Franchise Buying Guide

Corporate Climbers

Prints of Akron
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Willie Smith bought into an already established AlphaGraphics Printshops of the Future franchise in the tail end of 2001. Formerly working as a corporate exec at GE, Smith was in an AlphaGraphics location in Akron, Ohio, when something just clicked. "It was time to take a little more control of my [life]," he says. "[It was time] to look for my own venue."

Smith felt an instant rapport with the previous owner, who was selling because it was time for a change in his own life. In fact, Smith kept his predecessor on as a consultant to help guide him into the business.

That expertise and close training from the previous owner, as well as the franchisor, was crucial to Smith, who didn't have any graphics background, though he did have to struggle with his innate penchant for independence. "The biggest challenge is fully utilizing the franchisor," he says. Where he normally would have resisted help in the past, Smith found himself embracing the support.

Stepping into an existing franchise gave him a slight advantage as well. "I had a good idea of what I was walking into," says Smith, 38. "It was an existing business, so we already had a lot of information--I just had to tap into that." He's still tapping into it, to the tune of about $2 million in expected sales for 2002.

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This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Corporate Climbers.

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