While many dream of one day owning a business, Brian Greenley, owner of Maaco in Littleton, Colorado, didn't wait around to make his dream a reality. Soon after he started working outside sales for a Maaco location at age 19, he approached the owner about buying it. Turned down the first time, Greenley stayed on and quickly rose up the ranks, becoming manager within his first year there, while continuing to ask the owner the magic question on a weekly basis. The owner relented five months into Greenley's management position and offered him 10 percent ownership rights. A year later, in 1992, Greenley was the full owner-operator. If you thought it was gutsy to pave your own destiny with a franchise, imagine buying one at 20.
Greenley, now 34, owns two of the three top-grossing Maaco franchises in North America. Entering the franchising world straight out of high school, he shares what it was like to start his career at such a young age and take the Maaco franchise system by storm.
What was the owner's reaction when you first approached him?
I was a young kid with no experience. I had a full-time job in food and manufacturing since 15--all through high school and while I attended some college--but no experience in the auto body aftermarket industry. His reaction was, "Let's first see what you can do."
He was a multiple shop owner, not a hands-on owner that had gone through day-to-day operations with me, so he had only gotten feedback on my performance and the type of person I was through his management team. Once he had some turnover in management, I was able to work my way up pretty quickly.
What difference did you think you could make by owning the franchise?
It was really easy for me to see what the business was lacking: the attention of an owner-operator, someone putting 100 percent of their effort into the business and making it worthwhile. All the pieces were there except for the owner-operator.
When did he finally accept your offer?
I was 20, and he gave me an opportunity to be a partner without relinquishing the franchise agreement over to me 100 percent. He thought it was best to give me an opportunity to partner in the facility, which to me was the same as owning it, because he was an absentee owner. He gave me an opportunity to get 10 percent of the ownership, for a time frame predetermined at five years. I had operated one year to the date with him under that agreement, and I said to him at that point, "I've got to own this whole thing." He knew immediately what I was doing with the store--the revenues were going up, the employees were stabilized, the quality of work was up, everything was there. He financed the remainder of the balance and gave me a 7-year term, which I was able to pay off in two and a half years.
When I bought the franchise, I put down $15,000--10 percent down to get my 10 percent ownership. Then I operated under that 10 percent ownership for one year. After that, I could reinvest 10 percent of the profits into purchasing a higher percentage of the business, or come up with another $15,000 on my own. I had the incentive to be profitable, because 10 percent of the profits came back to me. After the first year, it wasn't extremely profitable, but I felt I was not able to run the business in the direction I wanted to with the factor of business expenses, like advertising, promotion, etc. That's why I insisted on being able to run the business 100 percent, so I could get a faster, better return on the money.
How did things change once you became the sole owner?
I kept the same employees, and, as a matter of fact, I still have probably six of the original nine employees I had back in 1992.
My goals were first, a clean and organized facility. Second, I had a little marketing background from school. I understand the marketing aspect of advertising very well, so I put a lot of money into advertising and I still do today. The last leg was just production, which I think is the key to our entire business. An advertised product is one thing, but unless you can produce it, it's not going to be successful. I think the key is to produce the way the customers' expectations are set.
Did you find it difficult to take over? Any obstacles?
It was all the money I had, $15,000, and I had to sell my car to come up with the balance of that money. I went to franchise school because it was a requirement, after I had agreed with the owner to start out as owner in January 1992. When I opened up my checking account, I had $500 to purchase my own business account checks.
I was accruing a payroll from day one when I started owning the business. My first payroll was due a week after I first opened, so I had to pay my employees. Urgency was there from day one.
It wasn't a difficult business. It didn't take any specialty schooling. When I went to my first franchise convention, I wasn't old enough to buy a car, nor could I buy alcohol. But I owned my own business and had nine employees.
I had obstacles, of course. Every one of my employees was older than me at the time. They obviously understand who signs their check, but, well, I weeded out a few employees. What's amazing is the people I do have here now, they've been here with me a long time. I've got a really strong management team, consisting of three great guys who set out to maintain the same set of goals I have.
Do you think working there before buying the franchise helped you as an owner, and would you recommend that to anyone interested in purchasing one?
Yes, because you have a sense of what you're getting into. I was in the right place in the right time, but I put myself in the right place. When I look back, it was not only the vision and areas of improvement I saw, but the energy I brought to the business. I was here every single day, 10 to 12 hours a day, making sure that every aspect of this business was done and done right. I was turning on the lights in the morning and turning off the lights at night, which isn't much different from today.
Would you offer one of your employees the same opportunity some day?
If one of my employees was willing to run this business with the heart that I have, I'd be more than willing to step back and give [him or her] an opportunity to. That would show that the person is dedicated, and the store would maintain its financial net returns. This is not the only franchise I have; I have other businesses. I'm not ready personally to walk away from the business, but I would do it the same way. If you hand choose the person, train the person, your risk is a lot less, and you can get a lot more money for your business. It's a total win-win situation. Until that person owns it, you've also got an invested person who's going to work that much harder to prove himself to you.
What would you tell other young people aspiring to follow in your footsteps?
I'd have them take a look at themselves, predetermine that's what they want. If you want to make a commitment to succeed, you have to do whatever it takes. Definitely set a goal, and be a salesperson--you're going to have to sell yourself to your customers, your friends and family. You're going to sell them on [the business] not just on it once, but numerous times. It's not easy, but it's very rewarding.
In the business world, you don't have to book smart, but you have to be street smart, have common sense. I've never had a problem with business. I'm a good communicator; my employees understand what I need done. I'm able to make quick decisions. Business is simple when you apply yourself, you don't lie to your customer and you provide a quality product at a right price.