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A Day in the Life

Tag along with these three franchisees for a day, and see what it's really like to own your own franchise.

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You may have noticed the recent spate of reality shows following the lives of certain celebrities or people with particularly interesting jobs. As the cameras trail, the glitz and glamour is peeled away to reveal a more realistic view of what life is like for the subject. And more often than not, we see it takes hard work, self-discipline and an organized schedule to be successful.

Before investing in a franchise, don't you wish you could know what it's really like to oversee an operation? Beyond the brochures, propaganda and franchisor spiel, no one can explain what it's like to run a franchise like a franchisee. We found three franchise owners who were kind enough to pull back their franchise curtains to give you a peek into what a day in the life of owning their franchise entails. Roll tape!

Pet Project

Today, Nancy Roddy, owner of Camp Bow Wow in Castle Rock, Colorado, joins her staff at the 6:30 a.m. kickoff of the dog boarding and day-camp franchise, when the dog boarders are let into the outdoor areas of the 10,000-square-foot building before breakfast. The boarders are digesting their meals in their "private cabins" as the day-care dogs start arriving at 7 a.m. "This is always my favorite part," says Roddy, 42, who points out one of her favorite dogs, Buster the boxer.

In 2003, Roddy boarded her beagle, Daisy, at the Denver Camp Bow Wow. The positive experience prompted her to become a franchisee later that year. "They made me feel like my dog was the most special dog on earth," recalls Roddy. She now strives to provide that same comforting feeling to all her clients.

Though it took time to transition from the quiet tranquility of her former job--working at home, doing accounting for her parents' oil and gas company--to the rowdy, bark-filled Camp Bow Wow building, she says, "Every time I see tails wagging, I just smile." Roddy notes that the franchisor helped her get her business up and running--including assisting her with securing her location and certifying her in pet first aid. Franchise representatives also assisted her during her opening week.

Roddy now counts about 40 to 50 regulars, while averaging about 20 to 25 day-care dogs a day, so she sees plenty of wagging tails. She was also used to having weekends and holidays off, which isn't possible with this franchise.

During the day, when dogs misbehave, "we discipline them with a squirt bottle, or [we] bang two metal bowls to break up a fight," says Roddy. She and her staff clean and disinfect the kennels, prepare meals, do paperwork and conduct interviews for prospective day-campers and boarders.

Once day-campers start getting picked up at 4:30 p.m., Roddy and her employees begin the daily spray-down of the yards. Other chores, like trash disposal, mopping and sweeping, must be completed before the 7 p.m. closing time. Boarders are taken outside for their last bathroom break before retreating to their cabins for treats and bedtime. Finally, the Camp Bow Wow staff puts on soothing classical music to relax the tired pooches and turns off the lights so they can slumber in a calm, temperature-controlled environment.

Even if Roddy isn't covering a shift, she is on site every day to make sure everything's going smoothly, often with Daisy and her other beagle, Cooper, in tow. And when she's home doing bookkeeping, she watches via the webcam on Camp Bow Bow's website. Roddy acknowledges the dog business requires hard work, and finding employees who truly love working with dogs can sometimes be a challenge, but offers, "It's such a happy place. It's fun to know the dogs are having such a good time."

Computer Can-Do

After Barbara Gallo's children start their school day, she focuses on her other kids--students of her Computertots/Computer Explorers franchise. She starts by checking messages, e-mails and the online bulletin boards around 8:30 a.m. from her home office in Beacon Falls, Connecticut.

Gallo, 41, decided on the tech education franchise because of her background in early childhood development and her computer skills. More important, the franchise allows her to spend more time at home with her kids, something her former job did not. Today, Gallo is stopping work early to attend her daughter's track meet; other days, she's able to enjoy her pastimes of horseback riding and running.

While she swears no day is the same, today, she's taking care of work primarily in her office, as she does three days a week. She calls day-care centers or schools, mails preliminary information to directors of organizations interested in meeting with her, and writes proposals for those who've already agreed to add Computertots to their curriculum.

When she's not in the office, Gallo spends her whole day cold calling. After mapping out a number of day-care centers or schools, Gallo drives to the locations and talks to the directors about Computertots. "I just stop by to keep my name out there," she says.

Occasionally, one of her eight regu-lar teachers is unable to teach a class. If Gallo can't find a suitable substitute, she packs up her laptop, software and handouts, and heads to the facility to teach it herself. Each Computertots franchisee needs to know how to teach all the classes offered.

Gallo doesn't have a teacher to handle some of the more technical after-school or camp programs like robotics, so she just plans on teaching them herself. "You really have to know what you're doing, know the program and be able to manage a classroom of 10 to 15 kids," says Gallo, who offers more than 20 different classes a week at 25 different locations. The basic Computertots class runs a half-hour, while after-school programs and summer camps may be several hours a day for a week, or once a week in a multiweek session.

Gallo's husband, Greg, bought the franchise with her, but continues to work for the state of Connecticut and as a part-time police officer. At 46, he's preparing for retirement, but the couple is waiting for their franchise to be more financially secure before Greg devotes himself to it full time. Meanwhile, he's helping out in his off hours. He processes credit card payments and checks, and before the monthly teacher/staff meetings, Greg organizes the paperwork to hand out and the software programs the teachers need for their classes. Both husband and wife work on organizing which programs to run at different locations. When they offer their summertime camp programs, including the robotics class, Greg will get the robotics sets organized. "It's kind of crazy," muses Barbara Gallo. "You do things you don't think you're going to do when you buy the business."

Today, Gallo finishes work around 5 p.m. But sometimes she has to head back into her office after dinner and work a few more hours. Still, Gallo helps her children with homework or projects before going back to work, creating a good balance between her work and family life. Says Gallo, "They know they can reach me if they need to, but they also understand if the door is closed, I'm working."

Organization is key for her and any Computertots franchisee. While franchisees may need to play the part of teacher, a business background is helpful, especially when it comes to marketing. Now she's working with fellow franchisees in her state to promote Computertots and sees that in teaching others, she's learned a lot as well.

Food for Thought

Being on Arizona time may mean not worrying about daylight-saving time changes, but Mark Roden always minds the clock. The multiunit Subway and Cold Stone Creamery franchisee rises by 5 a.m. to work out before starting the workday at his home office. Since Subway's headquarters is in Connecticut, which can be two or three hours ahead, it's not unusual for Roden to have conference calls scheduled as early as 6 or 7 a.m. He also spends a solid 40 to 45 minutes checking e-mails from Subway, Cold Stone, their organizations he's involved with, his office staff, job applicants and more--all while eating breakfast. "And if my 2-year-old is up," says Roden, 47, "her breakfast, my e-mail and Barney are all going on at once."

He may now own 53 Arizona Subway restaurants and four Cold Stone Creameries, but Roden's path to multiunit glory began in 1987 with the sudden death of his father. Roden, then a grocery store manager, took time to examine what was important to him. He remembers, "The last time I saw my father, he expressed a desire for my brother and me to take a shot at owning our own business." As fate would have it, a year later, Roden's then-brother-in-law asked him if he was interested in purchasing a Subway together. Roden agreed and managed to expand to an impressive three units within 71 days. From there, he just kept growing (his partner has since left).

Today, Roden leaves home around 8 a.m. for the office in Phoenix. He takes his first appointments at 9 a.m., meeting with a vendor or supplier. On the few days a month he's blocked out to not have appointments, he uses the morning to meet with his direct reports, who must touch base with him weekly, preferably face-to-face. Roden may discuss a variety of matters in these meetings, perhaps sign a contract--he's the only one in his organization authorized to do so--or even conduct an employee review.

Once a month, he has a morning-long meeting with a core group of 12: his Subway supervisors, his HR person, his accountant and his assistant. With all his involvement with Subway and Cold Stone on the corporate level, Roden is often privy to new changes he can share with the others. He also tries to ensure they reach out and use him as a resource rather than avoid him when issues arise. "I view my position as philosophical," explains Roden. "I set the tone for what we want to be as an organization, how we want to treat our people. I'm fairly results-oriented, but fairly hands-off."

Roden likes to take his employees out or catch up with friends at lunch, but often relents to meeting with outside vendors. As the afternoon arrives, Roden is already focused on completing any business that might have to reach Subway before its East Coast closing time. Then, Roden shifts his focus to West Coast's closing time.

Roden has almost 60 leases, and one always seems to be coming up for renewal, so he often has to work with landlords on those deals. He also looks into travel arrangements for meetings, such as the Subway advertising meeting he's attending in California. In the afternoons, Roden also tries to visit one of his restaurants and actually work behind the counter. "I do that primarily to stay close to the brand, not because they really need me there," Roden says. After putting in some hands-on work, he ends his workday around 6 p.m., then returns home to spend a half- hour on e-mail.

Roden's schedule may seem relentless, but it's a big improvement over his first year of franchising--he only took three days off and even worked on Thanksgiving. "[On Thanksgiving, I] did pretty good business, but I learned that family is more important than dollars," Roden reflects.

When other franchisees find out just how big of a multiunit operator Roden is, there's always a similar reaction. He acknowledges his operation has allowed him to acquire a "certain level of income," but doesn't want to mislead others to think bigger automatically means better. "People are pushed into growth by a vision," says Roden. "But quality of life can be a really important issue, [especially] when you're growing."

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