The Golden Ticket

Can a franchise hold the key to your dreams? Meet 3 people who took a chance on franchising and changed their lives.

When life throws you a curveball, you can either step aside or attempt to hit it straight on. Here's an inside look at two people who took aim and were able to find success even when faced with life's most challenging adversities, and another who managed to dodge the ball completely. Their stories are unique, yet one common thread runs throughout: For all of them, salvation came in the form of a franchise. Read on to find out how these franchisees were able to find hope and help through franchising.

Life After a Layoff
Sometimes it takes getting laid off from a job to realize what truly matters in life. At the age of 40, Ythan Lax is doing handstands and cartwheels--literally--but it wasn't so long ago that he was struggling. Having devoted 18 years to various marketing and PR jobs, his final payoff was being laid off in 2002. He was faced with the daunting task of finding another job when the job market for his industry was at an all-time low. That year was filled with dead-end interviews, as one company after another decided they didn't have a position to offer Lax after all. He attempted to start his own business, but found he lacked the direction to strike out on his own. His year of searching and having to rely on his wife's teaching salary was taking its toll. "I was getting very depressed," recalls Lax. "For me, that's a very noticeable change in my personality. I'm always up, always in a good mood. I see the bright side of just about everything."

So when his sister suggested purchasing a franchise from The Little Gym, which is focused on developing children's motor skills, Lax considered it even though he knew little about franchising and nothing about gymnastics. Armed with an endless list of questions, he and his wife, Beth, 37, met with the franchisor, spoke with several franchisees and researched the business before making the ultimate decision to invest their life savings and put their house against a loan. And when they gambled it all and purchased the Perinton, New York, territory in March 2004, the only question that remained was whether Lax would enjoy working with kids.

The couple opened the doors to their franchise on October 25, 2004, and in doing so, unexpectedly opened a door to Lax's soul. "I [had] never realized that I'm one of those people who just can't get enough of kids," says Lax. "They're wonderful and imaginative, and there is nothing more gratifying than putting a smile on a child's face and seeing a look of happiness on the parent's face, knowing you've done something for their child." Lax prides himself on personally knowing all 465 children enrolled in the program at his franchise. Lax and his eight employees take turns teaching some of the 39 classes they hold each week. Says Lax, "Is my life so bad? I wake up in the morning, I put on a pair of shorts, I walk around barefoot, and I play with children all day."

The franchise generated several thousand dollars of operating profit in the first year, though the Laxes had expected a loss of about $17,000. The couple recently purchased a second territory in Greece, New York, which they expect to open this spring, and Lax is upbeat again. "A lot of people ask me why I wanted to be in business for myself," says Lax. "It wasn't necessarily money motivation or the fact that I wanted to be the boss. The truth of the matter is, I wanted, for the first time in my life, to have control of my life--to know that if I failed, it would be my own fault, and if I succeeded, the credit was mine. That's something this franchise gave me: the true feeling that my life is my own."

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This article was originally published in the January 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Golden Ticket.

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