Should you be a franchisee?

Angela Vithoulkas shares how she was confronted with the chance to become a franchisee and what she learned about what means to own a business.

My dream of having a chain of cafes all around Australia was alive and kicking for many years. Dreams tend to always look better in your head, so each time I thought I may have been closer to making it real, I pulled back. I owned successful businesses and I had a life; why did I want to mess with that?

At some point your dream becomes an obsession and turns into a beast that must be fed, right? Well in my case, that’s what happened. I wanted it and I was going to have it, no matter what it took. But it didn’t work out that way. As it turns out, increasing my sites wasn’t what I wanted.

Franchising was all the rage when I was looking at it – Boost Juice had only just started to see success, and there weren’t any real cafes in the market looking at doing it. We had a great reputation; we were getting offered loads of good new sites and everything we touched was working. It’s quite a high when all appears perfect.

At first I wanted to just keep adding businesses to our group, keep it all in-house and under our control, but scale and investment cost were starting to overwhelm me. I was approached by franchise companies all the time. They were selling me a solution to my dream, full of promises and rainbows with a pot of gold at the end.

A row of Russian nesting dollsHow could I refuse?

I was young, very inexperienced in the big shark world, and really believed everything everyone was telling me. I bought the story, and I thought it would just happen. I didn’t know that I should look at the ethics of who I was dealing with, or ask for their track record or see evidence of the results. I took them at their word, read the glossy brochure and couldn’t wait to sign up.

We paid the money and did the franchise study. This is the discovery of what you may be in for, the reality of how prepared or unprepared you might be and then the truth of how ill-equipped your franchise partner is or isn’t.

The responsibility of it all rests with me; I actually thought that the franchise company would be sending a specialist to work with me to set up the manuals, studies, proposals for the franchisees etc. I didn’t expect them to phone it in. If I knew how to do all that, I would have done it already.

They were just ticking off boxes, asking survey-type questions, and my frustrations were growing. I knew I was getting a template franchise study that was literally just having a title and address change.

As the study moved along one chapter a day, and when it came to the franchisee section, I was immersed in rules and processes for dealing with difficult franchise owners. I was told that I needed to prepare for the inevitable bad times that come with all franchisees, that they would be like needy children and very tight rules needed to be established.

Angela Vithoulkas, Eagle Waves RadioAt this point we were almost 70 per cent through the study, and I realised I didn’t want to go on. My business is personal. We get to know our customers and become part of their lives. I love that. I didn’t want to be in a head office removed from it all, and I didn’t want to lose my passion for what I do.

Maybe I lost the chance to expand my business, but I did get to define what was.

Angela Vithoulkas is the founder of Eagle Waves Radio.

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