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 Susan and Dan Manwaring jumped into franchising in 1992, it felt like a leap of faith for the couple. The company they bought into, Batteries Plus Bulbs, had only just begun franchising and neither person had experience running a business.
But with a passion for hands-on entrepreneurship and plenty of room to grow, the Manwarings and Batteries Plus Bulbs have found success in franchising over the last two decades. The couple owns 14 stores and plans to keep on expanding.
Here's what they've learned.
Responses have been edited for content and clarity.
Name: Susan Manwaring
Franchise owned: Batteries Plus Bulbs. My husband, Dan, and I own 14 stores throughout the state of Indiana, as well as Louisville, Ky.
How long have you owned a franchise?
We opened our first store, and the very first Batteries Plus franchise location, on November 27, 1992 -- the day after Thanksgiving.
Dan and I had been looking to invest in a business opportunity together. Opening a franchise was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a pre-established, growing brand that offered outstanding support in areas like product and category management, real estate, training, field support, IT, and marketing, versus starting from scratch on our own.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
We were both employed in the corporate world. Dan was director of operations for a meat-packing company and I was an office manager.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
One day, Dan was playing golf and his partner was having battery trouble with his golf cart caddy. It turns out his friend knew the founder of Batteries Plus, and he was able to find a battery replacement through him. Unfortunately, Dan ended up losing his job to corporate downsizing. He decided to get back in touch with his golf partner because batteries had remained in the back of his mind since their last conversation.
At the time, Batteries Plus was getting ready to open its fifth corporate store. Dan and I drove to Oshkosh, Wis., to tour one of the stores, and we saw a lot of potential in the industry and the niche business. Because it was a newer industry, we didn’t see a lot of competition. There was plenty of room for growth. The brand now has a nationwide network of more than 620 stores.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
There were costs involved with researching the franchise opportunity, including travelling, touring stores, and meeting with the franchisor to discuss all that went into becoming a franchise owner. There were also initial investment costs, including a franchise fee, real-estate expenses, inventory, advertising, equipment, a POS system and signage.
The dollar amounts have changed since 1992, but the line items are similar. The investment range is $208,450 to $385,750.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
When we were researching franchise opportunities in the early 1990s, Dan and I didn’t have easy access to the Internet. We spent a lot of time at the library digging through periodicals on the franchise industry. We learned about what reasonable investment costs were at the time, how much royalties should be, and other related topics.
When the company was ready to launch their franchise opportunity, we felt knowledgeable on what to expect with investing in a franchise. To help us continue to grow our franchise locations, a group of seasoned Batteries Plus Bulbs franchise owners -- including Dan and I -- still try to meet in person at least once a year to share numbers, ideas and challenges.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
When we first became franchise owners, we grew rapidly. We opened new stores in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997. We didn’t have a large staff and Dan took another job prior to us opening our first store so we had supplemental income coming in.
For the first four years, I spent a lot of time and energy driving around the state of Indiana trying to keep an eye on our stores to ensure they were operating smoothly. It was a logistic challenge to have a presence at all of the stores on a consistent basis. In 1996 we felt it was time for Dan to get involved in the business on a full-time basis. We were finally able to meet our goal of running the business together.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
To be successful, especially if you are investing in a retail franchise, you need to enjoy people. You should invest in the opportunity because you also want to play an active role in the business and not solely invest in it just because you want a business to own. You have to be hands-on in the beginning in order to learn all of the elements of the business.
You should keep an open mind in hiring employees who have strengths you don’t necessarily have as an owner. These people will be able to help you grow your franchise.
What’s next for you and your business?
Recently, our franchise locations rebranded from Batteries Plus to Batteries Plus Bulbs. We began adding light bulbs to our existing battery and related accessory in-store product line in 2010. In 2013, the company marked its official entry into the light-bulb industry by this system-wide rebranding initiative. We’ll soon be offering mobile-device repair and battery installation services for iPhones, iPads, iPods, and tablets.
We started expanding our store presence into the Louisville market late last year when we purchased two stores from an existing franchise owner in that area. We see a lot of potential for growth in the market.
Finally, the next generation of Manwarings have joined the team. We now have our three sons heavily involved in the business. We couldn’t be more proud to have them on board.