You're the Boss

Ex-Employee Declares Independence

Charlie Goff just wanted to bring home enough money so his wife didn't have to work. Goff felt his job as a technician with Sears wouldn't help him achieve that goal, so in 1998, he started his own appliance repair company in Cedar Creek, Texas. While this was a step in the right direction, something wasn't clicking for Goff. "I had a vision for the business, and I had all the technical skills to do the work required, but I didn't have a business plan or any business experience," he says. "I knew what I wanted my business to look like. I just didn't know how to get there."

To bridge the gap between his business vision and reality, Goff, now 32, joined the Mr. Appliance franchise system in January 1999. "It was obvious I had no business experience and no time to go to college and learn the business while running it. So Mr. Appliance was a no-brainer for me," he says.

Though it wasn't always easy, Goff does feel his past experience as an employee gave him a head start in running his franchise. "It's a huge advantage because you may already have a lot of contacts, suppliers and vendors. You understand the industry, the demand. You understand what the customers are like, what they expect," he says. "It makes a big difference."

After four years, Goff has amassed enough business experience to branch out into other ventures, like real estate. "I still think about starting other businesses. Mr. Appliance is just the beginning for me," he says. "We're getting ready to build and open a retail site for our office, and we'll also have other businesses that can rent office space or retail space from us."

If he hadn't made the move to franchise ownership, Goff has little doubt he'd still be working as a technician, making money for someone else. Because he did make the move, Goff has managed to achieve his original goal, in addition to many others. "I'm able to provide a nice living for myself and my family," he says, "as well as the families of the people who work for my company."

Finding the Perfect Match
Buying a franchise may be starting to look a lot better than scouring the want ads or hoping for the best with your current job. So now what? "You need to develop a checklist of what you are willing to do and not [willing to] do, and what you are going to base your decision on," says Steve Hockett, president of FranChoice Inc., an Internet-based franchise referral network in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

According to Hockett, the first question on your checklist should be to determine whether franchising is the right fit for you. "Are you willing to follow a system? Because all franchise companies have very well-defined, well-developed systems," says Hockett.

If following a tried-and-true system works for you, next take a look at your finances. "Are you willing to invest your time and resources into a business and then work hard to make it profitable and successful?" Hockett says. "A franchise business is not a stock market investment--it's an active, not a passive investment. You have to work hard to make it pay off."

These questions just scratch the surface when considering franchising. You also need to consider any reservations your family may have about the investment of time and money you'll be required to make. In addition, think about what your goals are for the franchise. Do you want many locations with many employees, or would you be happy to run one location by yourself?

There does come a point, though, when you need to stop thinking and start doing. "If you don't make the leap, you never know if it's possible for you to have your own business," says Mr. Appliance franchisee Charlie Goff, in Cedar Creek, Texas. "I think someone looking into [franchising] may regret not at least being able to say 'Hey, I gave it a shot.'"

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You're the Boss.

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