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.
In 2012, shipping logistics company Unishippers introduced a new national franchise model devoid of geographic boundaries. Suddenly, franchisees could serve business-to-business customers anywhere in the country. Some potential franchisees may be scared off by the new concept. Not Brian Lendin, who became the first franchisee to purchase a national franchise. Here's what he's learned in the last year and a half.
Name: Brian Lendin
Franchise owned (location): Unishippers, based in Orange County, Calif.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I opened my Unishippers National franchise in August of 2012.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Given my four years in logistics and sales prior to purchasing a Unishippers franchise, it made the most sense for me to start a business in franchising where I could leverage my skillset alongside a franchise’s organized structure and expertise on the back end.
I realized my level of experience could never match up to a franchise that’s already well-established and reputable. Plus, it would take a tremendous amount of capital to start my own logistics company from scratch and build a TMS software that would even come close to a national franchise’s technology and offerings. Even if I had the finances, I knew I could never compete with a franchise’s buying power and established industry relationships. Especially in the logistics field where there are hundreds of individuals trying to launch their own companies, I knew becoming a franchise owner with a company like Unishippers would help me cut through the clutter and bring the most value to my customers.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before investing in a Unishippers franchise, I followed in my family’s footsteps and started my career in the mortgage industry. When the economy began to struggle, I realized it wasn’t the right occupation for me long-term and I started considering other options; that was when I came across logistics and never looked back. I realized it was an industry that could weather any storm since everyone needs shipping.
I then worked in sales for a Unishippers competitor for about three and a half years, which is how I first came across the Unishippers concept. As a sales representative competing against Unishippers’ sales force, I realized they had superior offerings and services and decided to leave the company I was working for to look into opening my own franchise. I became an independent contractor for a local Unishippers franchise for about a year before opening my own Unishippers franchise, which really solidified my passion for the concept and excitement to move forward.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I chose the Unishippers franchise in particular because I strongly believe in the business model, which offers a service to small to midsized business owners that I’ve found many don’t know exists. Through purchasing a Unishippers franchise, I’m able to leverage the system’s national buying power, extensive resources and high quality customer service with a local, small business feel.
Furthermore, I appreciate the value that Unishippers offers customers by not requiring any long-term commitment; being in the position to write a check or sign a contract is a major obstacle for most small business owners, and Unishippers recognizes that and alleviates that hurdle. In comparison to my years with a Unishippers competitor, some significant aspects I recognized that make Unishippers an attractive opportunity are its unparalleled pricing and discounts, broad carrier portfolio (including UPS®, Saia®, Estes®, YRC Freight™ and UPS Freight®), aesthetically appealing and industry leading technology, and the fact that its only one of two third party logistics companies (3PLs) nationwide to offer both small package (UPS) and freight shipments services from one company. Plus, through Unishippers I was able to purchase a National franchise – which isn’t offered anywhere else – which had a lower initial investment cost and also allows me to sell anywhere in the country from my own backyard.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
- $30,000 Initial Franchise Fee
- Financed $15,000
- $900 – Computer
- $500 – Initial Inventory/Supplies
- $1,000 – Surety Bond
- $325 – Insurance
- $1,200 – Attorney
- $2,250 Travel Expense (Travel to Utah/Hotel)
- $2,500 New Owner Training Program fee
- $15,000 Working Capital
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
In order to be a successful salesman in the logistics industry, it was crucial for me to study everything about my competition and uncover all the strengths of weaknesses of the top 3PLs, including those not in franchising. As a result, I learned a lot about the Unishippers concept and how its business model works. Once I approached Unishippers corporate to discuss franchise opportunities, the leadership team provided me with a list of franchisees in the system so I could pick their brains and learn what it’s like being a Unishippers franchise owner. It was great speaking with them because they’d already been through the launch process and I knew they’d be forthright since my purchasing a franchise wouldn’t benefit them in any way. Of course, I also did my own research online to learn about the nuts and bolts of the franchise, as well as about its core values and corporate culture to ensure it would be a mutually beneficial pairing.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Before opening my franchise, I knew most of my challenges would have to do with maintaining a steady cash flow – an obstacle nearly all small business owners face when starting out. My first unexpected challenge transpired from my lack of knowledge about the billing process on the carrier side of the business. After noticing my profits weren’t lining up correctly, I realized I was accidentally financially supporting customers due to aged invoices. Thankfully, since I pinpointed the issue, it’s become a thing of the past.
One other challenge I’ve faced has been learning to manage an outsourced operations team. Although Unishippers has a phenomenal team for franchisees to work with, at first I had difficulty adapting to systematic procedures and not being able to incorporate my own. I’ve gradually understood that as part of a franchise, the operations team must be systematic in their decisions in order to be efficient, which has been a large contribution to my success thus far. As far as challenges related to owning a National franchise model, the main challenge I’ve faced has been a personal challenge since my strength lies in face-to-face sales. Since I’m able to sell Unishippers services outside of my local region, I have to rely on cold calling via phone which I’m much less experienced with. The sky is the limit with the National franchise so I’m realizing that I really need to hone in on my phone skills in order to take full advantage of that.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
My best advice for prospective franchise owners is to do their research and if possible, work for the franchise concept for a brief period of time first. Working for the franchise concept first is a great, low risk way to really uncover the good, the bad and the ugly of a franchise concept.
When it comes to research, I recommend not only searching online but also calling franchisees in the system to learn about their experience and ask the tough questions. This will help ensure that if an individual proceeds to open a franchise, he/she can set realistic goals and be as prepared as possible. When it comes to working for the franchise beforehand, I found my time as an independent contractor was very helpful and eye-opening as I was able to be hands-on and learn about the concept from the inside. It really validated my interest in the brand, and I was able to gain insight I never would have gotten otherwise.
What’s next for you and your business?
In the immediate future, I’m working hard to continue building my account base and cash flow so I can assemble my own sales team. Once I have a solid sales force, I look forward to shifting my role from a selling business owner to more of a managing business owner where I’ll be able to pass down my sales knowledge to my team and help them in their own careers. My five to ten year plan is to continue growing my franchise by purchasing existing territories from franchisees looking to retire. Ideally, I’d like to grow my business to include multiple territories and offices over the next 20+ years and eventually pass it down to my family.