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.
Just one of Bridgforth Rutledge's careers would be more than enough work for most people. The entrepreneur was already buying and leasing foreclosed real estate before becoming a Back Yard Burgers franchisee. Then, after he opened his first franchise location, he finished law school and became a partner at Phelps Dunbar, LLP. Here's what he has learned about multi-tasking and franchising.
Name: Bridgforth Rutledge
Franchise owned: Back Yard Burgers in Jackson, Madison, Flowood, Byram, Meridian and Oxford, Miss.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I have been in franchising for 17 years.
Franchising can allow you to reduce your risks by taking advantage of a system with a proven track record. It is impossible to eliminate all risks, but to a certain degree, I am better able to evaluate the pros and cons before actually moving forward with a project. This allows me the opportunity to make adjustments in advance rather than operating on a purely trial-and-error basis. A fair amount of trial-and-error is inevitable and even necessary, but it is better to minimize it when possible.
Additionally, franchising allows me to focus on developing and operating the business without having to spend a lot of time creating all of the underlying products and marketing materials. I am also able to benefit from a level of name and product recognition that would otherwise be very difficult to achieve in a reasonable time frame. This is very important for us as Back Yard Burgers offers quite a few high-quality options and is regularly striving to add new, innovative menu items ahead of the trends.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before becoming a franchise owner, I was buying and leasing foreclosed real estate and attending law school. After I opened the first location at age 25, I went back to school and received my law degree.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Simply put, I just really liked the food at Back Yard Burgers, and I still do. A number our items are arguably unmatched in the fast-food or fast-casual space.
Also, when I opened my first restaurant, I had very little money or assets, and did not qualify to be a franchisee for most of the major restaurant brands. I think that this was a blessing in disguise, and partnering with a smaller, growing brand gave me the flexibility that I needed to help develop and improve the concept along the way.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
According to the current FDD, the initial fees are $30,000 to $35,000. The build-out cost for a unit is estimated between $150,000 and $550,000 and the estimated total cost is between $460,000 and $1,680,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
When I began, I really didn't know anyone in the restaurant business or have any experience in the restaurant business. I learned a great deal of it by doing it wrong and then figuring out how to do it right. The franchisor was helpful in certain areas, but there is no substitute for actual on-the-ground experience (which is code for mistakes). If you are able to overcome the natural inclination to get discouraged by obstacles and realize that they are an inevitable part of the process, then you can significantly increase your chances of being able to maintain the motivation and tenacity that is almost always necessary to be successful in business.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
In a word, people. Hard-working, honest, smart employees are vital to success in almost every industry, and this is particularly true in the restaurant business. If you think that you can do it without them, you are probably deceiving yourself. Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of working with some extraordinarily talented and dedicated people who have really helped the company grow and prosper.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Do plenty of research in advance, and try to take the emotion out of the evaluation process so you can get an objective view of how a concept performs. Also, assuming the potential business is anything like the restaurant business, never settle when selecting a location. Instead, do whatever it takes to out-position your competition, both current and future. This will pay dividends for years to come and greatly reduce the long-term risk. Finally, be willing and eager to work long and hard.
What’s next for you and your business?
It may sound odd and be contrary to most conventional business advice, but I generally don't set a lot of specific long-term goals because I view them as limitations. If a great opportunity presents itself, I will probably take it, regardless of whether or not it is written in some business plan or growth schedule. Back Yard Burgers is very supportive whenever I am looking at new opportunities for growth or improvement, and this makes my job a lot more enjoyable.