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How I Did It

3 franchisees share their stories of perseverance and innovation.

This story appears in the January 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

How I Turned My Denny's Green
Joey Terrell, Mokena, Ill.

For years I've been looking at ways to reduce energy consumption at my Denny's in Mokena, and when I had the opportunity to build a new franchise in Joliet, I took the opportunity to learn about green building. Denny's said, 'You can do this, but bring it in at or near the normal cost of a Denny's. If it's good, we'd like to incorporate ideas into the system.' There were delays--there were lots of new things for the tradesmen to figure out, but we came in $40,000 under what a normal Denny's cost. Skylights let us reduce our lighting by 85 percent during the day, a white roof keeps it cool in the summer, high R-value insulation cuts our heating costs. It's one of the few LEED-certified restaurants in the country, and I estimate we're saving $20,000 in utilities per year. services use 285 percent more utilities per square foot than other businesses. There's a god-awful lot of room to save money in restaurants.

How I Got Funded Without an Loan
Amy Lankford, Plano, Texas

My husband, Greg, was in the military, spending nine months in Iraq, and I wanted to have a business ready for him when he returned, so I started saving money to buy a franchise. I went through VetFran and signed a contract for a Signs Now business. Around the same time, I lost my job, so I couldn't save as much as I'd hoped. Things were coming down to the wire last August, and I was getting nervous. The SBA loans I'd applied for were turned down by two banks. So I went to FranFund, and they explained in 15 minutes that there was no way I'd ever qualify for an SBA loan. Instead, within four days, they helped us incorporate. Then we converted our IRAs that we'd built up while working in the into a 401(k) trust and ordered the 401(k) to invest in our Signs Now franchise. Our 401(k) bought a $130,000 interest, and we issued ourselves stock certificates. We were literally investing in ourselves. Having our money work for us is awesome.

How I Survived a Franchisor Bankruptcy
Hendrik Vosloo, Carrollwood, Fla.

Three years ago, my wife, Lorette, and I were looking to do something for ourselves. We found the Cork and Olive--a gourmet wine and olive oil store--and liked the concept, so we bought a franchise. Soon after, things didn't seem kosher, but we thought most companies go through financial problems. Then things got worse. We couldn't get our bestselling wines, and we weren't getting anything new. We'd been running the store for a year and a half when the company filed Chapter 11, in October 2008. What do you do? We said we're going to continue on, on our own path. We kept the name, but we retooled, got better wine and held more tastings. In January 2009, another group tried to revive the franchise--I knew it wouldn't last--and it declared Chapter 7 in March. We lost the major advantage of being part of a franchise--volume pricing--and we needed a second revenue stream, so we started a wine tasting bar last summer and brought in gourmet food. We're happy with the store and happy being independent, but is it working out? Who the heck knows? We're struggling, but so is every other business. I don't think we could have started this store without a franchisor involved. It did teach us the basics. But it's not necessarily a bad thing if your franchisor goes away. We might have told them to take a hike anyway.

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