Franchise Players: Why Franchisees Have to Be Owners, Accountants, Janitors and Everything in Between
Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
After 20 years in the telecommunications industry, Rick Hildebrandt was ready to cash in his executive salary. He spent the majority of his career traveling, and felt as though he missed seeing his kids grow up. A few years after he retired, Hildebrandt decided it was time to go back to work at a job that allowed him to also see his family. He and his wife opened their first UPS Store franchise in 2009. Today, they own three locations in Texas, including one of UPS's six 3-D print stores. Here's what he's learned in his second career.
Name: Rick Hildebrandt
Franchise owned: The UPS Store, with three Texas locations – Frisco, Allen and Plano
How long have you owned a franchise?
Almost six years. My wife and I opened our first UPS store franchise in Frisco, Texas in October of 2008.
We liked that with a franchise came a proven concept and a recognizable brand name. Through franchising, you start your business with a defined methodology and are given access to fully-developed, established tools.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Previously, I served as president of a $10.5 billion company in the telecommunications industry. There was a point when I realized I was missing my kids growing up. I was in a place financially that I could leave the corporate world and really be a parent. After I made my corporate exit, I spent time volunteering with nonprofits and helping small businesses with strategic planning.
Eventually, my wife and I started the search to find something to do together. That is when we found a franchise opportunity with The UPS Store. Now we see each other daily in the stores and have the opportunity to share our common interest while growing our business.
I was seeking the increasingly rare work-life balance and, thankfully, was able to obtain it through our franchise relationship with The UPS Store.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I was immediately drawn to the identifiable UPS shield; the brand strength was a definitely a factor. I wanted to incorporate technology into whatever we chose so that I could use my experience to help small business owners—something I’m really passionate about. Without the franchise relationship, I don’t think we would have the technology and hardware we do with The UPS Store.
I was also drawn to the network of other franchisees. I’m able to connect with other UPS store owners and troubleshoot with others who know the business and situations that may arise. You don’t have access to a network on this scale with smaller franchises or independently owned businesses. We don’t compete with each other, we help each other.
We looked at competitive organizations, but none were as strong or boasted as large of a network as The UPS Store.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Rather than taking over an existing location or looking for a UPS store for sale, we opened our first store from scratch.
We spent approximately $75,000 for the build out of the store and an additional $80,000 for franchise fees and equipment (computers, printers, etc.). Fortunately, we ended up sharing the cost of the build out with the building landlord, so we were able to recover some of those costs.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I spent a lot of time visiting other The UPS Store locations and talking with other owners. I spent time reading up on franchises, but most of my information came from one-on-one interactions with others already involved with the company.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I quickly discovered owning a business is a lot different than the corporate environment I was used to. On the day we opened, it was just me in the store. We did not have employees, and, if I remember correctly, we did not have customers either. I realized I was now the owner, accountant, bookkeeper, janitor, cashier and everything in between. I had to work to get customers in the door and keep them coming back. When you work for yourself, you wear every hat.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
The life experience is great, so enjoy it! In the corporate world, everything is largely scaled. I didn’t have the opportunity to see my work impact individual lives. Now, I can see how I affect my customers’ checkbooks and profits on a daily basis and help find solutions for their problems.
It is important to enter into a business that you’re comfortable with, and to be sure you can see yourself actually doing the same tasks you would expect your employees to do.
Make sure to not go in blindly and do as much research as possible before making decisions. When we were scouting our first location, I would park at a prospective property and sit in my car drinking coffee for a while. I wanted to get a sense of the flow of traffic and if that location would work well for us. I looked to other nearby brands as well, especially since I figured Starbucks knew a little more about scouting properties than I did.
Don’t assume buying into a franchise is a ‘build it and they will come’ situation. There is an abundance of help from corporate, but at the end of the day it’s your investment and livelihood. You have to figure things out for yourself and create your own success.
What’s next for you and your business?
This year, I’ve been working with suppliers to reduce costs and increase franchise profitability. Our Frisco location is also one of six stores that partook in a test program for 3D printing, and I’m definitely sticking with it. People are sometimes surprised how high tech we are in-store. For me, this is just another tool in the toolkit that we can offer to small businesses. I’m always asking myself how I can better help small businesses, so any opportunity I have to do so, I’ll take advantage of.
Growth is also in our forecast; I’m still drinking my coffee in parking lots, scouting new locations.