Franchise Players: A Former JAG Officer on Finding the Right Fit
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorna Ross entered corporate America after five years as a JAG officer in the Air Force, hoping to help people instead of trying to slam them in court. That mission was still strong when she began looking into franchising a few years ago. While her first instinct was to buy an in-home senior care franchise, she realized, with the help of a franchise consultant, that there were other franchises that better fit her personality and skills and still allowed her help others. Here's what she has learned about herself and the franchising industry since becoming a ShelfGenie franchisee two years ago.
Name: Lorna Ross
Franchise owned: I own two ShelfGenie franchise territories in Los Angeles.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I opened both of my ShelfGenie locations in October 2012.
I chose a franchise because I was looking for a business ownership opportunity that came with proven systems and an established network of other franchisees. Considering it was my first step after leaving the corporate world, it was beneficial to me to open a business with a well-developed Intranet, a recognizable brand name, and a strong value proposition. I would have had no clue how to create and launch a brand new business right out of the gate. It was wonderful to transfer from the corporate world to an established business model that fit my strengths and skills perfectly.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
In the early 90s, I was an attorney practicing in construction litigation and spent five years as a JAG officer in the Air Force. However, I quickly realized my skills and personality were better suited to work for people as opposed to against them. With the help of a recruiter that specialized in placing junior military officers, I was hired by Honeywell to lead a small division that focused on managing energy and water conservation programs for utility clients. I worked as a senior program manager in that department for 12 years and was responsible for business operations, client management, and hiring, training, and managing a team of employees.
By the time I began exploring franchise opportunities, I already felt like I had experience running my own business. At Honeywell, I was quite autonomous and led a team that consistently outperformed expectations. In the spring of 2012, I decided it was time to leave the corporate world and begin working for myself.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Interestingly enough, my first inclination was to start a senior in-home care franchise. I thought it would be an excellent way to make a difference in a growing industry. However, during my independent research, I spoke with a franchise development executive from a senior in-home care brand who referred me to Rick Bisio. He believed my heart was in the right place, but that it would be in my best interest to speak with an experienced franchise consultant before making an investment.
The reference to Rick was no doubt the best advice I received as I didn’t really know what I was doing. After reading Rick’s Amazon best-selling book, 'The Educated Franchisee,' I contacted Rick about finding the right franchise. I really appreciated how much time he spent getting to know me, my skills, my wants and my needs in order to match me with the right franchise opportunity.
After going through Rick’s patented educated franchisee process, it was clear that ShelfGenie was the best fit for me. ShelfGenie’s design and installation staff are independent contractors, rather than employees, and we create custom-tailored solutions for clients through the design consultation process. Considering the autonomy I was used to having and my desire to get creative with clients, this was incredibly important to me.
Plus, it is rewarding to make a difference in the lives of our clients, especially the seniors. Many of our older clients contact us because they want to add functionality and ease of access in their kitchen cabinets and other spaces that allow them to age in place and continue their independence. Raising the quality of life for our clients makes me happy!
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
When I bought the ShelfGenie franchise, I opened two territories along the Southern California coast. After receiving a 15 percent discount on one of the territories (a discount I received for my military service), I was able to purchase both territories for around $74,000. My all-in investment before opening the locations was closer to $100,000. The rest of the money went towards a 401(k) rollover, an accounting class, the ShelfGenie discovery day, office supplies, a business license, a contractor’s license and bond, and other miscellaneous start up costs.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
As I mentioned above, the unexpected referral to Rick Bisio was the key to my success. Rick and his book, 'The Educated Franchisee,' provided me with all the advice I needed to make the best decision for me. He took me through his patented process and helped me explore three specific franchise brands that fit my needs - these were ShelfGenie, SYNERGY HomeCare and TITLE Boxing Club. These three were perfect because they were significantly different business models that fit different aspects of my skills and personality. Weekly calls with Rick helped me make the correct decision.
Outside of that, I read EVERY book anyone recommended to me throughout the process. I read 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad,' 'Guerilla Marketing,' 'Franchising for Dummies,' 'Loopholes for the Rich' and many others to secure any advantage possible. I also spoke with a handful of my friends who own retail locations to better understand the challenges of business ownership.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The biggest challenge I have faced since opening my franchise locations is the amount of money we invest in monthly marketing and advertising programs as part of our franchise agreement. Each franchisee is required to spend $10,000 a month on advertising because franchisees are not asked to make cold calls and create new sales. There are times where the significant marketing spend is hard to justify because it may not generate enough leads.
However, the ShelfGenie corporate team works hand in hand with the franchise owners to make smart adjustments to the monthly marketing and advertising spend. After operating for a year, we realized that home improvement magazine advertising was performing best in my area. Since we allocated more funds to that magazine, my sales leads have increased significantly!
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
If I had the opportunity to speak with someone who is looking into franchising, I would tell them three things.
1) Work with a qualified and reputable franchise consultant like Rick. MANY out there are dime a dozen and will simply throw ideas out there to see what sticks. Make sure that person REALLY gets to know you and shares franchise ownership opportunities that fit who you are. The best ones are very educated and can provide franchise ideas you never considered.
2) Have realistic expectations about the work/life balance. I work on my business seven days a week after being used to a corporate job that was more or less 8-5, five days a week. I love my flexible schedule and being out and about at networking events and customer homes. However, it does take a lot of time and energy -- there are no days off. Like many other first-time owners, I thought I’d have more free time, but that’s unreasonable while growing your business the first couple of years. In order to be successful, you’ve got to go all in. We do home shows on the weekends, we do local festivals, etc. We’re always marketing and promoting the business.
3) Be overcapitalized. Do not go in if you’re on the fringe financially. Figure out what it will take to run your business for a year and half without taking any salary -- that’s realistic. Assume the worst. I was fortunate enough to make a profit after the first year, but being overcapitalized gave me the comfort to spend the money I needed to spend without dealing with financial stress.
What’s next for you and your business?
Year one was great. My goal was to have gross revenue of $350,000 and I got very close at $300,000. In year two, I was expecting to reach gross revenue of $450,000 and we currently expect to hit at least $550,000. I’m thrilled!
Outside of that, one of my goals for this year is to hire two more design consultants. Now that we have become a fixture within my territories, I need help to service the appointments we have generated. I am currently the only franchisee in Southern California, so we have been able to grow quickly.
My goal is to grow the business 20-30 percent each year and hire successful people. In less than two years, I am already profitable and finding ways to get back to my biggest strength: managing a great team of people. The difference now is that I am working for myself and running my own business in the process!