Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, we’re celebrating individuals who worked their way up in the industry from hourly workers to franchise owners. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Pete Robinson began as an apprentice technician at a little auto shop in 1990, he had no idea how the job would lead him to becoming a car care franchisee. However, with years of experience in the industry, Robinson climbed the ranks. Following a conversation with is wife about wanting to own their own business, the couple decided to go all in on auto care and open their own Meineke Car Care Center. Here’s what he’s learned in his 24 years in the industry.
Name: Pete Robinson
Franchise Owned: Meineke Car Care Center in Denver, N.C.
How long have you owned the franchise:
My wife and I purchased our franchise license in August of 2008. We opened for business in July of 2010. Our four year anniversary is coming up fast.
Q. Why franchising, and why this particular franchise?
The most important reason we chose a franchise, specifically Meineke Car Care Center, hands down: brand recognition. Meineke is widely recognized and trusted as a national leader in the automotive aftermarket industry. I believe this sets our business apart from a “mom and pop” style repair shop, and because we back up our repairs and maintenance with a guarantee that is honored at over 900 locations nationwide, it just makes sense. This adds a great deal of value to the services we provide. Meineke also provides a strong support system, with both our fellow franchisees and Meineke corporate behind us.
Q. What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I cut my teeth in the automotive field in 1990 as an apprentice technician at a little shop that gave me a chance. Little did I know where that would eventually lead me! I began working on obtaining my Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications in my spare time. After being hired as a technician for Meineke in Winter Haven, Fla. in early 1997, I quickly began interacting with our customers and learning the ins and outs of the business. Eventually, I found myself operating the entire shop at times when the manager was off. In 1999 I accepted a transfer to Charlotte, N.C., where Meineke is based, and their training facility was located. For the next nine years, I was fortunate to have been able to learn from some of Meineke’s finest, gathering experience at several local centers as a store manager. Over the years, I had obtained my ASE Master Certification. In 2008, after an inspiring conversation with my wife about our dreams of eventually owning our own business, we decided to purchase a license to open our own Meineke Car Care Center.
Q. How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Unfortunately, we all remember 2008. Home values down, lending dried up – it was quite discouraging. Eventually we visited a local banker who believed in our business plan. They worked with the Small Business Association (SBA) to secure our funding. At first, we planned to borrow around $262,000. Before we opened, including our franchise license, we only wound up spending about $165,000. The remainder was reserved for operating capital, just in case we needed it. The two main expenses were the franchise license, which was $30,000, and the remainder was for equipment related to the business such as lifts, machinery, tools, etc. In the area of equipment, we did save some significant money by purchasing cheaper equipment. That was a decision I came to regret later, because I’ve already had to replace some of it. In the long run, that cost us more money than it should have.
Q. Where did you get most of your advice or do most of your research?
Other franchisees have been a wonderful resource. We all desire each other’s businesses to be successful. The advice we received from the centers we visited during the planning process was beyond valuable. You can’t Google that kind of advice.
Q. What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Expecting everything to happen on schedule- well, that was certainly a challenge. We just had to be ready to adapt and deal with problems as they arose. Being a new business, the lender wants to know that you can be trusted with this loan, so we kept them informed every step of the way and kept them apprised of everything that was going on. During the construction of our building, which was a build to suit by a developer, most delays were out of our control. Weather, permits of all kinds, unforeseen circumstances… we just kept pressing forward, with the end result as the goal – opening our own franchise.
Q. What advice do you have for individuals who want to open their own franchise?
Be very involved with your business. Don’t expect a franchise not to require your time and attention. We’ve often told other potential franchisees, “No one else will ever care about your money and your business the way YOU do.” If you expect to buy a franchise and never show up at your business until the end of the week when the bank deposit is ready, I believe that’s a recipe for disaster. Sometimes we’re there from before sunrise to after sunset. We do whatever it takes. My wife and I are “all in” with our Meineke. Yes, we take time off when we need it. But we always know what is going on, and are available if our team or our customers need us.
We would have no Meineke franchise without customers. Forge strong customer and employee relationships. This creates repeat business through word-of-mouth, and you can’t buy that kind of advertising at any price.
Q. What’s next for you and your business?
Eventually, we may look at opening or purchasing another location. If we do it, we’re going to do it right. “All in” or nothing.