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 ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

Most people graduate college with a diploma. Aneesh Patel graduated not only with a degree, but also five Subway locations in Tampa, Fla. Starting young has paid off for Patel, who now owns six Marco's Pizza locations in Southern Florida. His goal is to work with this brother to establish 40 locations by 2020. Here's how he plans to make it happen.

Name: Aneesh Patel, Marco’s Pizza franchisee and Area Representative for Miami and Fort Lauderdale

Franchise owned: Six Marco’s Pizza locations in Southern Florida (Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel, Sunrise, Weston, Davie, and Pembroke Pines)

How long have you owned a franchise?

Four years as a Marco’s Pizza franchise owner

Why franchising?

My family has been in the franchising industry for the past 20 years. I grew up watching my father establish several hospitality and restaurant franchises, and knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I was attracted to the franchising industry because of the consistency and support systems provided by the franchisor.

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 What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I’ve been involved in the franchising industry since my teenage years when I started working with my father at Days Inn and Wyndham Hotels. I was given more leadership roles throughout high school after learning firsthand how to manage and operate a franchise. I went on to study finance at Florida State University and acquired my first Subway franchise as a sophomore in 2006. Upon graduation, I had acquired four additional Subway locations throughout Southern Florida. I started looking into different restaurant concepts and came across an opportunity to join Marco’s Pizza franchise in 2010.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

Marco’s Pizza was a newer franchise with a lot more opportunity for growth than most and the product was great. When I became involved with Subway, I knew it was one of the best sandwich franchises at the time because of the freshness of the product. Likewise, I believed Marco’s could be the best pizza franchise because of the brand’s dedication to excellence. I had yet to come across a pizza franchise that prides itself on authentic Italian artisan pizza, made with fresh, real ingredients and dough made in the store daily.

Coming from a restaurant and hospitality background where I had to follow strict guidelines, I understood the importance of consistency in operations. At Marco’s Pizza, there's consistency across the board, which is one of the factors that make our operations so superior. It makes a big difference with customers and translates into success for the franchisees. I was also impressed by the high level of support provided by the franchisor along with the fact that everyone at the corporate office was more than willing to help me succeed. I quickly realized that Marco’s Pizza was a chain to grow with that would offer the potential for long-term sustainable income.

 How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

On average, the startup cost for a Marco’s franchise is $350,000 ($206,552 - $396,552). This cost breakdown includes the initial franchise fee ($25,000), real property ($5,000 - $12,000), equipment and fixtures ($60,000 - $94,000), point of sale computers ($26,000 - $94,000), leasehold improvements ($20,500 - $130,000), signage ($3,000 - $9,000), opening inventory ($6,000 - $10,000), small supplies ($6,000 - $10,000), deposits, pre-paid expenses ($1,400 - $7,000), business licenses ($100 - $500), insurance ($1,500 - $4,000), training expenses ($500 - $5,000), miscellaneous expenses ($500 - $5,000), additional funds for three months ($25,000), architectural and engineering ($4,000 - $6,500), web-based training ($92), and six-month brand launch program ($21,960).

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I met with several Marco’s Pizza franchisees to find out more about their experience and success with the company. I met with both new and established owners, who owned both single and multi-unit territories, to gain an accurate understanding of the brand and franchise system. I also turned to my father for advice.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

 I didn’t experience many unexpected challenges when opening my first franchise because I was fortunate enough to have experience with different franchise concepts in similar industries. Working under my father taught me the basics of managing and operating a franchise with strict operations. With with Marco’s Pizza, the operations are simplified which made things easier.

An unexpected challenge for many new franchise owners can be learning how to manage employees. It can be overwhelming to manage a team of employees while trying to grow the business, gain loyal customers and keep track of finances. If the franchisor doesn’t provide grand opening support, it can be helpful to seek out a mentor to provide guidance and assistance during the first several weeks.

 What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

 Research the brand and contact established franchisees to find out if they have are happy with the franchisor and the type of support the corporate office offers. As a franchisee, you want to have a positive relationship with your franchisor. In regards to the financial side, invest in a franchise that is constantly working on ways to make the business more profitable for everyone involved.

Choose a brand that you are interested in and have enthusiasm for. To be happy and successful, you must believe in the product and services the company provides. For example, Marco’s Pizza trains franchisees in every aspect of making high quality pizza and running a successful franchise, but they can’t teach us passion. Lastly, follow the system -- there are strict guidelines for a reason.

What’s next for you and your business?

My brother Ritesh and I are targeting Miami and Fort Lauderdale for expansion and hope to reach our goal of establishing 40 Marco’s Pizza locations throughout Miami and Fort Lauderdale by 2020. We plan to add three new locations this year through strategic franchise partnerships and are currently recruiting qualified franchise owners to open up to 20 additional locations over the next two years. We haven't even been in the area for four years and we're already breaking ground on our seventh store. We look forward to growing with the brand and spreading the great Marco’s Pizza taste throughout the entire region. 

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