How This Ex-Subway Conductor Became an Expert in Franchising
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.
Tom Scarda became New York's first Maui Wowi franchisee in one of the hottest areas for concession stands in the state – the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Of course, Scarda knew New York City better than the average New Yorker, due to his time working for the New York City subway system. Soon, he also knew more about franchising than the average franchisee, as a trained FranChoice consultant and a certified franchise executive. Here's his highly informed advice for others looking to enter the franchising industry.
Name: Tom Scarda
Franchise owned: Maui Wowi Hawaiian at Jacob Javits Convention Center, in New York City.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I have owned my units for five years
I chose to quit my government job and buy a franchise because I wanted to live a lifestyle that could only be attained through business ownership. I knew nothing about business but I knew a franchise was like a business with training wheels. That is what I needed.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before franchising, I worked for the New York City subway system. I started as a train conductor and resigned as the director of customer communication at the Long Island Rail Road.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I chose the Maui Wowi model because it is a mobile business that gave me lots of flexibility. I did not want a full time store or brick and mortar business.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I spent about $70,000 to open, including working capital for the first year. $20,000 was the franchise fee, $25,000 paid for equipment and $25,000 went toward working capital.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I did some internet research, read Entrepreneur and I used a consultant from FranChoice. I am actually now a FranChoice consultant and a certified franchise executive. Certified franchise executive candidates are required to complete a rigorous course of study to earn the CFE designation, which includes attending institute-sponsored educational seminars and workshops. The program enhances franchise professionals’ understanding of the industry’s fundamental and complex aspects.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
One of the biggest challenges today is obtaining financing. I used a home equity line of credit to finance the business.
Another challenge was that I was the first franchisee in New York and the cost of doing business was underestimated by both me and the franchisee. In addition, I found business challenged my home life as it operated mostly at night and on weekends during special events.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I think aside from being undercapitalized when starting out, the chief reason for failure in a franchise is picking a business for the wrong reasons. For example, buying a franchise based on a hobby that you like or choosing a business because there is a lack of competition in an area. Additionally, buying a business because it has a well-recognized brand name is also a mistake. Just because there is no competition or the business enjoys a recognizable brand name does not mean it is a good business for you.
What’s next for you and your business?
I sold my franchise in 2005 and semi-retired at the age of 41. Now I enjoy helping people do the same thing that I did as a consultant with FranChoice.