There are some brands that franchisees would kill to get their hands on: Starbucks, Chipotle, Shake Shack and most coveted of all, In-N-Out Burger, the California-based chain that has a cult following so loyal it should be investigated by the ATF. While none of these brands will likely be franchising soon, Scott Walker has done the next best thing. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Screenmobile, which sells and repairs screens (for doors, windows and so on), and he’s been selling his low-cost business to managers from In-N-Out Burger. Several former burger sellers are now franchisees in his 90-unit system. The reasoning: Walker feels that anyone who has proved themselves in that fast-paced, well-run restaurant probably has the drive and energy to make a mobile franchise work. “Although In-N-Out Burger offers very decent wages, the path to becoming a manager can be slow,” explains Walker. “And once they become a restaurant manager, there’s not much further room for growth. When they join Screenmobile, there are no limits.”
Walker isn’t straight-up poaching In-N-Out employees. The pipeline has been word of mouth. “After one joined our company, others quickly followed,” says Walker. “A few of his friends began to help out on their days off and see what being a franchisee was really like. They saw how successful he was becoming, but more important, that he felt fulfilled in his career, enjoyed running his business and was simply having fun.”
Below, we talk to two of those recruits: Jason Frazier, former In-N-Out manager, and Brandon Wlasichuk, who worked in maintenance at the restaurant for nine years. Both joined Screenmobile within the last two years. They loved their burger jobs, but knew it wasn’t a lasting career. Now they’re franchisees in Bakersfield and Visalia, California.
Did you always want your own business?
Frazier: Yes. While working at In-N-Out, I was attending Santa Ana College, completing their Fire Academy, as well as Golden West College, working on my A.A. degree. I have always wanted to own my own business, I just didn’t know what it was going to be at the time.
Wlasichuk: I always wanted to own a business too. I was never sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I always knew I wanted to be my own boss. When the Screenmobile idea was presented to me, it was too good to pass up.
How did In-N-Out prepare you for owning your own business?
Frazier: I got the courage one day to finally ask my boss what it would take for me to become a store manager. His answer was to make quality a big deal and be a role model to lower-level associates. Once I became a manager and began training others, I started seeing a lot of the business side of it and really why In-N-Out is so successful. Essentially, it’s because they have a great product that’s prepared consistently throughout the stores. And they treat their associates right and train them well. In return, they get happy customers. My store manager always challenged us to be our best every day. I learned how to communicate well with customers and associates, how to interview and evaluate new employees and develop my leadership skills as a whole. In-N-Out taught me how to work hard, keep track of inventory, reduce product waste, the importance of customer service, and to strive to be my best every single day.
What weren’t you prepared for?
Wlasichuk: Pretty much the whole screening world was new to me when I started. So building doors and window screens took a good chunk of time. Screenmobile University is an extensive two-week training course that teaches all new franchisees everything they need to know about running a business, as well as how to install, manufacture and repair screens. This was an extremely helpful tool.
Frazier: When I first got involved with owning and operating a business, the main skill I needed to improve on was communication. Communication can’t be overlooked as a vital skill in franchising. Sometimes I’d have to remind myself to slow down in conversation and really listen. Other times I’d have to make sure there was absolutely no confusion in a message before I sent it to the shift team. This is a skill I continue to work on improving every day.
You’ve been in business almost two years. Does In-N-Out still influence you?
Wlasichuk: In-N-Out is great with customer service and very good with their employees. I do my best to make sure I never forget where I started from and always focus on customer service first. Once we started to hire employees, I remembered how I was treated by my employer and managers above me. In-N-Out taught me about the value of a well-run business and an appreciated team.