Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, we’re getting a head start on Women’s History Month early, profiling female franchisees that everyone can learn from. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday, Entrepreneur.com profiled Alicia Sorber Gallegos, granddaughter of the founder of Two Men and a Truck. Today, Franchise Players is lucky enough to feature another member of the family: Melanie Bergeron, Mary Ellen Sheet’s daughter and the very first Two Men and a Truck franchisee. Here’s a different perspective on the business, with decades of experience in the franchising industry.
Name: Melanie Bergeron
The first Two Men and a Truck Business I owned was in 1987 in Atlanta, Ga. My mom, Mary Ellen Sheets franchised the business and I became her first franchise in 1989. In the early 90's I moved to Detroit and started another Two Men and a Truck franchise there.
How long did you own the franchise?
The one in Atlanta about five years. The one in Detroit about eight years.
Honestly, I didn't know any better at the time but I do now! Franchising has proven systems, support from corporate office and from fellow Franchisees. You are constantly sharing best practices. As a franchise you also get to enjoy national brand recognition, national buying power and when you are ready to sell, a franchised business is usually worth more.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was a pharmaceutical sales rep.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
My mom encouraged me to start the business before she knew it would be franchised. She saw that Two Men and a Truck was working well in Lansing, Mich. and in Atlanta, Ga. so she went to work and franchised it.
It's absolutely amazing all that she was able to accomplish with very little franchise knowledge, no internet back then and very little money. As a matter of fact, $350 is the only personal money she ever invested in the business. This is a franchised business that she basically started on her personal credit card. I'd also like to mention that she was a single working mom at the time. This year we plan to hit 385 million in gross sales. A good investment!
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Back when I started, we had limited standards and resources. I started off with a used truck and a fax machine. I ran the business from my apartment. My main source of advertising was the moving truck that was like a traveling billboard and I would go meet with apartment and storage unit managers. I also learned the value of referrals. Today while it costs more to get up and running than it did 20 years ago, it makes a significant impact on having an efficient start up and quicker ROI coming out of the gate.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
As the first franchisee I got all of my advice from my mom. I also drew from all I knew and that was pharmaceutical sales. I made sales calls for my moving business just as I did for doctor's offices, leaving mugs, flyers and business cards. I depended so much on my movers, so I paid them well and treated them with respect. They were very loyal. I knew it was important to please the customer.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Used trucks (and mine was really used) break downs. There is never a good time for a truck to break down and it is never cheap. In the beginning it felt like every extra dollar I made went to truck repairs. The other unexpected challenge was when a mover doesn't show up for work, guess what? You go! I went on a few moves in my business suit, heels and all. While I wanted to cry at times, I was always more worried about the customer being taken care of. We have scheduling systems in place now -- rest assured a franchise owner does not go on the truck!
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
The best advice I can give is to do your research! The franchisor will/should offer you a contact list of franchisees in the System. It is a major red flag if they give you a short list. As a matter of fact, they should give you the entire list and a list of those who have left the system. Call as many as you can. If you speak to a disgruntled franchisee, ask them if they would do it again and/or if their franchise is for sale. The truth will be in that answer.
Secondly, be sure to read through the FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document). It is a legal document that explains clearly the relationship you are signing up for. Make sure you understand the renewal process, law suits the brand may have been involved in, executive experience, income potential in Item 19, etc. The FDD is very revealing. I strongly urge you to read it cover to cover. You can find more information on the IFA (International Franchise Association) website at franchise.org.
What's next for you and your business?
I sold my franchises many years ago and took over leadership of the franchise headquarters. Today, I am Chair of the Board at Two Men and a Truck and serve as a spokesperson for our brand. We have outstanding executive leadership and amazing franchisees. Our collective goal is to be a billion dollar company by 2020, while maintaining 97 percent customer satisfaction and a laser like focus on giving back to the communities we serve.