The jet seemed to float through thick soup as it made its descent. Jack and Diane* sat anxiously in their window seats while the fog obscured all sense of the terrain below. A five-hour flight was drawing to an end, and the long journey permitted Jack to draw a philosophical parallel to the 13-month effort he and his wife, Diane, have made in trying to open their first quick oil-change franchise: "I pondered everything that had transpired over the past year and wondered what else was to come. I remembered a line from an old Dan Fogelberg tune that went, 'The more that you see, the less that you know.' That pretty much sums up my feeling at the moment."
Jack explains: "While I have learned so much in this process, I realize there is much more to learn, much more to come. It's like climbing to the top of a ridge and then seeing two more ridges ahead."
The franchisees are now in the thick of starting their business, and new tasks and unfamiliar obligations are mounting in force. Jack is also trying to balance the demands of his existing "real" job. In the past year, Jack's frustration has been a result of the amount of time it took to accomplish his site selection. "Up to now, I've been dealing in the steps to find and close on a site, find a developer, negotiate a lease agreement, and select an architect," he explains. "Now that all that's behind me, there's a lot of devil in the details to come. There's engineering, construction, site improvements, utilities, training, hiring, etc."
Jack's brief period of buyer's remorse has already been put aside, and despite being on the edge of becoming overwhelmed with the tasks that lie ahead, he is certainly competent to tackle his budding duties. However, a new reality now looms; namely, the day he must leave his full-time job. By Jack's calculation, he must attend franchise training for five weeks, and this training must be completed at least 30 days prior to opening. Practically speaking, as you're reading this, there's a good chance that our friend Jack is stoically standing in someone's office-submitting his two-week notice. Jack's high-flying career selling TV advertising, and his solid paycheck, are about to touch down for a landing.
Although Jack is about to prove his soul is charged with the pioneer spirit, he's also smart enough to realize his business vehicle still requires training wheels. Accordingly, Jack craves further enlightenment. "I'm ready for more information. If I find the franchise manual is inadequate, I'll just ask more questions."
Fortunately, a good franchise system delivers the answers to those questions in many ways. One of the best ways to learn is to meet other franchisees. The moment you become a franchisee, you should immediately try to find the opportunity to attend a group event within your new system. Franchisors typically hold an annual franchisee conference as well as periodic regional conferences. Most new franchisees I've encountered shy away from these conferences until they actually have a store open and feel they belong. This is a huge error, since you'll miss many of the insights that can be gained from others' experiences. As a franchisee, you pay to join a system and a community of like-minded people, so take advantage of it.
Recently, Jack attended his first oil-change franchise convention. "We had round-table discussions about marketing, financial management, and labor recruitment and retention," he says. "I listened to the real-world experiences of existing franchisees and gleaned ideas from them. I went out for drinks and dinner with the more successful franchisees and picked their brains some more."
A successful annual franchise convention embodies the elements of a church revival, an awards show, a homecoming dance, adult education, group therapy and a vacation. A good convention gives everyone a shot in the arm and builds lasting friendships. The glee that comes from belonging is also accentuated by the fact that the whole experience is tax deductible. Attendees have the propensity to get whipped into a frenzy about their brands, their missions and their futures. Jack was no exception. "The awards dinner on the final night was inspiring," he says. "Honors were given out to stores exceeding certain revenue goals. There was a Franchisee of the Year award. The guy who won isn't any smarter and doesn't work any harder than me. I could be that guy in one year."
Taking the time to be with his more experienced peers left Jack reassured about his franchise decision. "I talked about my site location, site layout and the businesses that will surround mine. Everyone thought I had a winner of a site. They all offered their advice and assistance. Two of them said I could come and work in their stores for a week or two after I go through training, just to get some more real-world experience."
Jack can see the silver lining. And this vision will serve him well for the next few months, as he stares into the void where his savings used to be.
- The franchisees' names have been changed.