Franchise Players: From International Entrepreneur to Fro-Yo Franchisee
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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.
For 20 years, Brian Trager has been a businessman in every sense of the word. He has worked at startups in Manhattan, a producer-exporter in Costa Rica and consulting in Vietnam.
When he got into franchising, however, he wanted enter the industry with an established brand. So, he opened a Menchie's Frozen Yogurt. Today, he has four Menchie's locations plus a mobile Menchie's, with another shop on the way. Here's what he's learned.
Name: Brian Trager
Franchise owned: Menchie's Frozen Yogurt franchises in upstate N.Y. -- Amsterdam, Clifton Park, Colonie Center, Rotterdam, and a mobile Menchie's.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I opened Menchie's Clifton Park Center in December 2012.
I chose franchising to make a good investment return with reduced risk. I wanted to be part of a leading brand in a category from day one.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
During summers while in university I owned and operated my first business - a waterski school. Post undergrad, I managed a retail food store and gained experience with the same employer in the wholesale and importing businesses. I worked in Costa Rica shortly for a producer-exporter.
Upon returning to the U.S., I joined former university colleagues from Carnegie Mellon in a software startup located in Manhattan called Sitebridge. In the late 90s, Sitebridge made some of the first internet remote meeting software, chat technologies, etc. Post-Sitebridge, I was the first employee at Snapfish where I set up the initial business infrastructure.
After Snapfish, I started an automotive aftermarket business which I sold to my business partner five years later. After a brief stint in the solar space I worked in Vietnam as a buying consultant. After running all over the world for 20 years I settled down with my lovely wife, children and Menchie's.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Menchie's management team is to their core devoted to being No. 1. In selecting a franchise I chose the people who I wanted to be doing business with just as much as I scrutinized COGS, labor, sales, and expenses. I believed that the management team would stay the course. A franchise is not a two year investment. Menchie's provides a strong business model.
I also chose Menchie's due to its overall branding, theme, and values that are woven through the organization. I tasted the product and experienced the service in-store. Menchie's has a superior quality product and a gold standard guest service model. The Menchie's franchisor also had/has not diluted and leveraged its balance sheet. Menchie's was and is fiscally sound.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I spend about $330,000.
Construction costs were roughly half. Yogurt machines are a large piece of the build-out cost.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Other store owners and operators were a great resource to validate my questions.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Time management leading up to my first opening was the biggest challenge.
While finishing construction and making sure the store is set-up perfectly, you need to educate your team and let the community know you are coming. I wanted to both market full-time and educate full-time right before the opening. With that said, I suggest investing in your core team and marketing well before opening so both you and your entire team at the opening are focused on making your guests smile. Don't try to do everything yourself. You want to be a great host at your opening. Delegating is ok.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Choose a franchise that has a proven track record and a strong brand. Make sure you like who you will be working with. Is the franchisor effective and benevolent? Sell something that you enjoy and feel good about. Do you feel good serving the product to your children? Pick the best real estate, market the heck out of your grand opening, and if possible be first to market. Most everything that boosts top line sales will boost your profit and improve ROI.
What's next for you and your business?
Next week I start construction on my fifth Menchie's brick and mortar store. Including my Menchie's mobile unit, this will be my sixth Menchie's.