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Pizza delivers, audiobooks make some noise
January 1, 1999
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/17054

Kevin Lawson's inauspicious debut in the pizza business came in 1984, when he got a job delivering Domino's Pizza for $3.35 per hour to finance his education at the Detroit College of Business. His manager noticed the dedication and effort the 19-year-old Lawson put into his work and took the young pizza-slinger under his wing, putting him through Domino's management training courses in half the standard time. Lawson eventually left college to work as an assistant manager at the store.

Opportunity arose again for Lawson in 1988 when he ran into one of his former co-workers from Domino's. Now a supervisor at Hungry Howie's Pizza, the friend told Lawson of the possibility for rapid upward mobility at Hungry Howie's. "Once I got into the company, there was opportunity for ownership," Lawson recalls.

Lawson left Domino's and eventually ended up becoming part owner of a Hungry Howie's in Detroit. But he really wanted to open a location in Ann Arbor, where he lived. In April 1998, Lawson finally bought a franchise in his desired location--albeit not without complications. "The biggest problem was that the person who had the Ann Arbor location before I did more or less ran it into the ground," Lawson explains. "It was difficult convincing the brass at Hungry Howie's that this location could be turned around."

With projected 1999 sales of $475,000, Lawson, 33, has turned it around--and then some. His new pizzeria feeds local university students--a fact he has taken full advantage of. "Kids tend to be loyal to whoever takes care of them," he says. "If you serve them properly and provide a superior product, word-of-mouth will spread."

Start-up costs for a Hungry Howie's franchise range from $85,000 to $125,000. The 390-unit company is seeking franchisees nationwide. For more information, call (800) 624-8122 or visit http://www.hungryhowies.com.

Nothing But Net

Years spent working as a manager for electronics retailer The Good Guys gave Kurt Davey the one insight he needed to jump into entrepreneurship as a franchisee for Quik Internet, an Internet service provider. With a steady stream of people lining up to buy personal computers from the stores he managed, Davey, 34, noticed most customers wanted a computer merely as a tool to get on the Internet. "I saw there was a market [for online providers]," says Davey. "And of course, you can't do anything without seeing some kind of reference to the Internet--whether you're watching a news program, a financial program or even a commercial."

In early 1998, Davey became a Quik Internet franchisee, thanks to financing from his personal savings. He was ready to log on when his phone company severely glitched--knocking out power to the crucial T1 lines that connected his San Diego location to the Web, mail and news servers at Quik Internet operations headquarters in Irvine, California. The 21 days supposedly required to fix the problem stretched to 60, and Davey spent hours on the phone each day attempting to iron out the situation. "It was a nightmare getting the phone company to actually provide me with service," he recalls.

For Davey, whose Quik Internet of San Diego, North County, is finally buzzing, with projected year-end sales of $225,000, the focus stays on providing his clients with the kind of customer service his phone company didn't. "That's really the key to making one of these franchises work," Davey says. "It's about getting out there and talking to your customers, taking a sincere interest in providing them with a higher level of service than your competitors, and building a relationship with them."

With 56 units, Quik Internet is looking for franchisees worldwide; start-up costs range from $50,000 to $60,000. Visit http://www.quik.com/007 or call (888) 784-5266 for more information.

Urning A Living

ConsumerCasket USA stores aren't as ubiquitous as Starbucks--yet. But as the population continues to age, who knows? Founded by a former funeral director, the 3-year-old company sells caskets, urns and other funeral-related products directly to consumers through retail locations, catalogs and the Internet, eliminating the outrageous price markups often charged by funeral homes.

Total start-up costs average $200,000. For more information, call (800) 480-9675 or visit http://www.consumercasket-usa.com.

Novel Idea

By Brian Ng

How often have you been stuck on the freeway, barely moving, while seemingly every radio station is playing Hanson? Richard Simtob has an alternative to giving in to Hanson-inspired road rage: Listen to an audio book.

Simtob, 28, is the president and co-founder of Talking Book World Corp., a franchise company whose locations rent and sell books on tape.

The inspiration for Talking Book World grew from Simtob's two loves: his passion for listening to audio books, and his love for his wife, Aimee. Before getting married, Simtob moved from Ontario, Canada, where he ran a successful window-tinting business, to Michigan to live closer to his then-fiancee. He wanted to start a business locally, and Aimee suggested he start an audio-book business since he loved listening to audio books so much. That suggestion was enough for Simtob, and in 1993, he and high school friend Tyrone Pereira, 30, teamed up to open their first Talking Book World store in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

Success wasn't immediate, though. The partners' inexperience led to poor inventory selection and availability. "At the beginning, we had a lot of people walking out [of our store] empty-handed because we didn't have anything for them," says Simtob. But the partners eventually worked out the kinks and in 1994 (their first full year of operation) generated almost $200,000 in sales. Now business is booming, with 13 company-owned stores and 10 franchises.

Talking Book World is looking for franchisees nationwide who "love books, [are] financially stable and love selling," Simtob says. Total start-up costs range from $150,000 to $225,000. For more information, call (800) 403-2933 or visit http://www.talkingbooks.com.