Unishippers owner is ‘luckiest guy’
You and your original partner worked in the Unishippers system. How did you make the jump to ownership?
We became the first outside group that served as management for other franchisees. So when you helped the franchisees double their sales, they were in a good position to sell. When we thought we might move on, a franchisee came to us and said, ‘We don’t want to take it over again,’ and made us an offer. Their business was twice what the offer was. It was a good sale for them and it was a great deal for us.
You no doubt learned a lot while managing other franchises; do you have advice for early operators?
A lot of it has to do with spending and expectations, and maybe that’s what gives us our conservative footing because we’ve seen people make those mistakes. Having a solid, realistic business plan is key. I think when most people start a business they don’t have a realistic outlook, they assume they’ll do better than they will. We had our ramen days, and we were careful about how we spent our money and what things we invested in.
What’s your philosophy for running a business?
My personal motto is, ‘always amazed never surprised.’ I think it applies to everything. There’s not a day I come to work and don’t think, ‘Boy this is just amazing.’ But as amazing as things are, I’ve stopped being surprised.
You also suggest outside managers early on. Why?
If you’re a brand-new franchisee, you really need to focus on sales. When you’re running the back end and doing the office—which is all critical—if you don’t have someone to do that, it’s tough to get traction.
Not everyone gets on so well with their partners, as it sounds like you do.
I am the luckiest guy in the world. I know a lot of people have trouble with partnerships. Early on we were warned about this and that, but my partners are the best guys in the world. It was like a key in a lock, everything just fit right. That was a lucky and rare find.
The recession was especially bad for shipping, how do you weather a storm like that?
You don’t. I say that a little flippantly, but I think both myself and my partners were very conservative to our structure, to our spending and our savings. I think the crash in 2007, boy, everybody got creative because that was the only thing you could do—the economy was crashing around us. We took away a lot of lessons. I think first and foremost, you need to understand what kind of cash flow is needed to weather a storm like that. Some people like to run their business right down to the wire in terms of cash flow, and at that point it doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart.
You really emphasize technology and boasted just one case of paper every six months. Why is that?
It’s nice to be a green business, but it’s even more important to be an efficient business: recording and storing things electronically. When our customers call and we have instant recall—that puts us in a superior customer service position. And for something like internal instant messaging, even when we’re working with customers we can communicate. It allows us to serve our customers better; we don’t have to put anyone on hold. I can still take care of the needs of the customer while talking to that person.