Franchise Players: I Went From Franchisor to Retiree to Franchisee
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.
When Kurt Kittleson retired in 2001, he couldn’t stay out of the entrepreneurship game for long. After a decade of retirement he decided to return to the company he founded in Re-Bath Corporation, a custom bathroom remodeling franchise. This time, however, he returned as a franchisee. Soon, he became a franchisee at the company's sister brands, 5 Day Kitchens and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain. Here's what he's learned from his experiences on both sides of the franchisor/franchisee divide.
Name: Kurt Kittleson
Franchise owned: I am the master franchisee in Phoenix for Re-Bath, 5 Day Kitchens and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain. I currently have three design centers for Re-Bath and 5 Day Kitchens and one bluefrog Plumbing + Drain unit in operation.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I’ve had the luxury of being on both the franchisor and franchisee sides over the course of my professional career. From the franchisor side, I am the founder of Re-Bath and held the role of president until I retired. From the franchisee side, I have been a master franchisee of Re-Bath for four and a half years, a master franchisee of 5 Day Kitchens for three years and a master franchisee of bluefrog Plumbing + Drain since it launched earlier this year.
I wanted to get back into the entrepreneur seat without having to reinvent the wheel, therefore franchising made the most sense. When you join a franchise, you gain access to years of proven operations, a solid business model, marketing support and a team of both corporate and franchise owners that are there for you 24/7.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I actually founded Re-Bath in 1979 and turned it into a residential dealership network in the 80s, prior to franchising the concept in 1993. I sold the business when I retired in 2001 and spent the next ten years enjoying my time off.
My passion is in building businesses, so I decided to get back in the franchise game and started as a master Re-Bath franchisee four and a half years ago. Then, when Re-Bath’s parent company, Home Brands Group, developed a complimentary franchise called 5 Day Kitchens, I decided to build upon my business by becoming a franchisee of 5 Day Kitchens. When Home Brands launched bluefrog Plumbing + Drain earlier this year, I quickly jumped on the opportunity. Adding plumbing services to my existing bath and kitchen remodel businesses was a no brainer. I’ve turned my franchise operations into a one-stop resource for Phoenix consumers when it comes to bath, kitchen and plumbing needs.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I have a long history with the brand, and when I decided to look into franchise opportunities, I knew there was none better. Some franchise brokers will tell prospective franchisees to shy away from new franchise concepts, but what they need to recognize is that some newer franchises are built on the same proven systems of a sister-brand. Re-Bath has more than 35 years of experience. By now, they know what works and what doesn’t work – any kinks have been fixed. Also, since 5 Day Kitchens and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain are in related industries with the same consumers, I knew these concepts were developed on the same established business model.
When researching franchise opportunities, prospects should take a look at the franchise’s sister-brands and professional background of the leadership team to gain an understanding of the history and leadership driving the franchise. Items 1-4 of the franchise’s Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) typically houses this information.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Since I’m a master franchisee in one of the largest markets in America and have exclusive rights to develop my territories, my initial investment was much higher than what prospective single-unit or smaller multi-unit franchisees should expect. I initially invested around $100,000 for Re-Bath and $30,000 for bluefrog Plumbing + Drain.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I already knew the concepts – Home Brands Group kept us in the know as they were developing 5 Day Kitchens and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain. When the opportunity arose to begin investing in the franchises, I knew both brands would be a success.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
With bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, figuring out my local marketing was a challenge I didn’t expect. Though I have the related businesses and existing customers, I had to change my strategy in order to generate quality customer leads from my marketing efforts.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Make sure you have a really good understanding of your competition. You should take into account what products/services they provide, what differentiates your business from theirs, how they are marketing to consumers, etc.
Also, if you haven’t been in business for yourself, understand that it’s going to be hard work for at least 3-4 years. You have all the resources you need, and the franchisor is there to guide you along the way, but I think many consider franchise entrepreneurship as the “easy route.” Yes, it’s much easier than going it alone, but it still takes the same amount of hard work and drive to make your franchise a success.
What’s next for you and your business?
I’ve signed master franchise agreements with all three franchises, so my goal is to continue expanding my total number of units and become the No. 1 go-to in Phoenix for all bath, kitchen and plumbing needs.