When you own a franchise, in many ways you get the best of both worlds. You’re an independent business owner, and you have access to an established business model with a proven track record. It’s a winning combination for many, said Scott Warfel, who owns four Jersey Mike’s stores in the Oklahoma City Metro area. He is a former area director for the sandwich store chain.
Scott opened his first store in 2004, and now has expanded to four stores with 45 employees, thanks in part to three separate loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“The SBA loan process was very easy,” said Scott, who works with BancFirst, a SBA preferred lender. “They shepherded me through the entire loan process. It’s been a dream.”
Scott says he enjoys being a franchise owner. “There are times when I’m working 70 to 80 hours a week, and there are times when I have more free time,” he said. “I do what I have to do to stay in business. I’m able to balance being behind the counter with working behind the desk.”
Above all, you should have a true passion for the business you’re purchasing.
“If you can’t find a way to connect to it emotionally and passionately, it’s hard to make it work,” Warfel said. “Particularly since as a franchise owner you’re expected to be involved in day-to-day operations.”
Warfel uses the term “operator,” rather than “entrepreneur,” when describing franchise owners, since they are operating within highly structured parameters.
“You do not have autonomy with a franchise; they tell you everything, down to the slightest little details,” he said. “Some owners get frustrated because they don’t have more autonomy, but again what you get is a proven track record. I think that gives you a slightly better chance of being profitable.”
Financing for a franchise often is easier than for a stand-alone business.
“The franchise fee is only the right to utilize the brand,” Warfel said. “But you also bring a proven business model to the table, which most banks want, and many of the corporations have their own lending sources.”
Another bonus – the company will provide advisory teams who help with real estate purchases, building refinishes, marketing and employee training. If the business is struggling down the road, they can also offer assistance at that point.
It’s not just anyone who can buy a franchise.
“Some companies will sell to anyone who walks in the door and has the money,” Warfel said. “Others screen more carefully to make sure the owner/operator is a good fit before making the sale.”
A franchise also can be revoked at any time. “Selling non-approved products, products that are of inferior quality or different from the established guidelines can cause a franchise to be revoked,” Warfel said. “This is done because they have a responsibility to all the other franchises out there to protect the brand.
“Customers are very sensitive with a franchise; they expect consistency,” he added. “Ideally you should not be able to tell the difference between the same products purchased in any different franchise in the country.”
Lori Edgmand, owner
211 N. Perkins, Suite 24
Stillwater, OK 74075
Lori Edgmand, owner of Nature’s Supply in Stillwater, Okla., is celebrating her eighth anniversary of providing fresh organic foods to customers six days a week. Since the company’s beginning, employees and sales have more than doubled creating the necessity to increase retail space which was completed two years ago when the store expanded into a vacant suite next to their current location. After the expansion she soon began working on the next phase of her business plan, to install a commercial kitchen. It took over a year but The Eatery opened several months ago. The Eatery currently offers gluten free as well as dairy free soups and salads. Sandwiches will be added soon. Stephanie Simpson, Edgmand's daughter created the recipes used in the kitchen including a non-dairy soft serve ice cream, which has been a big hit with customers. Edgmand started the business because local residents needed to drive about an hour away to find organic or allergen-free foods.
Edgmand could relate to the need because she was one of the people driving out of town for certain items. As the business grew, Edgmand hired Clay Barrett to manage the store. Additional retail space was soon needed and that’s when she visited with SBA MicroLender Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma, Inc (REI). REI assisted Nature’s Supply with an SBA Microloan to purchase furniture, fixtures, inventory, and advertising. The SBA Microloan program offers financing up to $50,000 for businesses that need a little help for the basics. Nature's Supply soon relocated to its current location in Rosewood Hills Shopping Center.
Since that time, Edgmand has also become involved with REI’s Oklahoma City Women’s Business Center (WBC) taking advantage of the training and networking opportunities provided by the WBC. She is also a member of the WBC’s Peer Group, a small gathering of women entrepreneurs learning from one another and sharing common concerns. “REI and the Women’s Business Center have been a wonderful resource for me,” Edgmand said.
“I would strongly encourage women business owners to get involved, to take advantage of all that’s available to them through this great organization and get on with their dream!” Edgmand said. Because of her involvement with these and other organizations and support groups, Edgmand has been able to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
“While there are always the 'typical' retail business obstacles such as funding, increasing customer base, product availability, distributor issues, etc., I believe the biggest obstacle for most small businesses is yourself - your preconceived thoughts and ideas, limited views of the how’s, why’s, when’s and where’s of business,” Edgmand said. “A small business should be looked at as an ever changing, ever growing entity. It’s human nature to stay with the familiar which can keep us from encouraging that change and growth. To help encourage that change and growth it is imperative to get involved with other business groups, such as Peer Advisory groups or Mastermind groups. These groups keep you thinking creatively and openly about your business.”
Nature's Supply stocks a large selection of gluten-free and allergen-free items, as well as many organic items such as dairy, bread, bulk grains, seeds, dried fruit and more. Edgmand believes in buying Oklahoma produced products and carries Oklahoma raised chicken, eggs, and Certified Organic beef from John's Farm. Locally made goat milk bath soap, lotion and laundry soap is also a popular item for those who have skin conditions.
Edgmand’s advice to others wanting to start a business: “Be prepared for long hours, many people underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to run a small business, but it's worth it. Seek out other business owners, listen to their experiences, and learn from theirs and your own experiences. I did not have retail experience so I read as many books and articles as I could. I also participated in a tax workshop through the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Another valuable learning tool was touring other (non competitive) health food stores, in state and out of state, asking the owners detailed questions about their experiences.”
One look at the store and web site, www.natures-supply.com and it is evident that those long hours have paid off. Edgmand said what makes it all worthwhile for her is the satisfaction of her customers.
“The greatest benefit to me personally is our customers,” she said. “Getting to know them and helping them find what they are looking for motivates me to do the parts of the job that are less appealing, and to withstand the pressures and responsibilities of business ownership.”
REI is a statewide economic development firm with offices in five Oklahoma locations: Durant, Alva, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton. Visit www.ruralenterprises.com for more information.
When Gerald Williams retired early from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), he couldn’t sit still very long. After four years of working on his land out in the country and enjoying the grandkids, he decided to create a “part-time” job for himself running a home-based business to provide support services to the federal government. Today, his company, Interim Solutions for Government (ISG), has grown from two employees and $50,000 in revenues to 190 employees with more than $13 million in revenues. He says he owes his success, in part, to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
A U.S. Army service-disabled veteran, Gerald worked for 20 years at FAA and retired at the age of 50 as the manager of the Operational Support Division at the FAA Academy. “I knew training backwards and forwards,” he said. “When I started my business I wasn’t looking for a big contract, just something small.”
Although Gerald knew what he wanted to do, he wasn’t prepared to do it. When he received his first contract offer in 2002, he did not have the financing in place, nor the employee pool to begin the job. He honed his skills in business development and secured capital through an SBA guaranteed contract line of credit financed through BancFirst.
In 2004, ISG was awarded a contract with the FBI to provide investigative analysis and consulting services while performing adjudication of background investigations on individuals who need a “Top Secret” security clearance. Gerald hired a retired FBI agent to perform the work, and the company received financing through a BancFirst-funded $50,000 SBA-guaranteed contract line of credit. The money was used to finance the direct labor and material costs associated with performing the contract. This contract continued to grow during 2005-2006 and Gerald brought on more retired FBI agents.
In 2006, the company received their first contract with FAA to provide training in Ft. Worth, TX and Albuquerque, NM. The ISG employee base rose to 25 and as the business grew, the working capital (payroll) needs of the company grew as well. BancFirst funded a $750,000 contract line to service the new contracts received. Everything seemed pretty stable for ISG until December 2007.
“Right at Christmas, we received notification we had just been awarded three contracts that would start Jan. 1 at 14 locations,” Gerald said. “It was a busy Christmas! But, this time we were prepared. We anticipated winning and we had the employees in place and the SBA line of credit was in place, and it worked!”
The three new contracts catapulted ISG into a growth spurt. The number of employees increased to near 100 and the company was approved for the SBA maximum loan amount of $2 million. Later in 2008 ISG was awarded another contract to provide the FAA with air traffic control instructors which increased their employee level to around 190 employees. This contract also brought ISG to a point where over half their workforce was now located in Oklahoma. “We had a real desire to increase our employee base in Oklahoma significantly and this contract helped us achieve that.” Gerald said.
While Gerald credits the SBA and BancFirst as partners in his success, he also believes there has been a divine hand that has opened doors and directed his path.
“We’ve been blessed with people and things occurring in our business that I can’t take credit for,” Gerald said. ISG operated practically rent free out of the Fred Jones Business Development Center (an Oklahoma certified Small Business Incubator) for almost five years. “I can see God’s hand moving in many areas of our company. I have to take the opportunity to give God the glory and praise.”
Also critical to the success of ISG has been the addition of two of Gerald’s former co-workers: Richard Rodine, an FAA retiree, who is now executive vice president, and Robert Igo, an FAA retiree, who now serves the company as the vice president of aviation support.“As you start to grow, you have to bring in quality people to help you manage your growth,” Gerald said. Marty Mulholland, another federal retiree (FBI) and Gerald’s first employee has become their vice president of investigative services.
About 86 percent of ISG’s workforce is composed of federal retirees, either military or civilian. “We’ve been blessed to be able to get a top caliber of people,” Gerald said. “Retirees know other retirees nationwide, so we are able to keep a good pool of employees. Federal retirees are such a wonderful resource for federal contracts, but you have to stay on top of things, because as a whole, retirees don’t want to work 40 hours a week,” Gerald laughed. “And, some retire again.”
ISG employs workers in Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and DC, and subcontractors in Utah and Arizona.
“It’s nice being your own boss,” Gerald said. “But the downside is you work yourself harder than you’d ever let anybody else work you. We try to run our business in a way that brings glory to God. I’ve not been perfect, but our goal is to maintain a level of integrity that makes everyone---employees, customers, and partners—have a high level of confidence in our company.”
Contact: Gerald Williams, Owner
Address: 2224 N.W. 50th St., Suite 293
Oklahoma City, OK 73112