Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. After last week's franchisees under 30, this week we're profiling baby boomer franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Brian Bourlier retired after working at Ford for 34 years, he didn't plan on opening his own business. However, when he and his sons began to look into franchising, that quickly changed. Today, Bourlier and his wife operate a Buffalo Wings & Rings in North Port, Fla., with a second store opening next month. The ultimate goal: to have three Buffalo Wings & Rings, one for each of their sons.
Name: Brian & Karen Bourlier
Franchise owned (location): Buffalo Wings & Rings. We are located in North Port, Fla.
How long you have owned the franchise?
We bought the franchise in March 2007 but didn’t open the restaurant until June 2009.
With franchising, the franchisor already has a system in place—they have people to help in all aspects of the business to help you succeed. You don’t have to work out a menu. They help negotiate food prices with the vendors. If there ever is an issue, they have a little more leverage than an individual would have.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner:
I worked at Ford Motor Company for 34 years, starting when I was 19 and retiring when I was 53. I worked the first three years in production and the next 31 in the Research and Engineering Center in Dearborn, Mich.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
In February 2007, I was getting ready to retire as of March 1, 2007. My oldest son David asked me what I was planning to do after I retired. I had some ideas, but none of them included opening a business. I was 53 at the time. David and my middle son Darrell were doing drywall work, and at that time, the construction business was starting to dry up. I asked him what he had in mind. He contacted an online company that interviews you to get an idea what kind of business would suit you. They came back with about 10 franchisees to look at. We decided that Buffalo Wings & Rings was a business we would like to investigate further.
Since they were in Cincinnati, Ohio, only about four hours from where we lived in the Detroit area, we got an appointment to drive down for a discovery day. We met the owners of the company and one of them took us to four of the restaurants in the area. The first one was one of the original stores. We ate there to try the food. It was very good — we were impressed. We next went to the training store, follwed by one of the stores that had just recently opened. Lastly, we went to a store that was in the midst of construction. It was great to see the progression of the franchise.
The company had just been purchased in 2005 and the individuals were trying to do their best to bring the franchise up-to-date. It originally opened in 1984. We drove home and for the next week discussed the idea of opening up a Buffalo Wings & Rings restaurant. We decided that a Buffalo Wings & Rings was something we could do. We contacted the franchisor and decided to purchase the right to open three Buffalo Wings & Rings because we had three sons. My youngest, Derrick, was just finishing up an Associates Degree in Business.
How did entering franchising later in life shape your experience?
My financials were much better than they would have been in my 20s or 30s. Being older, I could appreciate the work that the franchisor put in to make it easier to succeed. Even though we are involved on a day-to-day basis, we left the operations up to David. We did this for our sons — not for us. With the economy crashing like it was in 2007-2008 we never thought about failing. David had the energy and we would be there to back him up.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
We put $200,000 of our own funds and got an SBA loan for $580,000. The build out was $400,000. The furniture, fixtures, and equipment were about $340,000. Inventory was $40,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
We talked to a number of the franchise owners who were very happy with Buffalo Wings & Rings Corporate office. They gave the other owners help to succeed.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
1. Finding a site to open the Buffalo Wings & Rings was an issue. We decided to go to Florida and the Sarasota area in particular. Michigan’s economy was not good at the time and we decided that Florida would be a good place to move. We decided on the Sarasota area because Karen’s aging parents lived there and it would be easier to help them if necessary. She also has other relatives in the area. We finally settled on North Port, Fla., which is about a half hour south of Sarasota.
2. In 2008, the banking industry was falling apart. The bank we were using kept changing their rules, asking for more documents that weren’t required in the beginning. We moved to North Port in January 2008 and bought a townhouse about a mile from where we were to open the restaurant. We had signed a lease on the site for the store. The bank kept telling us it would be two weeks before we closed on the loan. They did this for about 8 months and then we lost contact with them. We later found out their employees were being let go so everyone we had talked to for a year was gone. I was able to get in contact with a senior vice president in October 2008. He said he would get back to me and he did in about an hour. He informed me we were declined. I asked him, ‘After 16 months that’s how it ends? I have a lease to pay with no income.’ He told me he would look into it. Two weeks later I received an email that he had got us reinstated. This was mid-November 2008. He lost his job at the end of November. We finally closed on March 6, 2009, and started construction on March 8, 2009. Our Buffalo Wings & Rings officially opened for business on June 17, 2009. I do want to say that none of this was the fault of the franchisor. They were with us all the way to help.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Unless you have all the experience needed to start your own business, a franchise is the way to go. Find one that suits your likes and ability. Make sure it’s something you enjoy. Read trade magazines about different franchises. There’s one out there for you.
What’s next for you and your business?
To back up a little, in August 2010 we added 2400 square feet to our existing Buffalo Wings & Rings, giving us 6221 total sqaure feet. In September 2010, my middle son Darrell came down to stay and became part of the team. He worked his way through the kitchen and serving and is now a manager. He is getting married to his fiancé Heather on April 20, 2014. She is an asset to the business. My youngest son Derrick has always worked part-time with us since we opened. He is now working full time as a manager. We are opening a second Buffalo Wings & Rings in Port Charlotte, Fla. next month on April 2, 2014. David is going to manage and operate that store with his wife, Jennifer. She also is an asset. We did this in the beginning with the intention to open three stores — one for each of the boys. We are two-thirds of the way there. If all goes well, we may be looking to open another in two to three years. I just turned 61 on March 6, 2014, and my wife Karen turned 60 on March 15, 2014.