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Quick Turnaround

The fine print, `toon in
November 1, 1999
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/18458

When searching for a franchise, most people are interested only in how successful the business is and how much money they'll make. When presented with a sinking ship, they either jump overboard or just pass it by. Except for Steve Jecha.

In 1994, with little net worth and no experience in the printing industry, Jecha left the world of insurance to become an Insty-Prints franchisee. The executives at the printing franchise made him an offer he couldn't refuse--no money down and financing over seven years. The catch? He had to turn around a St. Paul, Minnesota, franchise that was going out of business.

Jecha decided to give it a shot--and what a shot it was. The franchise's sales grew from $70,000 in 1994 to $932,000 in 1998. He expects this year's sales to hit $1.1 million.

So what did it take to turn this failing business around? A great sense of humor, Jecha maintains. The 36-year-old entrepreneur started grabbing people's attention with humorous postcards featuring a character called Swift Steve. "The main thing is to try to keep print purchasing fun and easy for [customers]," says Jecha, who acquired a second franchise in March 1999 under the same conditions. "We try to get that across through our mailings, postcards and newsletters."

Perhaps he acted craziest last year, after President Clinton testified before the grand jury. Jecha put up a roadside sign that read "Honk once for Clinton. Honk twice for Starr," and sent a press release to the media. Before he knew it, he had a media frenzy at his door and a spot on the national news.

Insty-Prints currently has 248 locations and is seeking franchisees nationwide. Start-up costs begin at $320,000.

`Toon Time

By Karen E. Spaeder

About five years ago, Daniel Ford was ready to open his own jewelry store in a mall near his Lewisville, Texas, home. He'd negotiated his lease and done his homework--plus he had years of retail experience under his belt. Soon, though, Ford found himself looking for a new opportunity when the deal fell through due to circumstances beyond his control.

That may have been just what he needed. Rather than open a jewelry store, Ford discovered Chuckies, a business opportunity that sells novelty gifts. "My fear--which I've overcome--was that I would fail and I'd be out of money," says the 32-year-old, who sells personalized pictures (like the one at right) and mouse pads featuring the Chuckies cartoon characters from carts in malls and at crafts shows. "But I decided the only way to succeed was to take a chance."

Beyond that, though, Ford has found that his success stems from the solid support he receives from the headquarters of parent company Cowboy Chuck Co. in Moorpark, California; his loyal staff; and his active involvement in the business, which he operates only during November and December.

The products, he adds, can appeal to anyone--provided you have the necessary gusto to sell. "It's not a product that sells itself," says Ford, who expects sales of $250,000 this season. "You have to find out what each person's interests are and personalize their product. To make it work, you have to be into the business 100 percent."

Start-up costs for a Chuckies opportunity range from $895 to $5,750.

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