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A Picture-Perfect Opportunity

This mom used a franchise to cater to an underserved market.

This story appears in the June 2009 issue of Start Up.

"I can honestly tell you I never thought of owning my own ," says Suzanne Plafcan, 36. But after struggling to find a kid-friendly portrait studio to take pictures of her 4-year-old triplets in Blacksburg, Va., she took matters into her own hands and bought a Clix Portrait Studio franchise.

One glitch: Plafcan couldn't find real-estate space for her studio right away. So instead of waiting, she opened just the event-photography side of the business in March 2008. "It turned out to be the best thing I could have ever done," she says. It allowed her to keep costs down by working from home with only one employee. She was also able to introduce the Clix brand to her targeted demographic--parents with young children--by offering her photography services to day-care centers. She averaged $7,000 in sales a month, which helped when she finally opened her studio a few months later. Her accidental events-first model worked so well that Clix corporate now advises all its new franchisees to follow it.

Now that her studio is open, Plafcan delights in offering customers exactly the sort of kid-friendly environment she was looking for: a fun, brightly colored studio with unlimited shots, same-day prints and numerous digital touch-up and enhancement options. Her own children, she says, "always love coming to mommy's work." And though she never saw herself as a business owner before, Plafcan is as happy as her kids that she took a chance.

Opening the Doors to
When Norman Holtz lost his job as a senior-level executive in corporate America, he didn't let it get in the way of success. Instead, he used his experience as a former divisional CFO to find the perfect franchise and build it into a multimillion-dollar business.

After realizing the growth potential of Closets by Design, Norman, 53, and his wife Nadine, 50, decided the home organization company that designs and builds custom closets was the perfect franchise. So in 2002, they opened a store in Carlstadt, New Jersey. "I was looking for something that seemed scalable," Norman says. "I saw that you could build a substantial business without having to buy additional franchises. To me, that seemed unique."

At first, the Holtzes focused on sales, but they employed others for that role as their store grew; two-and-a-half years later, they hired their first sales manager. These days, Nadine trains new salespeople while Norman oversees the direction and growth of the business, which includes major manufacturing and construction components.

The industry has seen lean times recently, but being part of Closets by Design has been an advantage. "A lot of the companies that weren't franchised disappeared," Norman says, "and access to capital is so limited, it's going to be difficult for anyone new to come in."

For the Holtzes, the key to success has been attracting and retaining good people. Now, with 50 employees--including four managers--Norman says "getting out of the way" is a good rule of thumb. "Businesses can't grow if they remain mom-and-pop operations. Initially, I was the sales manager, but I was able to find someone who does it much better," he explains.

That strategy appears to be working: The Holtzes' franchise brings in annual sales of approximately $6 million. And as with their product, there's always room to expand.

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