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‘Market your buns off’ says finance pro turned Modern Acupuncture ‘zee


Shannon Tolbert, formerly with GE Capital Franchise Finance, now has two Modern Acupuncture units open in Arizona and one more in her plans.

When Shannon Tolbert, formerly a marketing exec with GE Capital Franchise Finance, decided to jump across the table and become a franchise owner, she quickly zeroed in on Modern Acupuncture and was set to buy a unit of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based emerging brand.

But first she reached out to a former client, Aslam Khan, the biggest operator of Church’s Chicken and former TGI Friday’s CEO, and asked for a meeting to get his advice. “And his first answer was, why are you getting just one? You’re a smart girl. You should get three to five of these,” she said.

So she did, financing the first one with her and her husband’s savings and an SBA loan and opening last June, and funding her second with cash flow and opening just three months later. “It’s exhausting and I don’t recommend it to you; I would say take a break and appreciate before you do another one,” she said.

“I want to breathe. I want to watch the two performing. My first location is breaking records, the third-highest revenue producer in the system” even at the nine-months-open point. The reason? “Don’t assume if you build it they will come. You have to market your buns off,” she said.

Tolbert, a vivacious person who gives focused and numbered answers to questions usually in groups of three, was looking at another system, a day spa, when she “got a call out of the blue” from Chad Everts, co-founder of Modern Acupuncture, and she quickly knew it was a fit. “First of all, I believe in the medicine. I was a patient of acupuncture long before I considered investing in a franchise. I also do feel like on the Western medicine side, we don’t do enough in combining Eastern medicine. We’re quick to pull out a prescription pad,” she said.

No. 2, she likes the model because it’s simple, “just acupuncture,” and “you don’t have to worry about a whole lot of people.” No. 3 is the leadership team. “They’re bright, they care about our patients and they care about our franchisees.”

Modern Acupuncture

Inside the Zen Den at Modern Acupuncture.

Surprises included “how long people take to make decisions in the commercial real estate space,” she said, and then what you unearth during buildout. For example, in her first clinic she wanted space that’s typically in the back of a store for employees’ breaks to be in the front, which serves as a lobby area for arriving patients. “But there’s digging involved, there’s things you don’t consider. I find out later you have to pay a lot of money to drop a ceiling 25 or 30 feet.”

For other corporate employees thinking of making the leap to franchise ownership, she boils her advice down to two tips. “The first thing is, make sure you’re serious. Don’t make it whimsical and I know that sounds weird, but some people make rash decisions.”

No. 2: “Do the math,” and figure out how not to take a salary for at least a year. “It’s not typical to cash flow within one year. There are people that I’ve talked to, they’re doing draws,” meaning taking compensation out of the business before it’s profitable. “That means your cash flow and break even is further down the line. I’m not willing to do that,” she says, although she admits that wait can be painful to people used to nice salaries directly deposited in their bank account every 15 days.

“I am working incredible hours for zero pay. It’s quite an investment, right? It’s an investment of finances and time and energy,” she said, but she has no regrets. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is bright.”

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