From the June 2000 issue of Startups

Let's assume you want to be wealthy and that you've realized working for someone else may not be the fastest way to achieve that goal. Some of us have to bear with this ambition sooner than others. I started my first business at age 5. It was a restaurant. My partner (my 3-year-old sister, Susan) and I worked tirelessly to offer a comprehensive casual dining experience.

Our marketing campaign was simple--we posted a very colorful handcrafted sign on the front porch, and we waited. Sales were dismal. By 8 p.m. that first day, after consuming a good portion of our inventory, we shut down. Patience, perseverance and experience are not inherent virtues of a 5-year-old CEO, but time was on our side. Our careers could recover.

You probably don't have that kind of time on your hands. You've realized it's time to step up to the plate and swing for the fences-the years are going by faster, and soon, the car, the house, the spouse and the baby will require more and more cash. Many middle-aged people I've met are so ensnarled in this trap that an escape from a day job is incomprehensible. By contrast, you're probably loaded with energy-and a solid franchise system can be a perfect complement to the natural attributes of youth.

Franchises come in all flavors. In sorting through the morass of options, I spoke with Dallas franchise attorney Don McClure, who agreed with me that there is an ideal combination of factors to look for when entering this field without a great deal of capital or experience. According to McClure, "A prospective franchisee must focus on selecting a growing opportunity that presents a real chance for success." Now, that seems like an obvious statement, but it's worthy of dissection.

One of the primary considerations is the experience level of the franchisor as well as where that franchisor stands in the growth curve of its system. If you want to build an empire, you should select a growing opportunity-but not necessarily a new opportunity. (After all, somebody has to know what they're doing.)

On the other end of the spectrum, a fully mature system could have a policy (one you won't find in the UFOC) limiting the number of units that you can develop. In most of the less-expensive concepts, your chances of building wealth will be enhanced if you're able to run a larger-scale operation as opposed to a single unit. Therefore, it is imperative that you ask the management and some of the older franchisees in the system if anything exists that would prevent you from expanding. You should also try to secure options for other territories when possible.

Another attribute to look for is affordability. My definition of affordability is broader than the initial cost involved. You must also be able to afford the time necessary to make your business thrive. A good way to think about a business risk is to have the confidence that even if everything goes wrong with your decision, the ramifications will not financially ruin you. Going into business is akin to an educated gamble, and the same axioms apply: Namely, don't bet more than you can afford to lose. For those of us with limited means, we may have to begin our franchise experience in a service business or in a retail concept that does not require huge levels of inventory or labor.

While paying attention to these factors, I wanted to highlight three franchise opportunities that seem to offer the appropriate level of risk and reward for first-time franchisees. On a personal basis, these franchisors also seem to recognize that an individual's attitude and tenacity can overcome a low financial net worth.

Business Success With Used Sports Equipment

And the Franchise Played On

Play It Again Sports, a division of Grow Biz International Inc., has proved that viable market niches can be drilled in a business segment that is saturated with heavyweights. You don't have to go far in major metropolitan areas to find a sporting goods superstore, yet Play It Again franchisees, on average, do pretty well by offering used and new sporting goods in a small-store environment.

Although Play It Again has actually had more stores close than open over the past few years, a number of young operators have stepped into weaker stores and accomplished remarkable turnarounds. This typically occurs when the new franchisee hits the front door with fire in his belly and maintains the desire to work hard. This is a fun franchise if you love sports, but the franchisor estimates that it will cost up to $261,000 to open a store (quite steep in comparison to others profiled here). Remember, however, that Play It Again is based in a retail store, and your customers can start trading with you the day you open for business.

A good attitude and a desire to work can accomplish a great deal in franchising, as long as you make the jump into a franchise you can afford. If you're thinking of becoming a franchisee, you can build your resume with the smaller and newer concepts, and as you build your wealth, your growing experience will permit you to align with other companies. As long as the noncompetition provisions of your agreement don't prevent you from getting involved with subsequent franchises, your budding resume can open a lot of doors.

Painter With a Healthy Attitude

Take It From the Pros

Forty new franchisees joined Certa ProPainters last year; this business seems as much like a fraternity as any I have reviewed. This is probably due in part to the fact that Certa's parent company, The Franchise Company, offers a college program, College Pro, that permits students to operate a franchise for a one-year period without the payment of an initial fee. In essence, this creates a "farm club" that permits students to run a business that often hits six-figure sales results.

Case in point is Colorado franchisee Josh Beller, who spent two years operating a business prior to acquiring the rights to the south Denver/Colorado Springs market. Now 29, he's one of the top franchisees, grossing more than $1 million last year.

This level of success was not always present for Josh, however, as he lost money during his first year. Nearing bankruptcy, he was summoned to meet with Certa Pro president Charles E. Chase, who asked, "Why should I keep you as a franchisee of this system?"

To this day, Beller remembers his answer: "I refuse to believe that I am incapable of succeeding at this business." At Certa Pro, a good attitude apparently goes a long way; as a result of his determination, Beller received full franchisor support and is well on his way to financial independence.

ISP Franchise Made Easy

Get on the Bus, Gus

Quik Internet (corporate name Quik International) has been offering franchises since 1996; about 95 franchisees in the United States now provide Internet access to subscribers in protected territories. The beauty of the system is that the franchisor has handled the acquisition, configuration and management of the expensive and technical part of being an ISP. This business model permits the franchisee to concentrate on sales and service without the huge investment.

One of these services, offered by each franchisee, is free classroom training on various Internet subjects. Otherwise, Quik franchisees garner sales by charging $19.95 a month for an Internet connection and also from building commercial Web sites and hosting at varied rates. Quik franchisees are required to maintain a business office, and, from what I've learned, you can break even when you're hosting about 550 customers. This concept seems to go over well in secondary markets, such as smaller towns, where there is not a glut of ISPs throwing copious amounts of money at advertising.

I spoke with Stephen Brazier, a 35-year-old franchisee who abandoned his accounting career for a taste of business ownership after his wife, Elise, was offered a professorship at Northeast Texas Community College, leading them to move to Mount Vernon, Texas, in 1998. Brazier has become a good example of what it takes to succeed in business, as he is aggressive, outgoing and describes himself as having a blast teaching others to use the Internet. He opened his franchise last October, and sales are now exceeding $10,000 per month. If things go as planned, he'll be in a position to take advantage of the additional territory he bargained for when entering into his agreement.

What's Best?

How, you ask, did we determine which franchises to include in our listing of the best franchises for young people? The key factors were the ages of franchisees and franchisor(s) and whether the franchise offered anything special for young franchisees. Obviously, though, there's a lot more that goes into buying an opportunity. This listing is not intended to endorse, advertise or recommend any particular franchise. It's solely a research tool for comparing franchise operations. Business Start-Ups stresses that you should always investigate a franchise on your own before investing any money. The best way to protect yourself is to do your homework.

Click here to view the listing.


Todd D. Maddocks is a franchise attorney and business consultant who is presently the CEO of The Worldlink Group LLC. He may be reached at TMaddocks@jdworldlink.net