exercised more as an outlet to relieve the stress, prayed for guidance and heeded the advice of a friend who recommended he stay away from the corporate world and look for something he could get equity in instead. Most important, he had to not only accept but also embrace the hand that life had dealt him. Once he did, he was able to move on. It was then that he and his wife, Susie, started researching franchises with the help of a franchise consultant.

After considering several different options, the search came to an end in June, when the Higginses attended the Discovery Day for Liberty Fitness, a women's health club franchise. They were so confident it was the right opportunity for them that Bob, despite his conservative approach to finances, took out a line of credit against his stock portfolio and signed on to become an area developer, committing himself to opening one location and finding franchise partners to open 38 clubs in the Houston area over the next five years.

The Higginses, both 50, just opened their location this month. Since June, they've stayed busy completing the franchise training, finding a good site and networking at local events to make Bob's main task of finding interested franchisees a little easier. Married for 30 years, they are also getting used to the idea of spending more time together and have openly discussed the importance of scheduling separate personal time. They know their work is cut out for them and the financial rewards will be slim for the first couple of years, but so far, the transition has been a smooth one. They like being in complete control and have found comfort in having realistic expectations and being open to whatever the future holds. "It's strictly about the vision and just having a good feeling," says Bob. "It's just like starting your own company. You feel good about the basics and the foundation of it, and you say, 'OK, let's go with it.'"

Bob still isn't certain why he was laid off, but he has a good guess. "Maybe I was forced to get out of my comfort zone because I had more to contribute," he says. And buying a franchise is allowing him to do that.

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This article was originally published in the December 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A New Chapter.

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