Franchise ownership is often called “a business in a box,” but for Stefanie and Craig Miller, it’s about executing a plan outside the box.
As the recession of the late 2000s took hold, the Millers wanted to build a safety net against the new normal of quarterly corporate downsizings and create a secondary source of family income. They began exploring franchise opportunities.
Stefanie and Craig knew they both wanted to keep their full-time careers and wondered how they could also manage a growing business as well. Like many of our clients new to researching franchise opportunities, the Millers were not aware of the segment of franchising called “semi-passive” or “manage the manager” business models.
The rapid advancement of cloud based operations and marketing technology as well as security and real time business metrics monitoring has enabled many business models to be successfully managed and scaled remotely with as little as 10-15 hours a week time commitment from the owner. You’ll find part time, semi-passive franchise models flourishing in many franchised industries such as fitness, health & wellness, beauty services, staffing services, kid’s products and services and business suite rental.
The Millers found their match in a portable storage franchise opportunity, which they have grown successfully while maintaining their corporate careers, raising three children and taking a few family vacations along the way. I recently caught up with the Millers about their experience over the last nine years from exploring franchise opportunities, to launching their business, to surviving downturns in the economy.
Kuban: How did you approach your franchise ownership exploration?
Millers: We decided to approach business ownership much like kids fresh out of college. We knew a ton about the industries we were working in, but we didn’t know franchising or what would work given our situation. We made sure to ask a lot of questions. It’s important not to assume you know all the answers just because you’ve had a successful corporate career.
Kuban: You have three children and busy successful careers, why add franchise ownership to the mix?
Millers: We wanted to have the choice to do what we wanted to do with our careers. At the time, we had a great deal of insecurity in our corporate jobs and knew we stood the chance of hitting the inevitable “your time here is over” wall.
Kuban: How many businesses did you explore?
Millers: We looked at four different Atlanta area franchise businesses because it was important to fully explore each one. More than that would have been too much given our other commitments. We didn’t want to get overwhelmed. This was one of the most helpful pieces of advice we received from FranNet.
Kuban: What were your most important criteria in choosing your franchise business?
Millers: We wanted to diversify our investments and create an opportunity to help others. We employ an amazing team at Units Moving and Portable Storage of Atlanta. We apply our corporate insights to build a strong team and as the business grows, it becomes a bigger part of our total investment strategy.
Kuban: What franchise did you buy and why?
Millers: We purchased a Units Moving and Portable Storage franchise in the fall of 2007 and opened in the spring of 2008. At the time there was a lot of movement in the real estate industry. People were changing jobs, downsizing and flipping homes. People are busy so renting a truck, loading household goods, driving to a self-storage facility, unloading and doing all over again when you need to move your goods again is exhausting. We wanted to be able to provide an easy solution for people during the stress of moving or decluttering.
Kuban: What was your first impression in starting your business?
Millers: When you actually own the business it feels very different. You’re willing to put in a lot of extra hours and effort because you know it’s something you’re directly responsible for and will directly benefit from.
Kuban: It hasn’t all been blue skies and rainbows, what about the bumps in the road?
Millers: It certainly was a challenge at times. The entire pro forma for this business was built on the continuation of a booming real estate market. By the middle of 2009, the recession was in full swing and we needed to rethink our strategy. People weren’t storing their household belongings; they were facing foreclosure and losing everything. We had a lot of capital overhead and didn’t have the income to keep it going. This is when we really started thinking outside the box.
Kuban: What creative solutions did you find to handle the changing market?
Millers: We had to get creative and think of new ways to sell our services. We took advantage of the seasonal component of our business. We partnered with a national package delivery service to store their golf carts for holiday package deliveries in neighborhoods which carried the added benefit of creating safer neighborhood roads and local temporary employment opportunities. Finally, we reached out to the local governmental authorities to partner with their vendors to store emergency ice storm equipment. Our portable unit pickup, storage and delivery service filled an important need.
Kuban: Semi-passive ownership means having employees, what staff do you have in place that allows you the freedom and flexibility to be semi-passive?
Millers: We have 3 full-time and 1 part-time employee. We do coaching around operations, marketing analytics. Right now business is booming and everyone is working full force.
Kuban: What kind of support do you receive from the franchisor?
Millers: We were pleasantly surprised to discover our franchisor really cares about us as people and they allow for independence and flexibility to make decisions without too many restrictions. We could not have done it independently. They build some of the marketing systems and provide operational support, insurance and safety protocols. Some of the SEO for our web site is centralized. There’s also a great deal of cooperation between franchisees. In our model, we all benefit from shifting containers from market to market so we all work together.
Kuban: What’s next?
Millers: We’re constantly evaluating our next steps. The business is growing and we’re planning to take it to the next level.
Kuban: What’s the one piece of advice you would give prospective business owners?
Millers: Make sure you do your due diligence, personally meet with franchisor to gauge ideology and culture. Talk with other franchisees and examine closely the relationships as well as the business because they are the support structure for the business.
Stefanie and Craig started their business with an out of the box mindset which has carried them through the recession and placed them squarely on the path to a future equity event. The one final piece of advice from Craig sums it all up perfectly. “to be a successful business owner, put your ego on the shelf.”
Are you an “outside the box” thinker with questions about semi-passive franchise options in Atlanta? Contact me, Leslie Kuban, to identify the best franchise opportunity to meet your needs and goals.
Leslie Kuban is the Owner and CEO of FranNet of Georgia; an Atlanta based Franchise Consulting Firm. Leslie has a proven track record of helping close to 400 people successfully transition from corporate life to business ownership. Leslie and her team offer over 60 years combined expertise and her personal experience as a franchise owner gives her a unique perspective to help her clients assess their real opportunities, risks, and timing to make sound decisions.
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