From the March 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Bob Morden, 38, remembers 1995 as the year he found himself short-staffed and stressed-out. To best serve customers, the Wendy's franchisee needed about 20 people on the floor, but due to too many sick calls, he sometimes could open only one or two registers.

Morden's solution came in the form of a job placement counselor from Gulfstream Goodwill Industries Inc., a community service organization in Riviera Beach, Florida, who asked him if he'd be interested in employing developmentally and physically challenged workers.

What started with one disabled worker manning the french fry machines has expanded into an average of 17 disabled employees--more than half Morden's staff. He could apply to get compensation for the disabled employees he hires, but Morden doesn't find it necessary. "I always [say] I need compensation for the nondisabled people," he laughs.

Joking aside, Morden can honestly say his disabled employees are among his most dedicated: Few fast-food workers would in-line skate eight miles to work. But that's exactly what one member of Morden's staff did the day an accident halted his bus' path.

Morden doesn't want to give his West Palm Beach, Florida, store's skyrocketing sales figures away, but he believes the dedication of his disabled employees has boosted his success. He'd use more disabled employees if their organizations provided transportation at night.

Of his employment policy, Morden says: "My door's always open. When [counselors] come in, I tell them if they're interested in placing somebody and closing their file, then our relationship will be short. But if they're interested in the person fitting in and backing them up, we can have a good relationship."

A Cut Above

Where the kid is always right.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are nearly 40 million kids in this country under age 10, most of whom need haircuts several times a year. A few independent children's salons have emerged to satisfy this need, but Lauderhill, Florida-based Kids Super Salon is one of the first to franchise the concept.

Carlos Fluxa, 35, owner and president of Kids Super Salon, monitored the hairdressing industry via his wife (and vice president), Sheryl Fluxa, 35, a stylist for 16 years. Carlos noticed there were few kid-targeted salon franchise systems, so in 1994, he opened his first Kids Super Salon in Sunrise, Florida, with the intention to franchise at some point.

Last October, the Sunrise location became a franchise, and the company is now seeking franchisees nationwide to join it.

Hairdressing experience isn't required--in-depth training and an operations manual guide the inexperienced. And franchisees can look forward to smiles on young customers' faces as they get haircuts while perched atop station chairs shaped like their favorite animals. Kids can also watch TV or play interactive games. "They're pampered through the whole process. And parents enjoy that because it gives them time to get haircuts, too" says Carlos, whose salons also service the over-10 set.

The Fluxas are growing Kids Super Salon at their own pace, but Carlos contends, "We're confident that in the future, we'll be the leader in the children's segment of this industry."

In The Zone

Blimpie sees opportunity in empowerment zones.

Since Blimpie International Inc.'s Urban Expansion Initiative began in December 1997, it's been a success. Now Stan Friedman, Blimpie's vice president of global development, has increased his efforts to see that quick-service dining is a reality for even more consumers, specifically those living in government-designated empowerment zones.

"These consumers have fewer choices because not everybody's running to the inner cities to build a business," says Friedman. Recognizing the lack of disposable income in these underserved markets but also seeing the potential their large populations offer, Blimpie has begun to expand the initiative under which it will award up to 500 franchises in empowerment zones and federally designated Enterprise Communities nationwide. Of the 500, the first 200 franchisees will be exempted from paying the $18,000 franchise fee, and the remaining 300 will pay "deeply reduced" initial franchise fees.

Thus far, six franchisees have committed to opening restaurants in the Atlanta market, where real estate and financing efforts are well under way. Detroit will also soon reap the program's benefits, as Blimpie launched the initiative there last summer. According to Friedman, "the most arduous" part of the process--sifting through applications--is the task now at hand.

Progression is slow and steady, but interest and support, especially from the federal government, are high. "There are a lot of people who want this thing to work," says Friedman. Goals in progress: finding debt-free capital infusion for empowerment zone franchisees and expanding to more to-be-announced zones this year.

Contact Sources

Blimpie International, (800) 447-6256, ext. 204, stanf@blimpie.com

Wendy's, 2975 45th St., West Palm Beach, FL 33407, (561) 687-8534

Kids Super Salon, (800)405-9466, http://www.kidssupersalon.com