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 email@example.com.
As a former realtor, Sherri Meyer was intrigued when she discovered Epcon Communities, a franchise dedicated to building homes for active homeowners over the age of 55. After working with the business for six years, she decided to become a franchisee – but not alone. Her daughter, Nicole Newkirk, decided to transition from the world of fashion marketing to real estate and move to Indianapolis to open up shop with her mother. Here's what they've learned.
Name: Sherri Meyer, owner of Property Group One, Ltd., and Graystone Group, LLC. The companies develop Epcon Communities in northeast Indianapolis.
Franchise owned: Epcon Communities. I have completed the communities The Villas at Winding Ridge, The Villas at Lake Lakota and the Villas at Quail Run. I am just completing the Villas at Geist, and am starting a new community called Graystone. I hope to begin another community, Steeplechase, by the end of 2015.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I have been working with Epcon Communities since 1991, and became a franchise owner in 1997. Previously, I was a residential real estate broker.
Being part of a franchise greatly reduced my learning curve. Epcon has been building homes since 1986, and I was able to benefit from the mistakes they had already made and the lessons they learned. Since I didn’t have building experience, I knew that the proven products and processes they have in place would be a great benefit to me.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was working in real estate for the first Re/Max agency that came to Indianapolis. One of the things I enjoyed the most was working with builders. I discovered Epcon while reading Builder magazine, which profiled the success Epcon was having in Columbus (Epcon’s headquarters is in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus). I drove over from Indianapolis to see the communities for myself and had a great conversation with the owners.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
You know, there is so much involved in building and developing and it was so interesting to me. Still, every day I learn something. It was a lot more interesting than just selling real estate. I like finding the property and then working with engineers on laying out a community and working with the town officials to get site plans approved, then deciding on specific floor plans and marketing. It’s interesting to dig into all those different aspects.
I enjoy creating a beautiful community, and beautiful homes that are energy efficient. We actually solve many problems for our homeowners. Most of our homeowners are empty nesters and they are looking for a smaller home, but they want it to be just as nice as the bigger home they are moving out of. They want it to have all the energy efficiencies that are available now in new homes, and the latest and greatest options. They are people who are looking at Houzz every day and watching HGTV. They want a beautiful home, but they want less home. They don’t want to have to take care of the lawn care anymore.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
With my first community we bought the land, prepared the site for construction, bought marketing materials, and computer and software, and hired staff. I invested about $700,000 to get the property ready to start selling and building homes.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Most of it came from Epcon, but trade publications were also a big help. At that time I was the second franchisee, so I didn’t have that base of other franchisees to speak with.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Realizing how much I didn’t know, and learning to manage and work with all men — it’s a very male-dominated field. We’re unusual in that we’re a mother-daughter team. My daughter, Nicole Newkirk, handles all the purchasing and estimating for our communities.
One of the reasons I recommend Epcon is that we get continuous training in every aspect of the business — construction, sales, marketing. We get support in every area. We also can turn to our other franchise builders to share ideas and compare experiences and costs, and to learn what is working well and selling well in other parts of the country. That’s very valuable, especially because construction prices can be very variable. By comparing notes with other builders, you don’t have to wonder whether or not you are getting a good deal from subcontractors.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I would say for them to research the franchise’s people, practices and product, and to ask other franchisees what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. Talk to as many franchisees as you can.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are starting to build a community called Graystone. It consists of 10 lots that we were able to purchase after another developer left the area during the real estate downturn. Our next community will be called Steeplechase, and that will have 40 lots. I expect to have those lots finished and ready for construction by the end of the year. I am also excited by the new detached courtyard homes Epcon has developed. We added those to the Villas at Geist toward the end of developing that community, and they were incredibly popular. That’s what we plan to build moving forward.