Those management and leadership skills you got as the vice president of this or executive director of that are in high demand over at AlphaGraphics. This printing franchise is actively recruiting survivors of the corporate world to sign on as franchisees. Keith Gerson, vice president of global development, and Eric Little, franchise development director at AlphaGraphics Inc., talked with Franchise Zone about their ideal recruit and the transition from corporate bigwig to AlphaGraphics franchisee.
When did you start this active recruiting of corporate workers? How did it come about?
Keith Gerson: It's been a process of evolution. We've been franchising for 20 years and have been in the print business for nearly 30. As you start amassing more expertise and get a broader spectrum of candidates, you just do a better job in identifying who the true leaders are. And in our particular business, those have proven to be the ones who come with corporate expertise and experience.
What was your philosophy behind this program?
Eric Little: We need franchisees who bring a certain business skill set to the table. We can teach them the printing business. We need franchisees who understand processes and can work within a certain system that's already been proven, then we leverage our knowledge of the printing industry with their knowledge of business to form a successful business model.
Who are you specifically targeting in the corporate world? Is it people who've reached a certain level of management? Or people in specific industries? Who is your ideal corporate recruit?
Little: Someone with management skills, with experience in marketing and sales, and budgeting and profit and loss statements. And someone comfortable working within a certain set of guidelines and procedures. The ideal person is not necessarily over the edge on the entrepreneurial side--it's someone who's actually comfortable working in a network and within certain guidelines that are already proven.
Historically speaking, this franchise has attracted a more sophisticated candidate and a more sophisticated franchisee. As a result, when people join our network, there's a certain amount of value that comes in knowing your peers have [excelled in business before]. They've all been there and consequently work very well together.
Have you seen an increase in corporate workers who are now looking into franchising?
Gerson: We certainly have. Our leads are up about 162 percent year over year. At least 55 percent of those leads are pretty well within our targeted profile. And we are seeing a number of corporate responses. That's partly driven by the fact that this is kind of an exclusive club when you look at the franchise investment requirements. The requirement is liquidity at or over $100,000 and a net worth in excess of $350,000. We try to be very forthright [about the investment range] in all our communication and advertising, so we don't waste anybody's time.
Little: To be more specific, a very common conversation we have with our franchise candidates is one where they've either been laid off or they know it's coming. After 9/11, they began to take stock of their lives. I've had an increase of people in New Jersey who call me and say, "I'm tired of riding the train every day, [tired of] commuting to the city--I'm not spending enough time with my family." Or "I'm traveling for the company three weeks each month." So it's making them reevaluate what's important to them, and, at the end of the day, they want to have something they can build equity in and maybe even build a family business.
If I am currently working in the corporate world or have recently been laid off, what should I be thinking about when making the transition to franchisee?
Little: What you probably should be thinking about more than anything else is what is important to you and what plans have you made? What do you want to be when you grow up, so to speak? "Where do you want to be five, 10, 15 years down the road? Keep in mind, most of the people we're talking to fit the same profile. They're coming out of the corporate world at a senior-level or mid-level management position, and they've never evaluated a franchise before. So one thing I would suggest is that you come in open-minded and be willing to trust the judgment of the development director you're going to be working with. Talk to as many current franchisees as you possibly can. That's the true test of a franchise network.
The other thing you should be thinking about is timing, because timing is absolutely critical. If you do this at the wrong time, you can get yourself in a really tough situation. Ask yourself, "What's going to happen if I don't do this now?"
What are some common mistakes or misconceptions people coming from the corporate world have that you'd like to dispel?
Little: First and foremost, you have to be willing to do anything it takes. I can best explain this with an anecdote. I had a franchisee who signed on within the last year or so, in the northeast, and I called a couple weeks after he bought an existing store just to check in with him to see how things were going. And when a young lady answered the phone, I said, "Is Fred there?" "No." "Well, I was hoping to speak with the esteemed new owner of the store there." And she laughed and said, "Well, right now, he's our esteemed delivery driver."
Sometimes we have to untrain the more senior people, so they're willing to do whatever it takes. If you have to take out the garbage, if you have to deliver jobs, you've got to be willing to do that.