From the March 2001 issue of Startups

It wasn't until Virgil Miller retired as a Kern County, California, deputy sheriff that he was able to plunge back into a passion that had fascinated him since his days of competitive roller-skating. Did he return to gliding across that smooth rink? No. "[For skating,] we used to use these huge old black-and-white, reel-to-reel type video cameras for training purposes, to review technique," he says. "It always intrigued me."

That's why these days, Miller is the one behind the camera, calling all the shots along with partner Rory Graham. Years ago, Miller and Graham each purchased a Video Data Services (VDS) franchise from the video production company and became acquainted with each other via the annual VDS conventions. When Miller, the West Coast trainer for new franchisees at the time, and Graham, the East Coast trainer, learned there were offers on the table to purchase VDS from owner Stuart Dizak, they jumped at the chance to take the helm. A desire to improve the training program had been on their minds for some time, and this was their chance to accomplish that and more.

As of January, Graham and Miller are the new owners of VDS. The partners say their emphasis on emerging technologies, coupled with the company's track record (ranked No. 1 in its category for five years straight in Entrepreneur magazine's annual Franchise 500), will push VDS even farther. Information is shared with franchisees through the VDS Web site, newsletters, phone calls and conventions. On the members-only area of the site, franchisees can read up on educational material and converse through the Web board. Miller adds, "If you want to know about a piece of equipment, there is an entire network to consult with. You can pick up the phone and talk to a peer in the industry. It's a wonderful, powerful tool."

And because Miller and Graham were once franchisees themselves, they're able to offer unique direction. "Throughout our career, we've been training people, and we get to [have a] hand in their success," explains Miller. "Now we have an even bigger role in their start-up success, under our guidance."