It's become one of the top ways to learn the ins and outs of franchising, quickly: Twice a year, the Franchise Center at the University of Texas, El Paso offers its 21/2 Day Seminar. Covering topics like financing, site selection and labor issues, the seminar is designed to give laypeople a true understanding of what it takes to be a franchisee.

When Gregg Alexander participated in the seminar last year, he differed from the typical attendee in that he had already been a Subway franchisee in El Paso for five years. So why did he sign up?

"I was hoping they could tell me how to be a better business owner," Alexander says. He also had some encouragement: Carolyn Gough, director of the Franchise Center, was a customer at one of Alexander's locations and invited him to participate in the program. Another of Alexander's Subway customers gave out grants to seminar participants and arranged for Alexander's tuition to be paid.

Alexander did find the seminar beneficial. Despite the emphasis on information for potential franchisees--including how to choose between franchising or independent business ownership and where and how to get funding--the seminar did give Alexander many ideas for improving his business. One lesson he learned was to focus more on customer service. Specifically, since participating in the seminar, Alexander has begun accepting credit cards at both of his Subway locations. "They discussed the importance of bending over backward for your customers. For five years, I didn't accept credit cards, because I didn't want to, even though so many customers were asking for [that service]. But as soon as that seminar was over, we started taking credit cards," he says. "It's helped our sales go up."

Through the seminar, Alexander has also become involved in a network of other El Paso area franchisees. One of the franchisees Alexander met has locations near his, and the two have already gotten together to brainstorm on employee issues. "It's a real support group," he says. "If you were to call these owners, any of them would be more than willing to help in any aspect."

Alexander also learned what he shouldn't have done when he first became a franchisee. "They said you must go in with enough cash to [carry you through] a number of slow months. I, on the other hand, went in with a small amount and skidded through. By working a lot, I got away with it," he says. "I wish I would have known about [this seminar] back then. It's definitely something I should have taken before [buying a franchise]."

Consequently, though his participation in the seminar has benefited Alexander's Subway locations, he believes potential franchisees will get even more out of it than he did. "Anybody who is even thinking about owning a business [would benefit]," he says. "Owning a business is one of the toughest things to do, and you've got to find out what's involved."