Technically an emerging franchisor is defined as one with fewer than 200 units, but for many of the franchisors attending the International Institute for Franchise Education’s Emerging Franchisor Conference in Ft. Lauderdale last November, that was a number to aspire to.
This was the conference’s seventh year of being hosted by the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University, and its founder Cheryl Babcock is able to attract some top franchise talent to teach emerging franchisors the ropes.
This year’s keynote, presented by John Rotche, who joined Title Boxing Club as president after growing Ductz, an air-duct cleaning franchise, to 175 units and selling it to a billion-dollar restoration company, was lauded by attendees as one of the most inspirational.
Mark Johnson, CEO of Granite Transformation, told the group he started his career selling waterbeds and before that, 8-track tape players. "I knew the future," he quipped. He now runs a company that ships product all over the world, and he advised: "Always check to see how what you do affects franchisees."
Ray Titus, founder of Signarama, among other concepts, said he was born into a family of franchisors. His father started Minute Man Printing, and Titus’ eighth-grade term paper was on how to start a franchise. His advice: "Be able to change your model based on what you hear from franchisees. Be proactive and don’t be in an ivory tower."
Joe Bourdow of Valpak, told about getting into the video rental business early on because someone owed him and his partner money. They weren’t involved in the business long, however, before they discovered much of what they were renting was pornography.
"You discovered that after you bought the concept? I’ve been watching these videos for three days and I think it’s pornography," Johnson butted in, getting a big laugh from the crowd. Bourdow’s next concept was a crowd-pleaser as well: a business that stripped the finish off furniture called The Strip Joint. "Then we found Val Pak. We weren’t geniuses, we got lucky," he said, adding, "Realize luck when you’re fortunate and capitalize on it."
Attorneys Amy Cheng and Ric Cohen, of Cheng Cohen, the platinum sponsors, gave free legal advice on and off the stage. Much of the conversations centered around Item 19 financial representations: to have or not to have.
The audience was also cautioned to surround themselves with good people. "If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve reached your peak," said Chris Simnick of Synergy Franchise Group. "Baggage should be left outside the business. You can always pick it up at the end of the day when you go home, if you want."