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.
When the company that Su Hartung had worked at for 30 years laid off a number of its workers, Hartung wasn't sure what to do. At age 61, she didn't think anyone would hire her and worried she was too old to start her own business. However, when she teamed up with her daughter, she realized that the two had the perfect set of skills for franchising. Here's how the duo sharpened their marketing skills and opened an Our Town America direct-mail marketing franchise.
Name: Su Hartung
Franchise owned: Our Town America in the Western Chicago suburbs
How long have you owned a franchise?
My daughter, Morgan Garcia, and I joined the Our Town America family in January 2013. We own the rights to the Our Town America territory in the western Chicago suburbs. Specifically, we own the rights to east Dupage County and small parts of Cook and Will counties.
Morgan and I reviewed our skill sets and were intrigued by working with an established business model in the new mover marketing industry. It made sense for us to buy a community focused business that had a proven track record. Morgan and I both have marketing and PR backgrounds, but neither of us possessed deep financial experience and needed franchisor support for certain aspects of business ownership.
Additionally, we both worked for large companies prior to opening the franchise together, so we were accustomed to having training/support to help improve our skills. CEO Michael Plummer and anyone else within the Our Town America family are always willing to share advice and lend a hand on anything at any time. The support and camaraderie we have at Our Town America is second to none, and it’s made our transition to franchise ownership a seamless one.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
The first 11 years of my career were spent working in TV in Green Bay, Wis. and Rockford, Ill. I rolled that experience over into the corporate world and worked for a Fortune 400 environmental services company as a desktop publisher, video production, and marketing employee. I served upper management at the company for 30 plus years and wore a lot of hats. In August 2012, the company decided to lay off a number of workers and I accepted a severance package.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I chose Our Town America because it’s very family focused. The family element is not just present in the business model and sponsor relationships, it’s also apparent in the relationships between franchisees and the franchisor. The corporate staff, including CEO Michael Plummer, treats my daughter and I like family, and so do other franchisees. I also love meeting people. Because Our Town America is a B2B business, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with hundreds of fascinating business owners and learn much more about a variety of industries.
It was very important for me to have a home-based opportunity, too. It made the investment cheaper and ensured Morgan and I could work together despite living 40-45 minutes apart. And of course, I love the fact that the Our Town America business model allows me to give back to my community.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
$47,500 – I used a combination of 401k, severance package and personal savings to fund the business.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I worked with FranNet to explore my options. After being laid off, I received BTI meetings as part of the severance package. This offered me counseling/networking opportunities for a few months and I met a FranNet representative there. I always wanted to own my own business and didn’t realize that franchises weren’t always cost prohibitive. My FranNet representative helped me understand that a franchise was something an everyday person could own. FranNet shared about five or six options and I made my decision to buy in to Our Town America within a matter of months. I took this process very seriously because I was convinced (and still am!) that no one was hiring a 61 year old woman!
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The most unexpected challenge was just being completely overwhelmed in the very beginning. When you work for a big corporation, everyone has compartmentalized roles. You know what you’re responsible for. When you own your own business, you’re responsible for everything and you don’t have dozens of colleagues ready to offer up their expertise.
Additionally, Morgan and I were worried about the challenges associated with working together. However, working as a mother-daughter team has actually brought us closer together. It’s been a wonderful growing experience to face those challenges head on and build toward a successful first year together.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
When I first decided to do this, I was worried about being too old. However, I would advise other older professionals to not be afraid of age or any other risks. While I certainly faced a big learning curve, owning my own business has definitely been worth it to. There is a big difference between working for yourself and working for someone else. I drive by my old office every day and smile because I’m not working to build someone else’s company anymore – I’m building my own.
Specific advice I’d like to share includes:
- Use a broker – very helpful
- Make sure the company provides a list of franchisees and is willing to open up
- Don’t be afraid – you can do it
- Franchises aren’t crazy expensive – you just have to know where to look.
- Look at other successful women and learn from their characteristics/actions.
What’s next for you and your business?
Now that we are in our second year, it’s time to market OURSELVES. Even though we are a marketing company, we spend so much time serving our clients that it’s difficult to find time to marketing ourselves. We want to do a better job of “eating their own dog food” in 2014. So far, we have started to be more active in social media and we have kicked off direct mail campaigns so we can reach out to business categories we’d like to serve.
We launched our company in Q1 of 2013 and we were able to sign on 25 businesses in a wide variety of different categories in just 9-10 months. In 2014, so far, we’ve signed on another half a dozen. Despite being in business for just one year, we have some excellent success stories to share. In fact, we have a Rosati’s pizza location who consistently reports response rates in the 15 percent range and a Sports Clips location that reports response rates just under 10 percent each month. Compared to the 1.5-2 percent average response rates other direct marketing campaigns typically generate, our clients are very happy!
As far as the future, while I will turn 63 this year, I’ve never felt more energized. I know what I need to do and I feel empowered – I expect big things in 2014 and the years to come.