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Your age, personal obligations and past experiences can all play a part in your success as a franchisee. Even within the same system, your age may create both special challenges for you to overcome and advantages that help you succeed. So is starting a franchise any easier when you're older or younger?
We sought the answer from two franchisees of Crown Trophy, a trophy- and award-making business-Ben April, 43, married and the father of two children when he left the real estate developer he worked for to open a Crown Trophy franchise in Ballwin, Missouri; and Brian Keesee, now 29, single and fresh out of the Air Force when he opened his Crown store in Waldorf, Maryland.
Here, we talk to Kessee about being a more experienced businessperson before becoming a franchisee.
Franchise Zone: Why did you go into franchising rather than start your own business?
Brian Keesee: It was just a matter of finding the right idea. I couldn't come up with a unique niche and wanted to get something going right away, so I started looking at franchises. I was looking for something a little less uncertain [than starting a business from scratch], yet unique-something that allowed me to be more creative with ideas.
FZ: What impact did starting the franchise have on your personal life?
Keesee: What personal life? It became my personal life. My friends knew I was into it, and they would come by and try to give me some support, but basically the franchise became my personal life. When you put that many hours in, you really don't have a choice. It's not necessarily as bad as it seems on the outside, because, when you risk it all, when you put that much into something and you're getting it off the ground, that's all you think about 24/7. Hopefully you've picked a franchise that interests you, so it was exciting at the same time. But the business engulfs your life, so I considered it an advantage not to have a family pulling me away from it.
FZ: What sort of monetary/security issues did you have going in to this?
Keesee: I guess some of the disadvantages I had, certainly I didn't have a lot of money. I had gotten my college out of the way, and I didn't have student loans because I went into the service, but my personal balance sheet was zero. In fact, it was probably negative because I still had some bills left on my credit cards that I had used to help me get through college. I didn't have any major debts, but at the same time, I didn't have any assets to use to start up the business. My biggest struggle was actually getting the funding. I spent about a month putting together a business plan and trying to get some gift loans from family members, temporary ones until I could stand on my own and refinance and pay them back.
FZ: What's it like being the boss?
Keesee: I had a little bit of management experience. While I was waiting to go into the service, I actually worked at a McDonald's for a little less than a year as a manager. In the service, obviously, the first couple of years you have absolutely no supervisory [responsibilities]. You work for everybody else, and there are a lot of jerks out there. The whole time I was in the service, though, I was able to look and learn-learn what not to do as far as being a supervisor. Obviously, I learned a lot of lessons as far as what to do and what not to do as an employer.
Employing people has been the biggest challenge so far in my business. The labor market, the way it is right now, doesn't help employers. It's [difficult] as an employer to find decent people and hang on to them.
FZ: Do you think starting this business would have been easier if you had been older?
Keesee: I guess in a lot of respects it would. Recently, I've been trying to become friends with a lot of the other franchisees in the area. In fact, I'm good friends with an older franchise owner, who opened a franchise about the same time I did. When we get together and talk about business matters, he's doing well, too, but I realize the huge differences between the two of us. He's very conservative. He's seen rougher times than I have, so he's a little apprehensive to take on an extra employee or start a new marketing program and put the investment in because he's more leery about the economy. He has more knowledge, more experience, but he's also been burned a little more, which sometimes in business can make you a little slow to act, a little too conservative. I see that as one of my advantages-the fact that I'm a little more aggressive. I'm young, and I want to take over the world. I'm willing to risk a little more; obviously, since I'm single, there's a little less to risk. I don't know if you can attribute that strictly to my age or just to our personality differences, but I would tend to say it's more about age. He's a little more cynical because he's been around longer.
FZ: If you could do it all over again, would you still go the franchise route?
Keesee: I'd have to say I would do it all again. The only exception would be if I could come up with that fresh idea, that certain niche to start up my own company. That's very hard to do-it was my goal, and I never did come up with that idea. I enjoy franchising. It's nice to be part of a team. You don't feel quite as if you're on your own.