Success… It Starts and Grows with a Vision

In a recent interview, I was asked my opinion about why some Private Equity firms fail in their efforts at operating what was originally considered a successful franchise system, while others take the system to even higher levels of success… As you’ll see by my response below, I actually started at the end and worked backwards. But in the end there is a common theme and its built around relationships, or lack thereof. Certainly, systems play a big part in the success equation but losing sight of “people” is a sure way to create a disconnect, even within the most perfect systems. My response and theory may be too simple for many to agree, but I do feel it lends towards the foundation of any successful business in one way, shape, fashion or form.

“All too often you hear about founders buying out the Private Equity firm. I personally, know of two that have done so recently, and for different reasons. And, even though only one was a franchise company, there was a common denominator in the circumstances that had developed within the organizations that led to the founders deciding to buy out the PEs… the “parent” company lost sight of its relationship with its “employees & franchisees” and the end-users, “clients & customers”.

My opinion is that “true” mom & pop operations are typically built upon the foundation of relationships, and it’s the strength of those relationships that build the foundation of a strong organization complete with common beliefs, values and mission. It definitely becomes an interdependent relationship. I have rarely seen that occur when PEs get involved where it’s more numbers, numbers, numbers. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are important. But, it’s the lack of balance between driving towards making the numbers and building relationships that is often missing. Ultimately causing rifts in the organization with the customer or client feeling the lingering effect of diminishing service levels.

Let’s look at a similar situation that occurs all too often in a very typical mom and pop setting even without the inclusion of a PE in the equation. Mom and Pop have run a very successful business for 25 years. They have done quite well over the years, building the business very methodically, never taking on too much debt at any one time. But still progressive in growing to meet customer demands. Sure, their product or service stands out as excellent. But it’s the relationships they have fostered over the years that have truly made the business successful.

Looking ahead, Mom and Pop have structured a very strong succession plan. Junior has gotten his MBA and is primed to take over the business. In fact, Pop has insisted that Junior also work five or so years out in the corporate world so he can gain some hands-on experience, and mature. Mom and Pop have met with their attorney and CPA and have everything in place for Junior to take over the family business. What’s next is a situation that occurs all too often when Mom and Pop are no longer in the picture.

Junior, complete with new ideas, a wealth of education, and some successful business experience, begins operating the business. He introduces new technology, replacing the antiquated systems that had been in place since day one. Junior streamlined operations, improved inventory control, and basically tweaked here and there to the point that the business appeared to be transformed to a business that appeared bigger than it was – almost like it was a part of a national chain.

Initially, customers loved the transformation and the buzz within town was full of praise and admiration for the family. But what transpires over the next few years as things begin to change as the business becomes less personal and more structured is actually the beginning of the end.

Strict policies have been put in place for both customers and employees. Product and service lines have become more defined, but at the expense of some customer favorites being eliminated. Customer service, having become more automated has reduced the necessity of a large staff. In-store signage has taken over where courteous employees once stood. Well, the list goes on… to the point of the business losing sight of people and relationships. Employee turnover continues to increase. Customers’ faces are no longer familiar. And, when a true national chain opens on the edge of town, foot-traffic starts to diminish.

You see, with all the great succession planning that Mom and Pop painstakingly put into place, they missed a key component to the success of the business. And when Junior transformed the business he also lost sight of that key component. It basically comes down to WWPD… “What Would Pop Do?”

WWPD is basically the relationship part of the business. To put it simply, Pop knew when to put his arm around an employee. Pop knew when to come out from behind the counter. Pop knew how to make a customer feel special. Pop knew to carry certain items that some of his “regulars” loved. And, again, the list goes on… Pop knew, but Junior didn’t. It’s the classic example of the disconnect between WWPD and MBA, and it’s a similar disconnect between a founder-run business and a PE-operated business.

Now, I’m not saying that it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done… meaning the sale of a successful business to a PE. Absolutely, it’s the American Way! Instead, along with the financial and legal succession plan needs to be a visionary succession plan that basically outlines and teaches, “What Would Pop Do?”

So, in addressing the original question, let’s just insert Mom and Pop for the franchise, the employees and customers for the franchisees, and Junior for the PE… and the scenario fittingly plays out.”

Entrepreneur vs. Businessperson: Is there a Difference?

sharks1This year the hit ABC reality television show Shark Tank aired its 100th episode, making it the highest rated show on Friday night. Shark Tank, now in its sixth season, is amongst the top most watched reality shows on television. The shows panel usually consists of it’s recurring millionaire and billionaire venture capitalists: Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban.

If you haven’t already seen the show, the way it works is that these venture capitalists are presented with new ideas, inventions and services from new businesses that are seeking investments. The people that enter the “Tank” are given the chance to present these VC’s, or “Sharks” as they are known on the show, with an opportunity to invest in their companies.

Many of the people who walk into the “Tank” are told by the “Sharks” that their business is not a business and that they are not even entrepreneurs. Some are dumbfounded when they hear this because they believe that they are serious entrepreneurs—not just another businessperson looking to make a buck.

So what exactly differentiates an entrepreneur from a businessperson? An entrepreneur is defined as, “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” A businessperson is defined as, “a man or woman who works in business or commerce, especially at an executive level.” Although the two seem closely related, they actually differ on a major level. In order to understand this concept, we’ll have to use the “Sharks” themselves as examples.

sharks2Kevin O’Leary earned his way to fame and fortune by building his educational software company SoftKey, right out of college. As his empire grew, he eventually acquired The Learning Company for over $600 million—taking the name as well. Eventually, O’Leary sold his business to a company called Mattel for $3.8 billion in a stock swap. In 2003, O’Leary moved on to his next venture, Storage Now, which was later acquired for $110 million.

O’Leary now sits on several boards and operates as an advisor to many companies. O’Leary eventually made his way to the Shark Tank after the success of his other show Dragon’s Den, which Shark Tank is modeled after. O’Leary is known as “Mr. Wonderful” on the show for his outlandish and often brutal honesty—as he so puts. He approaches his investment decisions with the cold hard truth that he believes some ideas are just not meant to be businesses.

sharks3Robert Herjavec got his start by building up his Internet security empire, BRAK Systems, until he eventually sold it to AT&T Canada in 2000. After an early retirement, Herjavec found his way back to the Internet security world when he founded The Herjavec Group in 2003, where he currently operates as the CEO. Herjavec also started out on Dragon’s Den with O’Leary and now holds a recurring spot on Shark Tank. Herjavec appears to be more optimistic than the other “Sharks”, with more of a sensitive side. Maybe it’s the fact that his working-class father immigrated to America in pursuit of the “American Dream” and taught him that hard work pays off—which he’s used as the model for his success.

sharks4Daymond John, who is most famously known for his start-up company FUBU, which he grew with the help of celebrity endorsement and a mortgage from his Mother’s house. John built FUBU into the global empire it is today, with global sales at over six billion to date. Although he is known to be a more reserved “Shark,” taking careful consideration before jumping on a deal, John is known to have a compassionate side and one that has been seen before on Shark Tank.

sharks5Barbara Corcoran built her empire with nothing more than a mere $1,000 loan that she used to start her real estate company The Corcoran Group—which she co-founded. In 2001, Corcoran sold her company to NRT Incorporated for $66 million. Corcoran is responsible for pioneering many revolutionary techniques that changed the real estate market. Corcoran is a wild one—the fun-loving “Shark,” who astounds the others with her business decisions but somehow always proves that she still has her business swagger.

sharks6Lori Greiner began her career with the invention of a revolutionary jewelry box that was capable of holding over 100 earrings. Greiner is now known as the “Queen of QVC”, since she has helped launch over 400 products via the network and holds over 120 U.S. and international patents. She is also the president and CEO of the company For Your Ease Only. Greiner is a savvy investor who has helped grow hundreds of companies. She is a force to be reckoned with—despite her physical appearance she is not to be underestimated.

sharks7Mark Cuban, the richest of the “Sharks”, made his billions despite some claims that were ultimately defeated in court, with the start of his company MicroSolutions in the 1980’s. In 1990, Cuban sold his company for $6 million. After that, Cuban moved on to his next venture AudioNet, which became and eventually sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion. Cuban is probably the deadliest of the “Sharks,” with the biggest bite. He’s known for his ruthless execution and ability to swoop in at any moment and steal a deal right from another “Shark’s” mouth. Although this is true, Cuban has been known to drop out of the race if he feels he can’t contribute more than another “Shark.”

As far as the term entrepreneur is concerned, assuming that it’s not as subjective an idea, but more literal: Mark, Kevin and Robert seem to fit this definition best as opposed to Barbara, Lori and Daymond. The reason for this is due to the fact that these people have started their companies, sold them and started new ones, continuing this trend indefinitely. Daymond is sort of in the middle since his claim to fame is mostly FUBU. Barbara and Lori predominantly gained success from one business, which generated most of their wealth, later allowing them to invest in future companies.

At some point in their lives I believe that all of these “Sharks” were full-time entrepreneurs but as time progressed and success achieved, Barbara and Lori, and to some extent, John actually “switched” positions and became businesspeople, just managing their day to day operations, investing in some other companies, but letting others follow through on the vision, actually passing the entrepreneurial torch on to the next eager person, or better stated, igniting the entrepreneurial torch for others.

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Social Networking & Franchise Lead Generation Revisited

In light of discussions at this year’s International Franchise Association Convention about “new” ways of generating franchise candidate leads, and as I continue to field an influx of questions from start up and emerging franchisors trying to find a “silver bullet” to jump-start franchise sales, I am again sharing the following article I wrote back in 2011 as the principles continue to apply to this day. Actually, they may apply even more today as more and more have adopted social networking platforms as major sources of securing information and for communicating.

Social Networking and Lead Generation

We’re often asked if social networking can be utilized effectively for franchise lead generation purposes. Well, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

When working on a lead generation project, establishing objectives is paramount to the success of the overall strategy. Assuming the strategy has been developed, complete with establishing an ideal candidate profile and identifying specific geographic areas for expansion, we typically proceed as follows:

First, we focus on networking groups that include individuals that best fit our client’s ideal candidate profile. From there we drill down to individuals in the geographic area we’re targeting per our plan. Let’s say teachers fit my candidate profile. we would search out networking groups specific to teachers, education, etc. Then, we would participate in discussion groups to get a feel for the group and to be noticed and subsequently accepted within the group. There’s always a spin one could use to achieve this objective.

Next, we seek out members from the specific geographic areas we’re targeting and begin communicating what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish… to generate interest in a specific franchise opportunity. Sometimes there’s interest right there in the group. Often, it’s a referral that we get that makes the effort within that group worthwhile.

We also focus on groups that can provide me with referrals such as insurance agents, realtors, financial planners and attorneys. Again, if you’re proactive within networking groups it’s relatively easy to enlist support and gather information. Again, there has been some interest from members of these groups but it’s amazing how many times we’ve been referred to an interested party who lives in another part of the country that is willing to jump at an opportunity in my target area. You see, the fact that it stems from a referral is key!

Lead generation through social networking takes time and effort no doubt. However, once you’re proactive within networking groups, you almost end up with a snowball effect as the leads come in bunches. Some leads start out by simply posting a thought provoking discussion with some back and forth interaction with a responder and the responder saying,”what is it that you do?” Next thing you know, you’re discussing an opportunity and the door is wide open.

Most times however, it takes considerably more effort, but we’ve found people are networking online and participating in discussion groups for specific reasons. They’re all looking to expand their business, improve their position, seek out various types of opportunities, and make money. Attracting these individuals online sure beats running an ad in the local paper and waiting for the phone to ring!

Financial Performance Representations in Digital Space – Friend or Foe to Franchising?

At what point do you believe a Financial Performance Representation crosses the line outside franchise disclosure requirements?

As discussed at various break-out sessions during the recent IFA Convention, social media has created many opportunities to present and discuss franchise opportunities across and through multiple channels, often linking from one social media platform to another. As many franchisors jockey for a competitive edge and increase their social media efforts, it’s important not to lose sight of franchise disclosure requirements.

The practice of embedding financial information within online press releases, blogs and even within Facebook posts, appears to be growing. Certainly, publishing this information by itself doesn’t create an FPR. But, directly or indirectly referring candidates to the information is an FPR, and if the information is not part of a franchisor’s Item 19, it becomes an improper FPR.

Considering the linking capabilities within social media, often to the point of creating a cross-platform, multi-tiered effect, some so-called, self-professed industry professionals apparently believe they can get away with improper FPRs. Especially, as social media is still “relatively new” and growing into new areas, misunderstood by many, and virtually under the radar of most authorities.

It appears the thought is, if enforcement of franchise disclosure is lacking in traditional areas, social media has become the new wild west!

Beyond the obvious illicit practices and potential ramifications to unsuspecting franchise candidates, what also causes reason for concern is the impression it makes upon start-up franchisors that follow suit – often, not even realizing the practice may be improper. After all, they see it being done by individuals who they believe are reputable franchise professionals. So, why not follow the same practice that they unsuspectingly come to believe is actually a best practice?

Sure, everyone is responsible for their own actions, and ignorance is not a legal defense. However, if these illicit practices continue within franchising, more and more will participate to the point of it becoming a common practice, with many believing it has become a best practice. Momentum picks up with so-called thought-leaders promoting the practice as an effective lead generation strategy, influencing even more franchisors. Some will be unsuspecting. Some will just jump on the bandwagon.

At what point will these practices be considered to be out-of-control and intolerable, and detrimental to franchising?

Controlled Growth Key to Success for New Franchise Concepts!

Working with entrepreneurs exploring franchising as a business expansion strategy, I’m often asked the question, “How does a new franchise company sell franchises without brand recognition?” Here are my thoughts…

Initially, the founder is the brand. It’s his or her passion for the business. It’s how he or she treats customers and employees alike. It’s how the business is promoted within the local market. Not just through typical advertising efforts, but through solid grassroots, organic efforts.

The initial franchise candidates are actually the “low hanging fruit” of the original business. These are the customers that inquire whether or not the business is a franchise and how they can learn more about owning their own. Most are interested because the business appears to be thriving and they’ve seen the owner (founder) time and again, always smiling and shaking hands. Public Relations efforts should ensure this occurs.

They admire the owner a great deal and will base their decision to open a franchise location, on the potential of establishing a relationship with the owner. They’ll compare the opportunity to other franchises and justify to themselves that they’re in on a ground floor opportunity with a direct line to the founder. As such, they feel their probability of success is greater because their location will be in the home office city and if they need help, they could easily approach the founder and the home office because of the proximity to their franchise location.

Ideally, the next few franchisees will also be in the same market as the original business and the first franchise location. It’s prudent to only expand locally until critical mass is established in the market, ad cooperative is developed and support systems are perfected. Now the concept is ready to expand outside the initial market.

However, it is often financial suicide to entertain requests from candidates all over the country. Instead, development efforts should be concentrated on one or two cities relatively close to home office city. For instance, if original business and home office is in Houston, the natural progression would be to promote the opportunity next in San Antonio/Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth areas.

As these markets start to become established with franchise locations, it’s advisable to promote the concept in another two or three areas. Maybe, explore another “hub” and “spoke” scenario. Let’s say, Atlanta as the next hub.

Expansion efforts should be the same as they were in Houston and expansion out of that market shouldn’t occur until Atlanta has a critical mass. Then, when that occurs, the opportunity could be promoted close by in Nashville and Charlotte. Now, you see the spokes of national expansion beginning to form.

While this is going on, maybe inquiries start coming in from the San Francisco area. So, the next phase of expansion might be in the Bay Area. The Bay Area becomes another hub, and once developed, the franchise opportunity could be promoted up the road in Portland and to the East in Sacramento and the process continues.

It’s all about controlled growth and the founder exhibiting tremendous restraint in expanding too fast and in areas far away from his core group and subsequent hubs to be able to provide ample support, create ad cooperatives and build the brand geographically. Chances of franchise success are far greater at all levels of the franchise organization within the parameters of a controlled plan of development.

So, to answer the often-asked question directly, I suggest everyone in the system having a clear understanding of the founder’s vision and if it includes anything but a controlled development plan with his or her firm commitment to actively participate in the franchise sales process, the chances of selling the first ten to twenty franchises will be a frustrating, monumental task that most likely will fail miserably.