Franchise Players

Franchise Players: Why I Became a Franchisee at 40

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 ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

In 1996, Lynne Lawson was forced to reconsider her priorities when her younger brother passed away. Lawson had always known she wanted to become an interior decorator, but the timing had never been right. After her brother's death, she wanted to be sure she was living her life without regrets. That's why, at age 40, she decided to take the plunge as a Lawson's Decorating Den Interiors franchisee. Here's what she has learned about franchising in the last 17 years.

Name:  Lynne Lawson, Lawson’s Decorating Den Interiors

Franchise owned: Columbia, Md.

How long have you owned a franchise? 

Seventeen years.

Why franchising?   

I got the courage to pursue decorating as a full time profession at age 40. I felt it was too late to go back to school. Also, I had financial obligations to my family. So, I wanted the quickest path to success possible.

In addition, I wanted to plug into an existing, proven system, rather than create business processes, vendor relationships, etc. on my own. I thought franchising blended the best of both worlds:  independence and an existing infrastructure. It has proven to be a great fit for me.

Related: Franchise Players: How I Opened 20 Jersey Mike's Subs in Three Years

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner? 

I worked with IBM for 19 years, and had a very successful and largely satisfying career. But, it wasn’t satisfying from a creative standpoint. I was in National Federal Marketing, a group that sold large computer systems and complex software to the federal government. My client accounts included the White House, House of Reps, Senate, FBI, NASA, World Bank, Government Printing Office, Library of Congress and others. In my last four years with IBM I was a consulting principal, which means I was a consultant and a manager of business process re-engineering and organizational development.  

I knew from age 10 that I wanted to be an interior decorator. However, as a 1970s youth and college student, I thought that I should go for the bigger money and security opportunity when I graduated. My father had been with IBM, and I was a Watson scholar. I lost my dad in my junior year, so IBM seemed a financially viable and secure direction.

But, in 1996, three major things were happening in my life:  I lost a younger brother, was traveling three to four days per week as a consulting principal and I turned 40 (all traumatic). When my brother died, I thought, if I get terminally sick, what regrets would I have? Not pursuing decorating and giving it a good try would have been a major regret. 

Why did you choose this particular franchise? 

As a design/shelter magazine addict, I had seen this company’s ads for many years. I didn’t know much about them, but when I called to investigate, they were very prompt and excited to hear from me. The application and due diligence processes were easy, and I talked to a variety of successful franchise owners who gave me very honest info. I figured if other women (and men) could be successful and make a living at decorating within this company, then I might be able to also. Also, I liked the fact that they had some longevity and a history of success.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

Franchise fee: $15,500 (a reduced fee at the time, which included a sales incentive. If I met the incentive in the first year, the rest of the fee would be waived. I exceeded the sales goal, and an $8,000 fee was waived, so I got in at a reduced fee.) 

Other start up included purchasing a van: approximately $5,000

Business set up: approximately $7,500

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research? 

Decorating Den Interiors has a great network of franchise owners (and now an intranet with chat opportunities), and a corporate culture of sharing that I have not seen anywhere else. So, my fellow franchise owners were a huge source of information and guidance, on design, marketing, sales, products, vendors, challenges, etc.  

Also, I attended the two week Professional Design and Sales School and the 12 week Directions courses provided by corporate and local management, which equipped me to get started.

Related: Franchise Players: Why This Subway Franchisee Is Moving Into Made-to-Order Pizza

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise? 

The amount of work I did per week for the first two years was pretty astronomical. Probably 80 hours or more per week, including Saturday meetings with clients. That included learning the business, making some mistakes, and having lots of client meetings. I was very aggressive with my marketing, so I had lots of client appointments, and would travel all over the D.C. and Baltimore areas for client meetings. I don’t do that anymore, I can be a bit more selective now. I had to learn to set boundaries so that I wouldn’t grow to hate my work or regret my decision.

Also, though it’s decorating, there was a huge learning curve for me, which I didn’t anticipate. I had incorrectly thought beforehand “I’m an IBM Exec, how hard could decorating and running my own business be?” Working for a corporation and working for yourself are two very different animals. I had to do everything for myself, from business strategy to pulling discontinued fabric samples, to sweeping my office floor. Now, with my co-decorator and my husband, I have a bit more help and balance.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?  

Best candidates for franchises are highly self motivated, hungry for success, willing to learn and make mistakes, and willing to take risks with their finances and energies. You can learn the “technical” part (in my case design), but you have to have an inherent desire to succeed and a love for accountability.

Conduct due diligence by talking to other people who will do exactly what you do. Let the wave of emotional attachment settle down before making the final decision. Make sure there is thought and logic involved in your decision.

Make sure you have the skills and willingness not only to conduct the technical, or subject matter aspects of your business, but also the strategic, planning and day to day management aspects of your business. You have to have the ability to plan, measure, and seek process improvement to succeed. 

What’s next for you and your business?   

  • Helping my husband to forge a new career within our business (he left IBM last year after 28 years)
  • Continuing to groom my “daughter” Laura, who is also my co-decorator and team-mate, to take over the business when I retire
  • Focus on whole room design projects, and to work with the great clients that I’ve been privileged to work with over the years. Many of them are on second or third houses, or offices, and have called me in to assist. These larger projects support our sales and income goals, and provide the work/life balance that I constantly seek.
  • To win our Dream Room contest for the fourth time. In 45 years, only one other franchise owner in our system has won three (and that was two decades ago) and most never win at all. I recently won for the third time (in six years), and would like to win a fourth.  
  • To make my clients supremely happy through excellent client service and award winning designs.

Related: Franchise Players: Playing to My Strengths as a Franchisee, Not a Salesman

Edition: December 2016

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