Franchise Zone:What kinds of concerns did you have about being the first franchisee for this system?
Laurie Radloff: Initially, I didn't realize I was going to be the first franchisee. I don't believe I was the first franchisee in terms of actually [applying] and being accepted, but I was the first to open my doors.
Obviously, I checked with the Better Business Bureau. I did in-depth research on the history of the founder, U. Gary Charlwood, and his past business successes. One of the things that comforted me was the fact that he had a travel background and he'd been successful in franchising. Being 24 at the time and entering into my first business venture, I wanted to make sure I wasn't making a mistake I'd have to pay for the rest of my life. I spoke to as many key people involved in the company at the time as I could and really tried to get a clear understanding of its long-term vision.
After checking all the references and looking at the business plans and really feeling comfortable with that, all my instincts were positive about this. There were a lot of times when people would say, "You don't want to be in a franchise" or "You don't want to get in on the early stages of a company," but I never hesitated. I moved forward.
Did you ever have any fears or concerns about the company folding?
I really didn't. I knew the reputation and the strength of the founder of the company. [Charlwood not only started Uniglobe in 1980, but had also started Century 21 Canada in 1977.] That made me feel secure this wasn't just going to go away. One of the advantages in the very early days of Uniglobe that has continued today is the company's communication with franchisees. We hit many rough spots, but they were talked about openly. From the very beginning, Uniglobe facilitated the start of a franchise owners' association and helped coordinate meetings where people could express their concerns. They would address those concerns and help us understand where the company was going and why there would be a bump in the road, and that went a long way to reassuring those of us who were there in the beginning.
When did you know this was going to work out for you?
From the first evening I met with the franchise's recruiter and heard about the company. It just clicked for me. I really liked the emphasis on networking and getting agencies together and discussing best practices. I believed in the franchisor's desire to build a strong brand, because I don't believe anybody had effectively done that in travel before. I guess for me, most important, being an expert in the travel agency didn't make me an expert in business, and I knew that's what they brought. If I were ever going to start a travel business, it quickly became clear to me that this was the way to do it.