Franchise Buying Guide

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Develop Your Own Formula
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Navin Bhatia, 49, owns nine Valvoline Instant Oil Changes in San Antonio, Texas, employs 90 people and brings in $6 million annually. He has had not just one innovative masterstroke that Valvoline has incorporated into other stores, but two. First was Bhatia's "good, better, best" marketing strategy, which differentiates each type of motor oil and includes recommendations specific to the needs of each customer's car. His second idea evolved into the Maximum Vehicle Performance (MVP) program, which allows Valvoline employees to schedule services based on the model of the car and the driver's traveling habits.

Go Ahead, Get Creative!
The question remains: How can you be as innovative as Bhatia?

* Determine whether your store follows your basic philosophy. The MVP program came about because Bhatia wasn't comfortable with employees giving general advice to customers. They started referring to an industry publication, giving specific recommendations for customers' cars. "We were doing what was good for their vehicles, not necessarily what was good for our bottom line," he says. Impressed with Bhatia's system, Valvoline headquarters developed a computerized database to make specific auto-servicing recommendations.

* Look for problems before they become problems. Bhatia bought a formula for running a business, but when meeting with managers, he asks, "How can we enhance the system?"

* Don't forget that you once had a life outside of franchising. Bhatia's "good, better, best" marketing strategy was inspired by his former job with American Express. Just as American Express users upgrade to Gold, Platinum and Centurion cards, Valvoline customers get grades of oil based on their cars' needs.

It's Your Store
"There is a general misconception that franchisees are just managers, but our success is 100 percent based on our ideas," explains Chris Taylor, who co-owns an Arlington, Texas, Fastsigns location with his wife, Jean-Ann. The Taylors developed a marketing magazine targeting apartment complexes; the franchisor later adopted the Taylors' fresh idea for all its franchisees to use.

"Creativity," says Jean-Ann, "is what separates our store from other stores in the system. In that sense, we're not all the same."

Contact Cincinnati writer Geoff Williams at

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keep Thinking.

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