Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re honoring power couples in franchising. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Watts and June Riner met more than 10 years ago, through mutual friends. Jane, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, was already running a successful Batteries Plus Bulbs location, but in order to expand, needed a business partner. June was the perfect fit. Soon, the duo realized that the pair was just as compatible as romantic partners as they were business partners. Here's what they've learned about the challenges and rewards of running a business with your spouse.
Names: Jane Watts and June Riner.
Franchise owned: We have four Batteries Plus Bulbs locations in Metro Atlanta: Decatur, Stockbridge, Peachtree City and Newnan, Ga.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I’m in my 17th year, while June joined as a partner and franchisee nine years ago.
If a great concept and team is already in place, why re-invent the wheel? There are so many facets to running a successful business, and Batteries Plus Bulbs had proven processes and procedures already in place—along with outstanding support and experience—that we felt could benefit us.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
My education came from the U.S. Coast Guard where I was an electrician’s mate on the boats. During those years, my job was to service the batteries on the boats, repair equipment and change out electrical circuits. After my service, I moved into electronic manufacturing for various companies in the capacity of management roles. Getting a group of employees to work together and achieve common goals was very rewarding.
My partner June’s skillset previously focused on roles involving logistics, warehousing and accounting. She has always been quick with numbers and has a great business sense. Today we call her the “matrix” because her mind works so well with putting all the pieces together. June also manages the relationship between all four of our stores in regards to sales or inventory matters. When she speaks with the store managers, her conversations usually end with giggles and laughter—that’s her method of communication. She cares for the staff so much, and there is no greater cheerleader and advocate for our team.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
When I visited the Batteries Plus Bulbs franchise headquarters in Hartland, Wis., it was apparent to me that the organization was solid. They had a long-term vision of how the business would grow and left me feeling confident in its sustainability and viability. They provided comprehensive training in all aspects of the franchise, such as financial and business management, product distribution, logistics and product knowledge.
Batteries Plus Bulbs provided a classroom setting while training on these topics, but what really stood out to me was that the company was focused on servicing customers and providing the highest level of expertise. I knew then that I could succeed in such a hands-on environment, especially with the various franchise support tools Batteries Plus Bulbs provides.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
We budgeted around $220,000 to $250,000 per store, to get each one opened and operating. That cost included necessary fixtures, build-out, lease, advertising, inventory, computers, tools and equipment.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
When I was looking into franchise concepts in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Internet did not have a tremendous amount of information. To truly research the franchise, I visited as many stores as possible to see its operation, product lines, etc. What I quickly learned was that batteries, and now light bulbs, are recession-resistant. If the economy is struggling, consumers still need batteries to power their vehicles, smartphones, equipment and other household or business items. They also need light bulbs to light their homes and businesses. I just could not imagine this needs-based concept not being viable.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Managing the staff was and continues to be our greatest challenge. We care for our employees as though they are family, so we try to be the “mom and dad” in a business sense. June approaches situations very positively and is a little more forgiving, while I am more pressing for knowledge and execution. Another challenge has been continuing to put our customers as our first priority across all four stores. We have built our business on providing great customer service, including helpful advice and product knowledge. Because of that, we have to be at our very best with every customer, including our business accounts and government sales customers, so that we’re exceeding their expectations; not just meeting them.
What have been the biggest challenges and positives of running a business with your spouse?
I think the biggest positive is that each of us plays a different role in our business and in our relationship; we complement each other very well. The hard part is sometimes leaving work at work and enjoying our relationship away from the business. I always recommend making time to engage in activities outside of work with your spouse or partner. For example, June and I like to have fun, whether it’s remodeling an old house, birding or doing creative artwork with a glass of wine… or two. These types of activities help to take our minds off of work, but at the end of the day, our business is a large part of our relationship.
What advice do you have for individuals and couples who want to own their own franchise?
Know your strengths and weaknesses; know how your personality best fits within the business and how to best utilize your knowledge base. To ensure success, you need to maximize your skills and do what you’re good at. We all want to enjoy what we’re doing, but you also need to earn a profit when doing what you love. Sometimes that means being brutally honest with yourself and sticking to doing what you do best, versus doing what you’d like to do.
The same principle applies when going into business as a couple. Find out what traits each of you has that complements the other and what role is best for each person. As I mentioned, June and I run our business like we are a family and our employees are our children—each of us plays a different role and has a different management style. We are also not afraid to let each other know if something isn’t working and needs to change; communication in any relationship is key, whether its personal or in a business.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are methodical in tracking every aspect of the business and look forward to opening our next store in the franchise system, as current industry metrics are showing good growth, sustainability and margins. Batteries Plus Bulbs continues to be a great fit for us and we have enjoyed the prosperous relationship.