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How My Franchise Went From a Side Gig to a Fulltime Career When I Lost My Job Earl Wise opened a Famous Sams Hair Salon as a way to make extra income, but it became much more than that when he lost his job as an auto industry executive.

By Kate Taylor

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Earl Wise
Earl Wise

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When Earl Wise bought his first Fantastic Sams location, it was just a side gig. His main job was working in the auto industry, as a high-level executive. That all changed when Wise lost his job when the auto industry took a beating in 2008. Fortunately, Wise had his Fantastic Sams locations to fall back on. Here's what he has learned.

Name: Earl Wise

Franchise owned (location): Fantastic Sams Hair Salons in Brighton and Monroe, Mich.

Related: The Need to Understand Why You Do Something, Instead of Just How You Do It

How long have you owned a franchise?

For 13-plus years. I started with a brand new location in Monroe and then had the opportunity to purchase two more (in Brighton and Adrian, Michigan) in a package deal. We eventually sold the Adrian location to some friends who lived closer to the salon and were able to devote more time to that location. The Brighton, Mich. location is currently the No. 1 Fantastic Sams in the country.

Why franchising?

I wanted to get into a small business that has a proven track record for success. I had never owned my own business and knew that getting into a franchise would provide me guidance and coaching along the way. I also didn't want to start a small "no name" business that no one had heard of. Name recognition can go a long way when starting a new business and building clientele. Fantastic Sams has training for all new franchisees and recommends that all new owners attend the Salon Fundamentals Training Course, which helps to set you up for success from the beginning. With franchising you get better advertising than what you could typically do on your own, as well as an abundance of advice from fellow franchisees.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

At the time, I was working in the auto industry as an account manager for a supplier to the "Big Three" and others, working 40 to 50 hours a week and living paycheck to paycheck. I knew I wanted to do something on the side to build a stable nest egg for the future, to get ahead in life and plan for early retirement. I needed to create my plan B.

I didn't even have enough money to get started on my own. However, I was fortunate enough to have a father who had just retired and was willing to invest time and money and go into business with me. We discussed this in great detail before making the decision to jump in. When the automotive industry took a significant downturn from 2008 to 2010, I was one of the unfortunate people to lose my job. My plan B became my plan A!

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I researched several franchises and too many of them required a much larger financial backing than we were willing to invest. After interviewing multiple current owners within the Fantastic Sams Franchise we made the decision to move forward with our first location. Fantastic Sams has a great supporting network from the regional level on up to the national level.

The continuing education that they offer to the staff of the salons is vital to recruiting and training the right people and keeping them up on new hair styling trends. At most other salons, the stylist are responsible for cost of continued education, which makes it more difficult for them to want to engage and continue to learn.

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

About $120,000, which included $40,000 worth of equipment, a $30,000 build-out, $5,000 in inventory, working capital of $10,000 and another $10,000 in miscellaneous costs.

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

My father, John Wise, was a successful CEO of a large manufacturing business and had a great sense of business and understanding cost, cash flow, profitability, etc. His business experience alone and the time he took to educate me was extremely beneficial. We also interviewed several current owners of Fantastic Sams Hair Salons here in Michigan and in Georgia. We had a goal and a vision of always being the best and finding a way to get there.

Related: Ditching a Desk Job for a Career as a Fitness Franchisee

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

The single toughest challenge of this business is being non-technical (I do not hold a cosmetology license). I can't just step behind the chair and take over when someone calls off sick or when we are extremely busy. I had to work hard to build a talented team of professionals. At times finding the right talent to fit into the culture can be a challenge. With the Brighton, Mich. location being No. 1 in the country for 12 years in a row and employing 28 stylists, it is imperative to have professional oriented stylists that can work well together. If you have a staff that doesn't get along, major problems will arise. Your staff must believe in you in order to support you. Culture is everything.

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

Do your homework, create a detailed business plan, interview several current owners and then interview more. Find out what makes them successful and what challenges they have encountered. Understand all the pros and cons of that exact business. Make sure that you will have full support from your regional/national levels and that they are there to support you leading up to opening and beyond. Most of all, make sure that you pick a location that is set up for high traffic and other businesses that can build upon one another.

What's next for you and your business?

Our goal is to focus on the two and make them even more successful than they are. Managing my business is my priority. I want to provide the best guest experience we possibly can.

Related: Finding a Franchise Where a Banker and a Decorator Can Work Together

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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