Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to be a franchisee because you think it will be easy, stay out of the industry. Not everyone realizes how difficult starting up a franchise can be, says Christopher Villa. Running an i9 Sports, Villa has realized the most important aspect of franchising isn't how fast you can turn a profit, but instead your level of persistence and dedication. After almost seven years of determination, here's what he's learned.
Name: Christopher Villa
Franchise owned: i9 Sports, based out of Issaquah, Wash.
How long have you owned the franchise?
Seven years and three months
Initially, it was to follow a system and to help with branding. As my business matured, this was needed less in favor of being part of a national community that is facing the same challenges and opportunities.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was running a shoe company (CEO, Selta Collections, now defunct). Prior to this, I worked for several big brand shoe wholesalers in sales and line-building.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
My wife and I didn’t want to be nailed down to a retail store. We wanted the ability to expand beyond a specific brick and mortar location, increase our community roots and involvement and my interest in sports in general.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
$60,000 (franchise fees, territory fees, training, initial marketing & administration)
$90,000 (operational costs, profit shortages, marketing in year 1)
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Online search, franchise broker. I also got to know Jeremy Ames, co-founder and president of Guidant Financial, who opened my eyes to a new form of financing a franchise – by using retirement funds. And that’s exactly what I did. I used my IRA to buy my i9 franchise with the help of Guidant Financial, and have turned it a very successful business that will be around for a long time impacting the community. Because of its success, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the resources to start another new franchise that’s a few months old now, called Mobile Gaming Revolution.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The cost of marketing was much larger than anticipated. The lack of income for the first few years was incredibly challenging to my family at that time.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Be well capitalized and don’t expect to make a quick buck. Find the RIGHT business model. Competition is always secondary to persistence and longevity in the market. Pay attention to what you do best and don’t focus on who is competing against you. And, expect that you will not have full control over your brand. Consider the franchisor as a partner that will always have a voice on the direction of your business.
What’s next for you and your business?
i9 Sports keeps growing on average of about 18-20 percent per year. We see our territory as still being underserved and we look forward to continuing to grow. We are now expanding into more community driven programs (partnering with some non-profits) that allow those families who can’t otherwise afford youth sports to participate in specific programs. We’ve done this all along, but we are now marketing specific events that are geared toward at-risk kids. With our MGR business, the sky’s the limit right now. We are just getting started!