You're the Boss

There are some things beyond your control, such as a poor job market. But that doesn't mean you can't control your future. Follow the lead of these entrepreneurs, who bought their own franchises.
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the September 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Unless you're planning to go the route of Office Space's Peter Gibbons and opt for a life of doing nothing, complete with no income and unpaid bills, the greatest security you may have is what you create for yourself. When the job market sucks, and your own job is shaky at best, what are your options? Perhaps franchising is the answer that will enable you to enjoy the benefits of all your hard work and ease your worries about plant relocations, layoffs and management reshuffling. Here are the stories of three franchisees who chucked their time cards, put down the want ads and made the leap:

School's Out, Franchise Is In
Jason and Jeff Jokerst, both 24, didn't need to invest years in the corporate life to learn it was the wrong one for them. In fact, they never bothered finding out.

"I started thinking about graduation and what I was going to do after. I didn't want to go straight into a 9-to-5 job, because everyone I know just hated it," says Jason. "I didn't want to jump into something really complicated right away, like trying to start my own clothing company. [Franchising] seemed like a good way to start out. So I starting looking at franchises."

Through a franchise referral network, Jason and his brother, Jeff, discovered the Maui Wowi smoothie franchise. The brothers started Jokerst Twin Enterprises Inc. and purchased their Maui Wowi smoothie kiosk franchise in March 2002, just as they were finishing college in San Diego. Despite pursuing degrees in economics, Jason and Jeff didn't see much of their college education applying to their business. "It's all about going out there and just doing it--learning when you get there," Jason says. "There's a difference between theory and applying that theory. School was pretty much all about theory, especially with economics. [Running this business is about] so much more than what a textbook can tell you."

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While the brothers mastered most of the business operations by doing, they did need help with financing. "That's been really difficult. In fact, if it wasn't for our parents, there's no way it would have happened," Jason says. "I had to have my parents cosign because I had no credit history. I have a couple of credit cards, but I haven't been around to buy houses and boats and things like that and prove I can pay that kind of stuff off."

It took a few months for the franchise to come together, so the Jokersts didn't actually start operating their franchise until the summer of 2002. Slowly but surely, Jason and Jeff are building their financial reputation as well as business experience, spending their days managing employees, inventory and accounting. They're already operating Maui Wowi carts at the San Diego Sports Arena and opening another one at the Cal Expo in Sacramento, California, a location their franchisor helped the twins secure. They're also expanding into other stadium cart franchises in the San Diego and Sacramento areas.

Though the future holds no guarantees, the Jokersts believe opting out of the job market was the best move for them. "Overall, I don't think I could ever [work for someone else] because I feel more motivated now," says Jason. "I feel I work harder because there are so many benefits to reap when you do it all for yourself."

From Corporate Life to Franchise Freedom

Steve Telaroli decided to branch out into something completely new. Formerly a sales and marketing executive with Compaq, Telaroli started looking into finding another job or buying a franchise when his company was acquired by Hewlett-Packard and layoffs began.

"I had been looking within the high-tech area, and the job market was just really, really soft. [I also] worked with a few headhunters and went to the Internet job boards and wasn't getting a good response at all," says Telaroli, 38. "In the meantime, I went to the franchise business opportunity show here in Houston and picked up information on various franchise companies."

While still employed at Compaq, Telaroli got a job offer from a company in San Diego but didn't want to move his family. Franchising was increasingly looking like his best option, and after some research, Telaroli discovered The Sports Section, a youth and sports photography franchise.

So when Telaroli was finally laid off, complete with severance package, he was up and running with his new franchise within a week, opening his homebased business in March 2003. Though taking pictures of Little League teams seems a far cry from creating marketing programs for a hardware manufacturer, Telaroli did see some connection. "I'm a creative person--an artist, really. I like to color and draw and paint," he says. "When we take pictures, every product is special and unique to that individual, so this business has a creative side to it."

Telaroli also takes advantage of his past experience when selling and marketing his franchise. He hires art students from local community colleges in the Tomball, Texas, area to handle the photography, giving him more time to call on athletic directors, coaches, schools and churches to line up clients.

Though just a few months into this venture, Telaroli is certain his corporate days are over. The corporate world "is a pretty challenging and stressful environment, and I didn't feel passionate about the job and really in touch with my customers," he says.

His new business not only brings Telaroli closer to his customers, but also gives him more time with his family. "I have my boys helping me in the business," he says. "[As a sales and marketing executive], it was hard for them to understand what I did in a business management position. But now they can see Dad carries a camera and has an office in the home . . . and they think it's pretty cool."

Ex-Employee Declares Independence

Charlie Goff just wanted to bring home enough money so his wife didn't have to work. Goff felt his job as a technician with Sears wouldn't help him achieve that goal, so in 1998, he started his own appliance repair company in Cedar Creek, Texas. While this was a step in the right direction, something wasn't clicking for Goff. "I had a vision for the business, and I had all the technical skills to do the work required, but I didn't have a business plan or any business experience," he says. "I knew what I wanted my business to look like. I just didn't know how to get there."

To bridge the gap between his business vision and reality, Goff, now 32, joined the Mr. Appliance franchise system in January 1999. "It was obvious I had no business experience and no time to go to college and learn the business while running it. So Mr. Appliance was a no-brainer for me," he says.

Though it wasn't always easy, Goff does feel his past experience as an employee gave him a head start in running his franchise. "It's a huge advantage because you may already have a lot of contacts, suppliers and vendors. You understand the industry, the demand. You understand what the customers are like, what they expect," he says. "It makes a big difference."

After four years, Goff has amassed enough business experience to branch out into other ventures, like real estate. "I still think about starting other businesses. Mr. Appliance is just the beginning for me," he says. "We're getting ready to build and open a retail site for our office, and we'll also have other businesses that can rent office space or retail space from us."

If he hadn't made the move to franchise ownership, Goff has little doubt he'd still be working as a technician, making money for someone else. Because he did make the move, Goff has managed to achieve his original goal, in addition to many others. "I'm able to provide a nice living for myself and my family," he says, "as well as the families of the people who work for my company."

Finding the Perfect Match
Buying a franchise may be starting to look a lot better than scouring the want ads or hoping for the best with your current job. So now what? "You need to develop a checklist of what you are willing to do and not [willing to] do, and what you are going to base your decision on," says Steve Hockett, president of FranChoice Inc., an Internet-based franchise referral network in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

According to Hockett, the first question on your checklist should be to determine whether franchising is the right fit for you. "Are you willing to follow a system? Because all franchise companies have very well-defined, well-developed systems," says Hockett.

If following a tried-and-true system works for you, next take a look at your finances. "Are you willing to invest your time and resources into a business and then work hard to make it profitable and successful?" Hockett says. "A franchise business is not a stock market investment--it's an active, not a passive investment. You have to work hard to make it pay off."

These questions just scratch the surface when considering franchising. You also need to consider any reservations your family may have about the investment of time and money you'll be required to make. In addition, think about what your goals are for the franchise. Do you want many locations with many employees, or would you be happy to run one location by yourself?

There does come a point, though, when you need to stop thinking and start doing. "If you don't make the leap, you never know if it's possible for you to have your own business," says Mr. Appliance franchisee Charlie Goff, in Cedar Creek, Texas. "I think someone looking into [franchising] may regret not at least being able to say 'Hey, I gave it a shot.'"

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