Running Start

Managing Partner

Matt Friedman and Adam Scott founded Wing Zone, a Buffalo wings takeout and delivery franchise, when they were only 21 and 19, respectively. Now they want to offer opportunities to others by removing some of the hurdles. "The reality in this day and age is that you need [at least] $100,000 net worth," says Friedman. "It's so difficult for someone young to start a business."

So in 2006, Friedman and Scott established their Managing Partner program for individuals who have at least three years of restaurant management experience and $15,000. The managing partners are put in charge of a company-owned location and earn 25 percent of the profit. Once they've built enough capital to cover 50 percent of the store's purchase price, it becomes theirs--they officially become a franchisee, and corporate finances the remaining 50 percent over a set period of time. "We want to get them to a point in roughly two to three years where they could become an owner," says Friedman. Currently, the program has opportunities available in Atlanta; Charleston, South Carolina; Miami; and Tampa, Florida.

Friedman and Scott aren't the only ones dishing out the opportunities. Noble Benefield, an experienced restaurant executive and advocate for urban development programs, became a Wing Zone franchisee almost two years ago. But even before then, he dreamed of providing opportunities to others. Benefield's goals are similar to those of the Managing Partner program: He aims to help others obtain franchises of their own. To do that, he plans to select protégés, teach them the ropes, help them develop plans to establish and build equity, and eventually allow them to acquire his store. Benefield, 58, just selected his first protégé for his store in Lithonia, Georgia, and is setting his sights on opening another store. He'd like to replicate the model at least five times. Says Benefield, "If I can achieve that and get those running well and successful in themselves, I would consider this particular piece of my life a success."

For many, there is a necessary waiting period between the time they leave their full-time job and when they get their business off the ground and turning a profit. And that alone can be enough to squash their dreams of setting out on their own.

Three years ago, Spring-Green Lawn Care, a lawn- and tree-care service franchise, took advantage of the fact that its business is a seasonal one and launched a program that is known today as Flex-Start. Under this program, franchisees who come in midseason are able to start part time, with a commitment to go full time by January 1 of the following year. In this way, franchisees can keep their full-time jobs while learning the ropes of the franchise and building up a client base on the side. The results of the program are impressive. According to James Young, president of Spring-Green Lawn Care, franchisees under the Flex-Start program enjoy first-year revenue that is an average of 30 percent higher than that of franchisees not in the program. In addition, more than half the franchises that opened in 2007 started under the program. Says Young, "When you think of that [transition] from the corporate environment to entrepreneurship, this really is a unique bridge, [so Flex-Start] has been well-received."

"The Flex-Start program was a tremendous help for us, because it let us crawl before we walked and before we had to run," says Matt Holker, 53, who bought his franchise in August 2006 with his son Greg, 23. Matt, who worked in the construction and housing industry, was able to keep his job while learning the franchise's computer system, making sales calls and growing his customer base to roughly 50 clients by fall 2006. By the next spring, business was booming, and the following fall, they had obtained more than 350 clients. His son Luke, 27, has joined the company part time and has a full-time job as well. Says Matt, "Had we not had some kind of adjustment to get to this point, quite honestly, we would have fallen on our faces."

Union Programs
Even laid-off workers in the auto industry have programs geared toward helping them become franchisees. In 2006, Jack Butorac, CEO and president of Marco's Franchising LLC, the franchisor for Marco's Pizza in Toledo, Ohio, established a partnership with United Auto Workers to lend a helping hand to those who had suffered from the industry's major cutbacks. "These are individuals who have given 110 percent," says Butorac. "I felt it was an opportunity to give back or give them an opportunity to succeed and control their own destiny."

Marco's Franchising waives costs for store construction management and reduces the franchise fee by up to $5,000 if relocation expenses are incurred. In addition, the company has pledged to give 20 percent of all royalty fees collected from franchisees in the program to the UAW's training and re-education fund.

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This article was originally published in the January 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Running Start.

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