If the Shoe Fits

What’s the best way to get to know a franchise? By walking a mile in a franchisee’s shoes.

If the Shoe Fits

As Forrest Gump puts it, “You can tell an awful lot about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going; where they’ve been.”

And before we drift off on the many shoes Gump has worn, picking the right franchise is as personal a decision as picking out a pair of shoes: Different franchises appeal to different people – some flashy, some practical, some built for endurance and not for looks.

Regardless of whether you’re shopping for footwear or franchises, the most important thing is fit. You must know what you’re looking for in a franchise before writing that cheque.

One of the best ways to assess fit is to become an employee and get an insider’s perspective. When you purchase a franchise one of the most crucial things you buy is the system by which the company operates each of its locations. Since you’ll be held to a certain level of accountability, you must be comfortable with the everyday operational tasks expected of you.

If you work as an employee of the franchise before you buy, you can talk to the managers and assistant managers about their job, read the training manual, take a look at their customer service policies and see how they’re put into action.

Why this is useful is because in many set-ups the process of familiarising yourself with the system may not take place until your franchisee training begins, which is typically after contracts have been signed. This can lead to an unfortunate situation of franchisees not truly understanding their workload until it’s too late.

I originally worked for a particular sandwich shop in the States when I was in college, and my experience there left me wanting to own a business as soon as possible.

For years I worked at different food concepts as a low-level employee, learning the ins and outs and trying to find one that matched the high standards I had acquired. When no other franchise met that original standard, I made the decision to invest in the same company that helped me pay my way through college.

On franchises and nightmare dates

Once a franchise is aware you are interested in them, they will usually do whatever it takes to get you into their ranks if they feel you’re qualified. Having objective, personally-gathered evidence to counter or support the claims you’ll hear during this process is crucial.

Think of it like dating; before going on a first date, how valuable would it be to know how the person acts in a relationship, what they have to offer you, how they treat people close to them and what they will need from you?

Working at a franchise before becoming a franchisee keeps you from convincing yourself you have fallen in love at first sight or walked into a nightmare date.

My first sandwich shop experience was not the flashiest or most bombastic company that I worked with. They didn’t have the most stores or try to evangelise their brand. In fact, they focused solely on creating a personal relationship with me to ensure they’d be comfortable allowing me to use their brand.

I used my time behind the counter to ensure I could carry their banner proudly. I was able to balance what I knew of their history, their system and the support they provide to their franchisees to ensure the system worked, instead of taking the franchise’s words at face value. Evaluating the systems from the inside, by working low-level positions, gives you detailed insight you would never be offered by the franchise.

All franchises worth their salt will provide you with names of franchisees to call who will discuss with you the joys of ownership and numbers to show why they are the brand to go with. However, you have to know how that stacks up against the reality of the day-to-day business before moving forward.

Take time to walk a mile in a franchise’s shoes, or at least around the store, before spending six figures on the figurative pair of Pumas.

Joe Prusha
About the Author
Joe Prusha is the owner of Erbert & Gerbert's in Milwaukee, Wisc., serving Eastside, Shorewood, Murray Hill, Riverwest and Downtown. As a young man, Prusha worked at Erbert & Gerbert's to pay for college then worked at a variety of restaurant concepts in order to evaluate their strengths and decided to open his Erbert & Gerbert's because they were the best he'd encountered. His Milwaukee location opened in 2009 and has been thriving since.

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