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.
Mike Callahan's corporate career was focused on finance before he became a franchise consultant. However, even with his extensive experience in the industry, it took him a while to realize there was a franchise that would utilize both his financial knowledge and his wife's design skills. Then, the couple discovered Showhomes, a home staging company. Here's what they've learned since opening up a location of their own.
Name: Mike and Janine Callahan
Franchise owned: Showhomes in Chicago western suburbs referred to as the Fox Valley area, including St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia and Wheaton, Ill.
How long have you owned a franchise?
We purchased our first territory with Showhomes in December of 2008. We then purchased a second territory in 2010.
My corporate career was focused in finance, banking and mortgage banking, so I know a lot about those areas. But we wanted to find something that we could do together without re-inventing the wheel. It was important to us to find a business model that offered support on the back end, so franchising was the logical decision. There’s a saying about franchising and I believe it’s true: In franchising, you’re in business for yourself but not by yourself.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
My corporate career was in financial services. I was a partner in a medium-sized mortgage bank. The other partners bought my shares and I went off to get my master's degree so I could teach college. The mortgage world turned upside down and the money wasn’t going to be there. I started working as a franchise consultant and I loved it. I was helping people all over the world – literally. I helped them find all types of franchise businesses so I knew what to look for when we decided to make that move.
Janine has been in decorating her entire career. She has had her own small design company for many years and has worked in decorating and retail companies over the years as well.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
At the end of the day, two things really seemed too important to ignore for us with Showhomes. The business model hit both our sweet spots to a 'T'. We really had not visualized a business where a banker and a decorator would co-exist daily! One of the beautiful things about this model is that Janine takes care of the design side and I take care of the business side. We work together, but we are not in each other’s way every day.
Further, once we completed our due diligence, it was apparent that Showhomes had a core of existing franchisees that treat each other as partners, almost like family. I had enough experience with other franchises to know this is not common. The franchisees at Showhomes don’t look at each other as competitors. It’s so important to love what you do, but also to have people you admire and respect to share ideas with; that’s a wonderful benefit.
Our corporate team is strong, and I would stack this team up against any other in the franchise industry. Ultimately, the franchisee network clinched it for us.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Showhomes is a moderately-priced franchise. The initial expense was around $50,000 per territory. Another beautiful thing about the Showhomes business model is that it can be run from your home. We did not have to invest in office or warehouse space or special equipment. We spent a week in Nashville for training as well and that was really worthwhile. The training today has come even further and includes a staging certification program.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Having been a franchise consultant, I felt I knew the questions to ask and whom I should ask. After we signed the application and received the franchise disclosure document, we started calling franchisees. We focused on those that were with the franchise for the longest time as well as proximity. Having worked with many potential franchise owners, I felt like I knew that the franchisees would be the key.
I’m an entrepreneur at heart so what I wanted in a business model was an outline, not a mandated checklist – and that’s what Showhomes provides.
After we signed our purchase commitment, my wife and I went on road trips to visit franchisees. I went south, she went north. We came back and compared notes and felt like this really gave us a great head start on how we would run our business.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Initially, I admit I was shocked that more realtors did not appreciate the value of home staging. After all the HGTV shows, the DIY shows and just plain real life examples, it seemed to me this was the classic no brainer. I was wrong. It took a while to find the right agents that support home staging and that is where we focus our energy now.
There is a whole bunch of moving parts in our business model that I had not anticipated. We were blessed to bring on a general manager from the onset. She has been critical to our business success from day one. I have run fairly large businesses and think of myself as a big picture manager. Fortunately, Carolyn Leard, our GM, is perfect in this role. She keeps the parts not only moving, but moving well.
Finally, I did not anticipate the amount of paperwork that is involved. Everything from payroll, to sales tax reports, to vendor reports, W-9’s, government reports, corporate reports, etc. In my previous corporate life, I had staff people that handled these things. I have a whole new appreciation of staff/support functions. In the end it has been good for me because I need to know these things to run a better business.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Look for a business that you are passionate about. All franchises are not created equal and all franchises do not have the same support, reputations, etc. Find your passion and then look for the business to fill that.
Look for franchises where existing franchisees like each other. That’s a good sign of a healthy franchise family. They will not always agree, but overall, are the existing franchisees happy where they are? The culture of the business is important. Will you have a mentor? Who can you call when you’re facing a difficult situation for the first time and have no idea what to do? Does the company have a marketing plan? Does it work for you?
What’s next for you and your business?
Onward and upward! We truly love what we do. We love helping people through our products and services. We have an amazing design team that supports us. We have developed a wonderful group of area realtors, builders and investors that support us. We were honored to be named Franchise of the Year in the past. We received the Showhomes Ambassador award and many others as well.
I am competitive, so our next chapter in this adventure is to increase revenue and profitability. Showhomes recently rolled out new products and I would love to build teams this year just to support these new products. Of course as any business owner will tell you, the end game is always about the exit strategy!