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Panelists discuss franchising as an avenue for entrepreneurship

Austin Ambrose
March 28, 2017

Four successful businessmen had just one word for the group of Ohio University students gathered in the Baker Center Theater:

Franchises.

The four were members of a panel discussion on opportunities in franchising sponsored March 15 by the Ohio University Center for Entrepreneurship, a partnership between the College of Business and Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

“Sometimes you don’t have to be the next Facebook or Amazon,” Dan Dahlen, panel moderator and director of the Consumer Research Center in the College of Business, said. “There are other avenues to owning your own business and being successful.”

Panelists included:

  • John Glazer, director of TechGROWTH Ohio and former president and CEO of Little Professor Book Centers. Glazer also has assisted with several other franchises and consulted in Egypt about the importing and exporting of franchised brands.
  • Beau Goodrich, owner of the Donatos pizza in Athens. Having come from a family that was an early Wendy’s franchise owner, Goodrich grew up around franchises and restaurants. He worked his way up in a five-star restaurant in New York City, trained staff for a California Pizza in Arizona and then moved to Athens to open a Donatos at age 24.
  • Chad Bortle is vice president of operations for SJB Hotels, a business that develops, owns and manages hotels in Ohio and West Virginia. Over the past 30 years, the business has built and operated 35 hotels. He previously held the role of assistant vice president with CCS Fundraising, where he directed campaigns to raise $200 million for non-profits across the United States.
  • Danny Bates’ family started a franchise: Stanley Steamers. While he has worked for the family business, he also founded his own discount drug store franchise in the Baton Rouge area.

The panel emphasized the importance of the relationship between the franchisor and franchisee. They indicated a mutual relationship forms when the two work collaboratively. The franchisor continues the growth of the franchise and learns how to improve the business, and the franchisee gains the support and brand recognition for the price of following the brand rules.

“You get smarter than the franchisor because you are on the front line doing the work every day,” Glazer said. “Franchisors build the brand from the franchisee support and are then able to sell the next franchise. It’s a strategic partnership.”

All the panelists acknowledged the importance of recognizing the potential benefits of ensuring a strong relationship between the two sides. This begins when a franchisee is looking to open a store.

“You have to trust the brand,” Goodrich said. “You need to believe in that brand and be passionate about it. You are going to sell it to the best of your ability.”

Creating and maintaining the trust of the brand is critical for a successful relationship. Bortle told a story about Hampton requiring its hotels to undergo a large renovation, and he personally didn’t understand why. However, he trusted the brand and the customers were pleased with the changes.

Bates even encouraged participants to go and work for the franchise they hope to open. He claimed they would learn quickly if they would want to buy one.

Selecting the franchise is the first step in becoming a franchisee. Earning the capital to open the business is next. Goodrich and Bates both commented on the fact that age matters when looking for funding. Investors want to see success before giving money. However, a strong business plan can go a long way.

“Talk to people who have been in the business longer,” Goodrich said. “I would talk to those who failed and then managed to succeed. Talk to anyone who will listen.”

“Also, take advantage of your classes and learn how to think,” Glazer added. “Learn the right questions to ask when asking someone to critique your business plan.  Look for the assumptions you are making and see if they actually happen.”

To stand out from other potential businesses and gain the investors needed to start, Glazer instructed the audience to find their distinctive competitive advantage. Once this is determined, organize all the efforts around this point.

With questions ranging from technicalities of funding to personal questions about working with family, the night ended with Dahlen asking the panelists, “What do you know now that you didn’t know then?”

“You’ve got to do something you really love and be energized by the work,” Glazer said. “If the work de-energizes you, you’re doing the wrong work. Everyone wants to be successful. There are a million ways to be successful. Figure out what that way is for you.”