I opened my franchise six years ago, in a 1,000-square-foot strip mall space in Elmhurst, Ill. It was so small that during the holidays, when I had 15 workers cutting pineapple, dipping fruit into chocolate or designing arrangements, they were literally tripping over each other. As my lease was expiring, I found a landlord who was willing to share the cost of my buildout. But the new location was in an older building downtown, right across from City Hall, and corporate had a policy that franchises should be located only in shopping centers near anchor tenants. To convince corporate to make an exception, I took a bunch of photos of what's up and down the block, on both sides of the street. I showed a theater, boutiques and big-name stores like Walgreens and Starbucks.
I also included photos of people walking by, so it could see how busy the foot traffic is. Corporate relented and I opened my new store in September 2009. It's 1,780 square feet and designed so well that during that year's bustling holiday season, it felt like we were a lot less busy. More people are stopping in, and business is up by almost 8 percent.
Fish Window Cleaning
After my husband, Doug, was downsized from a corporate job in 2002, he used his severance money to open this cleaning franchise in Traverse City, Mich. My name was on the contract and I helped at the beginning, then backed away and used to joke that if anything happened to him, I wouldn't know how to print out the next week's work orders. One Thursday in 2008, Doug was driving to meet a cleaning team when he had a fatal heart attack. We closed that Friday, but I knew we had to open again on Monday because we had customer orders and the cleaners needed the income. After Doug's funeral, a man from Fish corporate stayed on to help me through that first week, and my Fish district manager, who was several hours away in Grand Rapids, drove over often to give me hands-on help. Because Doug's business was a franchise, he had lots of systems in place and I could call headquarters in St. Louis with all my questions. I got a handle on the work pretty quickly, because I've grown the business and even been named Fish Franchisee of the Year for my size territory.
Benefiting From Support System
Kampgrounds of America
We had about 100 guests in our Kampgrounds of America in Fredericksburg, Texas, on Labor Day weekend [last year], when we heard that the eye of tropical storm Hermine was heading right over us. KOA requires its franchisees to have an emergency management plan, so my wife, Lisa, and I knew what to do. We moved our RV campers to high ground close to the entrance and moved our tent campers into empty cabins. The storm lasted a day and a half, with winds of 60 to 70 mph and 15 inches of rain. Part of our property washed away, but everyone was safe. Our power was out and we couldn't access our reservations list. But KOA corporate in Montana keeps a backup, which it printed out and sent to us by FedEx. Other Texas KOA owners offered us people, tools and equipment to help us clean up. The national owners association offered money from its disaster relief fund, and corporate told us not to worry about paying royalties until we were back on our feet. The support was fantastic, and within three weeks we were back to normal.
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Julie Bennett is a freelance writer.