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'What I did for a deal’—Dealmakers winners offer inside scoop


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Beth Ewen

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

Talk about a tough crowd—that’s what Heather Elrod, CEO of Amazing Lash Studio, faced when she waded into boardrooms and investment committees to convince them to invest in a franchise built around the eyelash extension.

She was one of several of our Dealmakers award winners, profiled in this month’s cover package, who indulged me by answering this question: What’s the craziest thing you did for a deal?”

“It’s hysterical,” she recalls with a laugh, noting there was “a great deal of interest from private equity firms in our transaction,” but the people to whom she presented were almost always male. “Here you have a bunch of men talking about what an eyelash extension is,” she says, trying to get their heads around it.

“Of course I have the extensions on, and love them, and I’ll be the 83-year-old still having them,” she says. “To me, it’s akin to Botox, because the results are immediate.” But in the early days even she had to be converted, when the founders of Amazing Lash approached her about coming on as CEO and preparing their brand for a sale.

Had she been an eyelash extension customer before? “I hadn’t, and believe me I’ve done a lot of beauty treatments!” she says, and she was a doubter. “For me, I just immediately thought of Kim Kardashian, it’s for a younger generation.”

She visited an Amazing Lash near her home. “I went in and had that experience, and I thought, I’m not taking these off!”

The real reason investors bit? “Part of it is being the category leader,” she says. “That makes an investment very attractive. They realized, this is big business,” even if they weren’t exactly sure at first what the business was all about.

No time to retire

Steve Greenbaum, CEO of ComForCare, gave up his retirement plans when The Riverside Company came calling. After selling PostNet, the brand he founded and built to 650 units at one point, retirement was “absolutely” one option he was considering.

But then “I was pursued,” he says, and he has no regrets. “My definition of retirement is working on my own terms, when I want. I chose one more opportunity,” and he believes Riverside and he share the same values. “I’m in this business because I chose to be, to help improve the quality of lives.”

He expects to make a regular appearance at the Franchise Times Dealmakers awards, as he plans a couple of transactions a year over each of the next five years.

“Get used to seeing me. My goal is to be knocking this out of the park,” he says.

Out on a limb

Richard Weissman, CEO of The Learning Experience, isn’t the type to do something outrageous to make a deal with investors. “I’ve been very, very rigid on our model, that it’s only our way or the highway for people,” he says. But at his franchise during the recession, “I think a lot of CEOs would probably think it’s crazy.”

In 2008 to ’11, when the Great Recession was raging, “we as a company lent franchisees working capital. We lent $6 million to franchisees to push them through the economy. It was a theory—drink our Kool-Aid, do what we say, don’t listen to the news. Listen to the model; it works in the worst of times,” he says. “I think a lot of franchisors would never do that.”

And how did it work out? “We got 100 cents on the dollar back. We didn’t lose a penny.”

A chance to change the world

Mike Weinberger, the COO of One Cannabis, spent eight years at Maui Wowi, a global franchise with more than 450 units where he eventually led the successful sale of the company to Kahala Brands, owned by an even bigger mega-franchisor.

As for One Cannabis, which he believes will be the first brand to bring cannabis to the masses via franchising? $20 million in revenue; five franchised cannabis dispensaries open; three corporate stores. Also, it’s illegal at the federal level.

“I left a job that I loved with franchisees I adore, with employees that were my family to take a shot at something that might be the next big thing, or maybe not.” The reason: “You don’t have the opportunity to change the world, maybe ever,” he says. And will One Cannabis change the world? “Absolutely. I’ve seen it already making some strides for the better for people that deserve it.”

Standing up to scrutiny

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy were thrust into the spotlight when the book “The Blind Side” was made into a movie in 2009, starring Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne.

Their story, about adopting Michael Oher when he was a teen, has subjected them to loads of criticism even before the age of social media really brought out the trolls.

Sean says he runs from social media, which can make things awkward at home. “My wife embraces it, and she drives me fricking crazy.” Why? “It festers in the negative. If you want negative, walk out the door,” he says.

Now that he’s sold most of the assets of his restaurant empire, more scrutiny is inevitable as people judge how they do their charitable giving. “We can’t be all things to all,” he says, and he and Leigh Anne subscribe to the popcorn method of giving: Look in the bottom of a pan of popcorn, and you can’t tell which one will pop first. “We’re not picking the kernel. It’s picking us,” he says. “Who at that moment can we help, and did it pop up in our face and need help?”

Like a Rolling Stone

And finally there’s Dean Zuccarello, who founded The Cypress Group close to 30 years ago and has been doing deals as an investment banker ever since. I asked him, Do you still love it? “Yes,” he said, then paused. “Like any of us that have been doing this for a number of years, we have our days where I put down the phone and it’s smoking.

“But overall, yeah. If I didn’t, I would be retired,” and in fact that’s what many people ask him—when is he going to retire? “I’m kind of like Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones,” he replies. “This is what we do.”

Beth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times, and writes the Continental Franchise Review® column in each issue. Send interesting legal and public policy cases to bewen@franchisetimes.com.

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