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Franchise Players: How a Martial Arts Franchise Energized This Couple's Relationship Pro Martial Arts franchisees John and Lisa Highberger talk consulting and communication.

By Kate Taylor

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Lisa and John Highberger -Pro Martial Arts
Lisa and John Highberger

Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, we're honoring power couples in franchising. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

For John and Lisa Highberger, running a business together means spending almost every hour of the day together, taking longer to make decisions and occasionally employing selective hearing. However, the duo who run Pro Martial Arts in Indian Land, S.C., say it's all worth it to run a business with your spouse. With tight and focused teamwork, running a business with your spouse can be a chance to energize your relationship. Here's now the Highbergers manage it.

Name: John and Lisa Highberger

Franchise owned: Pro Martial Arts in Indian Land, S.C.

How long you have owned the franchise?

We purchased 5 licenses in the Charlotte DMA (designated marketing area) in April 2013

Why franchising?

My husband and I have extensively used Six Sigma problem solving skills in our careers. One factor that results in success in business is having well defined efficient policies and procedures that result in standard work that is easy to follow and execute. We felt a franchise would provide the tools and structure that would facilitate our success in our first foray into a small business venture.

Related: Franchise Players: How This Franchisee Made Dumpsters a Family Business

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

John has held positions in facilities management, electronic services and operations management.

I have held positions as a Lean Six Sigma master black belt, director of operations and director of quality. Both of us have held roles in the defense and commercial manufacturing environments.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

We were looking for a non-food related opportunity that we could be proud of and would allow us to give back to the community. We had no desire to sell widgets, we wanted to be involved with a venture that helped enhance and improve lives. We have worked in many different roles and knew that the area where we had the least expertise was sales and marketing. It was important that the franchise we chose have a well laid out and defined sales and marketing structure to fill this gap in our skill sets.

How was the process of becoming a franchise owner different for a couple versus and individual?

In our case, John and I have different backgrounds and thought processes, it may take longer to make key decisions. However, we have found that the resulting business plan is stronger and has more paths for success.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

  • Franchise Fee $40,000
  • Fixed Assets $30,000
  • Lease & Security Deposits $9,000
  • Space Buildout $38,000
  • Marketing $17,000
  • Equipment & Supplies $5,700
  • Insurance $2,800
  • Professional Fees & Permits $17,500
  • Travel $11,000
  • Labor $8,000

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

For the franchise selection, we contacted a franchise broker/firm. They had us fill out a questionnaire that covered everything from our professional experience, interest, hobbies, amount of capital investment, etc. From there they presented three options for us to investigate. We participated in conference calls and webinars with each of the prospective franchises to find out more about their business model. Next, it was a matter of de-selection based on our own interest and what model we felt was most viable.

We then visited their home office because we felt it important to meet our potential business partner face to face to make sure we were a good fit with their organization since most franchises last longer than marriages. After the franchise selection and starting our site selection we received guidance and information from the Pro Martial Arts (PMA) corporate staff, other PMA franchisees, local business and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce.

Related: Franchise Players: Franchising Gave This Young b.good Owner Real-World Experience

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Finding the right retail space at a reasonable cost per square foot and build out cost that met the franchise specifications that is located in an area with the demographics we felt were key to the success of the dojo.

We were also surprised by the volume of local, state & federal regulations that had to be followed to get our business up and running. The South Carolina Business One Stop (SCBOS) portal was invaluable in facilitating this process.

What have been the biggest challenges and positives of running a business with your spouse?

The biggest challenges is that we spend almost all our waking hours together. It is important to have separate interests that allows a break from each other. Also, as with all married couples we probably do not always communicate as clearly with each other as we would a co-worker. The selective hearing of married life sometimes transitions into the business life. There is also the task of work assignments or delegation. You need to be sure who is handling what items so things don't get missed or duplicated.

The biggest positives are that we have a vested interest and are working toward the same goal. The teamwork is tighter and more focused. We are having fun we love working and watching the kids at the dojo grow. Being able to share making a positive impact on the community energizes our relationship.

What advice do you have for individuals and couples who want to own their own franchise?

Work with a reputable consultant to identify the right franchise. Choose something that you are passionate about. Life is too short for your career not to be fun and energizing. Get good legal counsel for the review of your franchise and lease agreements. Read everything.

What's next for you and your business?

We are working on finalizing the location of our second dojo. We plan to have all five locations open in the next five to six years.

Related: Franchise Players: A Complete Nutrition Franchisee on Learning to 'Be the Boss'

Kate Taylor


Kate Taylor is a reporter at Business Insider. She was previously a reporter at Entrepreneur. Get in touch with tips and feedback on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor. 

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