The Emotional Roller Coaster - What's It Really Like Being A Franchisee?
In this edited extract from his new book, US speaker and former franchisee Scott Greenberg describes his 10-year journey from buying to selling
If we’re going to date, you have to promise you’ll never ask me to go on a roller coaster.’
My wife, Rachel, made it clear early in our relationship that she was prone to motion sickness. Whether it’s on land, air, or sea, excess motion isn’t good for her. We had to split up at amusement parks with friends and, eventually, our kids. Some of us hit the coasters while the others rode the carousel.
But when I bought a franchise, I broke my promise. I asked her to join me on something much more tumultuous than riding the Cyclone, taking her on a wild ride with ups, downs, and much more neither of us could anticipate or control.
Not everyone has the stomach for running their own business. While a traditional job can also be quite challenging, it’s structured and predictable. You can plan your life around a regular paycheque. You feel (whether or not it’s true) that you’re part of a stable company with clearly defined rules and a climbable ladder.
Some people need the freedom of business ownership. It’s more of an adventure. There’s risk, adversity, and the chance of enormous financial gains – or nothing at all. Running a franchise is a modernday treasure hunt. The question is, is that for you? You could do the same things wealthy franchisees do and get the same financial payoff. But if you don’t enjoy the journey, you won’t have the quality of life to meet our definition of ‘wealthy.’ It’s not enough to evaluate a business before buying. You need to examine the lifestyle. If you don’t like roller coasters, you may not like franchising.
Those who can, do, and for 10 years, I did. I proudly owned the title ‘franchisee.’ That pride was as much from what I overcame as from what I accomplished. It was an intense time with ups, downs, and plenty going sideways.
I’m going to share with you the highlights of that wild decade. As I recount my journey, try to put yourself in my shoes and imagine having the same experience. I’ll discuss what I went through as well as what it felt like. I’ll pause periodically throughout my story to give you a chance to reflect how it would feel to you.
I blame my father
My father is a bloodhound for new business ideas. In 2005, when he showed me an ad for a fruit basket franchise called ‘Edible Arrangements,’ he caught me at the perfect time.
(Editor’s note: Edible Arrangements is a US-based retail franchise offering fruit bouquets for sale and delivery, as well as take-away fruit smoothies and salads. The franchise does not operate in New Zealand, so this extract focuses on the general experience of being a franchisee)
I’d already been speaking professionally for 12 years and was looking for an additional stream of income. Speaking was going well, but we were starting a family and I wanted to begin spending more time at home.
I travelled to Connecticut to attend a Discovery Day at the Edible Arrangements corporate office. Their presentation knocked my socks off. We learned all about the operation, their plans for the future, and what the current opportunities were. We sampled the product. We visited their corporate store. We asked question after question. We met team members from operations, marketing, and franchise development. Everyone in the office was young, dynamic, and passionate. They knew they were part of something special.
My mind raced throughout the flight back to California. What a cool concept! What spectacular franchise partners! I took out paper and pen and brainstormed what I could do with the business. I had all kinds of ideas the corporate office hadn’t even thought of.
I was excited at the prospect of owning an asset. I wasn’t going to end my speaking business, but I needed to build something else that would generate its own revenue and increase in value. It would also be a great opportunity to test my leadership concepts in the field. So many speakers hadn’t done anything other than speak. I wanted to walk my talk. As soon as my plane touched down in Los Angeles, I called my father. I wanted to do this.
What are your reasons for wanting your own business?
What emotions does the idea of business ownership stir up?
How are those emotions affecting your judgment?
How might having your own franchise impact your lifestyle?
Honey, can we talk?
The hardest part of putting the deal together was convincing my wife. Rachel and I had very different upbringings. Her father, Ron, is a world-renowned professor emeritus who had two jobs his entire career. They’ve always lived simply and invested conservatively. Ron was never profit-driven. His primary desire was to contribute to a body of knowledge.
Whereas I was raised in the frenetic world of speculative entrepreneurship, my wife grew up in the stable world of tenured education. Investing money I didn’t have in a business I knew nothing about was normal to me. To Rachel, it was utter folly.
Her resistance angered me. Couldn’t she see the opportunity? Didn’t she trust me? We can’t improve our lifestyle if we succumb to fear. Life is about risk. Life IS risk!
‘But Scott, how are we going to finance this?’ she asked. ‘How long will it take to get our money back? What if the business doesn’t do well? And who are these Edible Arrangements people, and why should we trust them?’
Every doubt-filled question further enraged me. It felt like she wasn’t just questioning my idea; she was questioning my judgment.
But she did force me to answer questions I should have already been asking. I really hadn’t thought this through or vetted the franchisor. My readiness to sign was purely an emotional decision, not a logical one. I finally realized that the only way we could make this choice together was by getting the facts. Maybe that would ease my impulsiveness and alleviate her fear. We needed to control our emotions.
So we did our homework. We crunched the numbers. We slowed down and let time work its magic on our feelings. Eventually we were able to take a more calculated risk, so with Rachel’s blessing, I pushed the red button.
Who else will your choices impact?
Who questions your choices and keeps you in check?
How open are you to being challenged by others?
Should you allow others to talk you out of your dream?
Do you do enough due diligence when making important decisions?
Fasten your seat belts
Two days later, the papers arrived via FedEx. I read through every page, pretending to understand what I was agreeing to. Every signature further committed me. And boy, there were a lot of signatures. There was a franchise agreement, a loan agreement, a lease, a construction contract, and, of course, an endless supply of cheques to write. All this before I could make a single sale.
The buildout was hell. I’d already found employees who were eager to start work, but continuous construction delays pushed back our opening farther and farther, so half the people I’d hired moved on to other jobs. My contractor made promises and then made excuses. When the Edible Arrangements field trainer flew in from Connecticut for our grand opening, he arrived at a store that was weeks away from being ready.
Meanwhile, my sparkling new delivery van parked safely in the building’s garage was hit by a car during the night. It had yet to make one delivery and it already had a dent in the side, right below our logo.
After many extra weeks and thousands of extra dollars, we finally completed construction. The health inspector signed off and the lights came on. We were open! The phone started to ring. Curious passers-by came in for samples and took brochures. Some even placed orders. I had income!
On day two, three employees didn’t show up. The only one who bothered to call in said the job just wasn’t for her. Later that day, I bought the remaining staff pizza and pretended I knew what I was doing. Thank heavens for the corporate trainer.
The scariest time was the next week, after the trainer had left. We were on our own, stumbling our way through taking, making, and delivering orders. I panicked every time the phone rang, wondering if I’d be able to answer questions and input the order into our sophisticated point-of-sale system.
Each day we got better. We made our mistakes, figured stuff out, and learned what we were doing. Soon we had answers to most of the questions customers asked us. More employees left and new ones came. Before too long, we settled into a routine. Orders continued to roll in. During the first month, I paid every bill on time. Two months in, the bills were paid again, and sales were up over the first month.
I’d done it. I’d built a growing business. And it was exhilarating.
When do you feel in over your head?
How do you respond when things don’t go as planned?
Can you set aside enough money to manage unexpected expenses?
How prepared are you to trust others to run your business?
Enjoying the ride
A speaking colleague came in to meet me for lunch. I was wearing a long-sleeve Edible Arrangements polo and matching baseball cap, and she said, ‘Oh, you look so cute in your uniform!’ She was just condescending enough to embarrass me.
Every day was a new experience. We turned new customers into repeat customers. We signed up corporate accounts. We made many arrangements to be used as props in TV shows. I personally delivered five arrangements backstage to The Price Is Right to be used in the ‘Showcase Showdown.’ We played a role in countless dinner parties, thank-yous, and marriage proposals. We joined the chamber of commerce and our local chapter of Business Network International. We ranked second out of almost 100 Edible Arrangements locations in California. Then we got to number one. We also won the Best Customer Service award out of 1,000 Edible Arrangements franchises worldwide. I wasn’t in it for recognition, but I admit it felt great.
I would leave town to speak. When I got back, there was more money in the checking account than when I’d left. That was awesome.
The highs were high, but the lows were low. Twice there were breakins during the night. Several times our delivery drivers got into fender benders. Our insurance company settled with a lady who ‘fell’ in our lobby. A home delivery grocer contracted with us to provide them with fruit salads and then stopped paying us. I took them to small claims court but lost because my manager had accidentally disposed of the pickup receipts, leaving me with insufficient proof of delivery.
For a while, managing employees was particularly tough. I’m not one of those people who complains about ‘kids these days’ or how entitled Millennials are. Every generation has all-stars and flakes. But it seemed like we always had issues with staff. My phone would ring at all hours with questions, problems, and requests. Employees would show up late or stop showing up altogether. Some would work, but not as fast as we needed them to. One male employee offered a female co-worker a heart-shaped piece of pineapple from an arrangement, and she complained it was a sexual advance. I fired our first delivery driver for racking up $150 worth of personal calls on the company cell phone. I let another employee go for calling ahead when running late and asking coworkers to punch in for her. Twice I gave second chances to employees who succumbed to drug addiction, and both relapsed.
I put a lot into figuring out how to build a great team, and over time my staff went from being my greatest headache to my greatest asset. By the time I sold the business, most of them had been with me for years. Leaving them was the hardest part of my exit.
How do you see your role in the community?
What accomplishments are you chasing?
How will you react when problems arise?
How prepared are you to manage employee issues?
Getting into Edible Arrangements had been a great choice, but after ten years, I’d had enough. My speaking business was doing really well. Thanks to my first-hand franchising experience, I started booking a lot of keynotes for other franchise systems. Splitting my time wasn’t good for either business. It had been a good ride, but it was time to get out.
But exiting wasn’t easy. First, I had to find a way to put the word out without alarming my employees. I hated being secretive, but I needed the operation to remain stable. Then I had to find interested buyers. It helps when the business is turning a profit, but buyers and sellers don’t typically see things eye to eye. I took lunches, kicked numbers around, and tried not to feel insulted by the lowballers. At one point I had five different interested parties. Then it was four, then three. By the time I sat down with the only buyer left, I was much more eager to get out than I could let on.
The negotiation dragged on for a few months. Both of us moved at a deliberately slow pace, each trying to keep the other interested while making him sweat. Don’t get me wrong – our conversations stayed pleasant and respectful. But we were only human.
Finally, we reached an agreement. Papers were signed, hands were shaken, and tears were shed. My 10-year odyssey as a franchisee was a wild, stressful, and character-building journey. And now it was over. I had built, operated, and sold a successful franchise operation and lived to tell the tale.
Last week a friend of mine had surgery. I ordered an Edible Arrangement for her from her local store and paid full price.
What’s your exit plan?
Do you know what your business is actually worth?
Can you be patient enough to make a good deal?
How will it feel to leave?
What I went through really wasn’t special. It’s all the typical stuff that happens when you run a franchise. But just as different people running the same operation will get different results, different people having the same experience will have their own unique reactions. Everyone responds differently to the same circumstances. It’s important to consider how these circumstances might make you feel. Only you can make the determination if business ownership is right for you.
About the Author
Scott Greenberg is a speaker and author specialising in franchising. His new book The Wealthy Franchisee sets out to explain why some franchisees thrive while others struggle, and show how to replicate their success and build more wealth. Find out more at www.scottgreenberg.com/thewealthy-franchisee