Must-answer question: Who’s the boss?
Co-existing in a marriage is different from operating a business together, as Mike and Linda Boyd discovered the hard way. You can’t both be in charge of the same thing is their mantra today, at Instant Imprints.
It’s not uncommon for spouses to run their franchise business together, but to do so successfully requires both partners take on the roles best suited to their skills and personalities. That’s easier said than done, as Mike and Linda Boyd discovered, but with honest conversation about strengths and weaknesses—and establishing clear roles—it is possible.
“We’re similar people but we don’t think the same way,” says Mike Boyd, with wife Linda.
It wasn’t until Mike and Linda became owners of two McDonald’s franchises in 1996 that they learned coexisting in a marriage is quite different from operating a business together.
“We learned we didn’t work very well together,” says Mike, “at least not in that setting. We’re similar people but we don’t think the same way. Linda is a true front-line operations person. I’m a long-term planner more focused on future development. She likes to focus more on customer service and developing relationships on that side.”
It didn’t help that there was no clear distinction of who held the boss role, and the couple struggled with overlapping responsibilities before leaving the McDonald’s system in 2001.
Though Mike and Linda say they’re not just husband and wife but also best friends, FranChoice consultant Meg Schmitz points out it’s not enough to simply know and like each other—to have a successful family business you have to pinpoint one another’s weaknesses as well as strengths.
“In a family, because you know each other so well, you need to focus on getting the right personalities in the right places,” she says. “You have to take it further than a surface conversation.”
The Boyds did so, and today at their Instant Imprints franchise in Louisville, Colorado, the situation is completely different.
“She’s the boss and she has the final say,” explains Mike of Linda’s ownership role since signing on with the San Diego-based screen printing and promotional marketing company in 2004. “I’ve worked for her doing screen printing and some business development part-time, but it’s Linda that has to approve the expenditures and give the OK.”
It didn’t hurt that it was actually Mike who matched Linda with Instant Imprints. After selling the McDonald’s stores, Mike bought his second franchise, The Entrepreneur’s Source, and became a coach and matchmaker for entrepreneurs and franchise businesses. Linda credits his guidance in choosing Instant Imprints for the right reasons.
“Initially I approached it from more of an emotional side,” says Linda. “I’d worn logo wear my whole life, usually huge men’s shirts tucked in down to my knees, so I thought I’d like to create something better. When I was looking at Instant Imprints, I just thought it’d be fun to do.”
Putting his coach training to work, Mike made sure Linda considered what he calls his key questions when choosing a franchise.
“Typically people focus on facts, figures and numbers,” says Mike. “These are not unimportant, but they won’t make you happy.” Instead, Mike asked his wife to think about: Who are the customers? “And would you like dealing with them?” How do we get more of those customers? And what does your job look like if you’re the owner?
Instant Imprints was ultimately the right fit, and Linda opened the store while Mike continued with The Entrepreneur’s Source until 2009. That’s when lessons learned from the couple’s previous experience were put to the test as Mike came to work for Linda. It was a bit rocky at first.
“Linda might be a candidate for the crappiest trainer ever,” Mike says with a laugh. “We really had some trouble when she had to train me on something. And we never really found a good way to do it other than just fight our way through it. And I mean that literally.”
Disagreements are unavoidable, agrees Schmitz, and stress is inherent in running a business—especially with a spouse. “But ultimately you each know this is for the success of the business and the family,” she continues. “Give it time, follow the system and do what the franchise knows is successful.”
The Boyds have done just that and more, with Mike finding a place to put his long-range development and analytical skills to work. He devised new off-site marketing plans to grow the business and also made adaptations to the training system that were ultimately implemented by the franchisor. Sales at Linda’s store nearly doubled in five years (from $239,793 in 2009 to $402,903 in 2013) and this year Mike says they’re on pace to finish above $471,000 in sales.
Mike has since taken on the role of vice president of field support and training for Instant Imprints, while Linda keeps her daily focus on the store. They continue to manage their work and home relationships, and Linda acknowledges it’s not always easy: “You really have to try to keep from talking about it all the time.”
“We’re each other’s best friend so it’s really hard for us,” adds Mike. “We do a pretty good job of at least turning it off on the weekends. There’s not a lot of T-shirt emergencies.”
The couple of 26 years agrees the more conversations spouses can have before they jump in to a franchise, the better. “You have to talk through everything and see who’s responsible for what,” says Mike. “You can’t both be in charge of the same thing. You should be really honest with yourself about that.”