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.
What's the perfect franchise for a firefighter? For Jeffery Urbas, the choice was obvious: Firehouse Subs. Urbas opened his location of the sandwich franchise after more than two decades working as a firefighter – and has continued to fight fires even after opening up shop. Here's what he has learned.
Name: Jeffrey Urbas
Franchise owned: Firehouse Subs Restaurant in Rochester Hills, Mich.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I have owned my franchise for two years, and my restaurant in Rochester Hills, Michigan will be open two years in July 2015.
Franchises always interested me, especially food franchises. I like the fact they have a proven product, and I also appreciate being part of a brand that’s already well established. Owning a franchise allows me the freedom to explore my business dreams while also having access to support and resources from the corporate brand. When I chose to get into franchising, it was at the height of Detroit’s financial woes. As a veteran fire sergeant, I saw my wages cut drastically, in addition to my pension and benefits. With so many cuts, I felt I needed to take my financial future into my own hands and saw franchising as an opportunity to do that.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was and still am a 24-year veteran fire sergeant with the City of Detroit Fire Department.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I had been researching concepts and just couldn’t find one available that I really liked. I didn’t want to open another generic sub shop or restaurant. I wanted to introduce something new to Michigan.
In researching multiple brands, my wife actually came across Firehouse Subs online. The brand’s co-founders, Chris and Robin Sorensen, are former firefighters and developed the restaurant with their family’s rich firefighting heritage in mind. Being a career firefighter myself, the concept intrigued me.
I did some research, contacted the corporate office and found there were no restaurants in Michigan at the time, but they had plans to build soon. I waited until the Brighton, Mich. restaurant opened and went to meet the owner and Michigan area representative, John Kupiec. I loved everything about the restaurant from that first visit: the décor, the atmosphere, and of course, the food. I ordered the signature Hook and Ladder sub, took one bite and was hooked. I’m a foodie and can hold my own in the kitchen, but that sub really impressed me. I left that day knowing I’d found a brand I could be apart of.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Franchise Fees: $20,000
Second Franchise: $10,000
Day of Discovery: $1,200
Restaurant build out: $160,000
Furniture, fixtures and equipment: $100,000
Miscellaneous and working capital: $30,000
Huntington National Bank SBA loan: $225,000
Personal cash injection: $100,000
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I have some friends who are also Detroit fire fighters and own restaurants and bars. I picked their brains first. Then, I thoroughly researched Firehouse Subs’ Franchise Disclosure Document and called many existing and incoming franchisees in the system for their advice about joining the brand.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Initially, everything was a challenge. I had never built out a business, hired 30-plus employees, negotiated and signed a lease or invested this much money into anything before. Firehouse Subs trains each new franchisee for six to eight weeks in a working restaurant and at their corporate offices, but there’s still a lot of on-the-job training. I received local support from the area representative, but it was very much my own business to run. I worked 18-hour days from open to close for three to four months in that first year. Then, as I trained some shift leaders, I was able to step back a bit. It was a true sacrifice, but I stuck with it and soon learned how to run my business efficiently.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Go for it! If you have a good business acumen, hard work ethic and are willing to put in some long hours, then you can do it. I also advise any potential franchisee to do your research and due diligence. Create a business plan, but also be prepared for the unexpected. In the end though, it’s important to be positive and driven. Your business will be as successful as you want it to be; what you put into it is what you will get out of it. It sounds cliché, but I’ve found it to be very true.
What’s next for you and your business?
We plan to continue to grow our business by building on the excellent relationships Firehouse Subs has with the community and working to gain new ones. We support many schools, sports teams and local organizations, including area first responders through the brand’s non-profit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which has donated more than $12 million nationwide, including more than $200,000 in Michigan. Last June, our restaurant helped facilitate a $30,000 grant for life-saving equipment to the Detroit Fire Department, and with our customers’ support, we hope to be able to give back to our community even more.