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.
After building a career in the hospitality industry, Neil DiBiccari decided he wanted a job that was a better fit for his entrepreneurial aspirations. In 2008, he started at the bottom of the professional ladder at Unishippers, as a shipping consultant. Within a year, he was promoted to sales manager, and by 2011 he had purchased his first Unishippers franchise. Today, DiBiccari is a multi-unit franchisee covering all of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. Here's how he did it.
Name: Neil DiBiccari
Franchise owned: Unishippers in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts
How long have you owned a franchise?
Since April of 2011, when I purchased a territory in Hartford, Conn. Today, I own multiple franchises covering Western Massachusetts, New Haven County, Fairfield and Hartford.
I knew going in that I had the support of a corporate team, and based on the success I had as a shipping consultant I knew that I would be successful as an owner. Being an entrepreneur is risky and unpredictable, but with franchising there was already a solid foundation in place for me to step in. I understood the business model that I was getting involved with.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I have a degree in hospitality management from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. I moved back to Boston to utilize my degree and started working for the Sheraton Boston hotel as an assistant banquet manager. It was challenging work and very competitive but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.
In 2007 I moved to Springfield, Mass. At that point, I was having trouble getting my foot in the door with companies because I didn’t have any prior sales experience, so I took a job at a local radio station selling air time. I got the sales experience that would help me land a job as a shipping consultant with Unishippers.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Before buying my franchise I was able to get experience working at Unishippers as a shipping consultant and I won the company’s “fast-start” award within six months. Each year thereafter I won our platinum sales award. Within a few years I was promoted to sales manager and I became more familiar with the business model and the ownership potential.
There is a lot to like about Unishippers. You have a lot of flexibility with how you run your franchise. You have the option to work out of your home, there are low-overhead costs and there is room to live life outside of work. As a franchisee, I was able to put my sales experience and aptitude to work for me.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The total cost ended up being around $90,000. The cost of purchasing the territory was $60,000 and the start-up costs included finding an office space, visiting with potential clients and essential purchases to get the business up and running.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Most of my research was done while I was working at Unishippers. I spoke with existing franchise owners and they helped guide me into the ownership role. Once I decided I was ready, the basic principles of running a Unishippers franchise were instilled in me by going to the corporate new owner training where I received an intense week of training that helped me to embrace the business model. I left the training prepared to start a business, as corporate makes sure that you have all the right tools to get started on the right foot.
Related: I Was an Entrepreneur From Day One
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Having the capital in place to grow the business was a challenge. I had to understand that we wouldn’t immediately start making money. All of the revenue that was coming in was going right back into the operations of the franchise. Once the business was up and running I learned how to keep the cash flowing into the right places so that we stayed viable. At the beginning it was a delicate balance but once I was able to hire more people, I made sure that we put someone who was really good with accounting in charge of our books. In the last three years we’ve grown by 22 percent and we’re hoping to break $1 million in revenue by next year.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
While franchising is a great alternative to starting a business on your own, there will still be challenges. Do your due diligence on the company and the lifestyle and make a decision based on your priorities. Whether you want to stay near family or have flexibility, make sure the franchise can fit around those needs. Early on in my career I was told “persistence pays off.” I took that to heart, and I applied this to every sales call I make. Today, I have to admit it has paid off.
What’s next for you and your business?
My franchise launched a program called the 1099 Contractor Program in 2014. I developed this program through the help of Unishippers corporate who saw the potential of training independent contractors and nurturing new talent. The program provides six months of training and learning how to sell that product in the marketplace. I provide guidance similar to what I got when I was a shipping consultant. After six months, the contractor can decide if he wants to continue in sales or begin the process of franchise ownership. It’s a great tool for generating new franchise leads and helping motivated people – at any age – find new opportunities.