Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you’re a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
In his nearly 30 years working in IT, Gary Yenser had developed a reputation as a go-to guy for struggling businesses. Advancing in his career meant relocating often and spending long stretches of time on the road, away from his wife and sons. Rather than change houses again, Yenser changed his gig to become a Speedpro Imaging franchisee – and the company’s regional developer in Tennessee. He’d always wanted to run a business, and now he and his wife Nancy have been doing just that for a year and a half. Yenser proves that dreams can come true, even if it takes a few decades.
Name: Gary Yenser
Franchise owned: Speedpro Imaging in Memphis, Tenn.
How long have you owned a franchise?
We opened our imaging studio on Sept. 1, 2013. I am also the Regional Developer for Speedpro in Tennessee which means that I have responsibility for franchise development and support across the state, while operating my own studio in Memphis.
Becoming independent business owners is something my wife, Nancy, and I had often thought about, but we never acted on the dream because we were both enjoying successful careers in the IT services industry working with and for great people. In addition, the prospect of starting something from scratch where we developed a concept, defined and implemented a business model, and put all the mechanisms required to operate a company in place always seemed overwhelming. In 2012 I elected to pursue other career opportunities. I went to a seminar on franchising where it became clear that affiliating with a franchise that had a track record of success, reflected our value system, and had established operating processes and systems would provide the best way for us to act on our dream.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I enjoyed a gratifying 28-year career in the IT services industry working for Electronic Data Systems (acquired by HP in 2008), with executive assignments in the Unites States and Australia. Later, I branched out to support commercial clients in multiple industries including manufacturing, telecommunications, and finance. While rewarding, this required that I spend extensive time on the road and resulted in our family relocating multiple times (three times between 2002 and 2008). It was becoming evident in 2012 that my next assignment would require another relocation or extensive travel. So, Nancy and I decided I should look at new career options.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
We met with a franchise consultant who presented us with several franchise options. Speedpro quickly emerged as the best match for us for a few reasons. Nancy and I both spent years in the IT services industry where a company competes and wins on exemplary service and exceptional quality. That mindset became part of our value system, and we wanted a franchise partner that mirrored those same values. Also, Speedpro is well established and had existing processes and systems in place to help us get started. We were very comfortable that we could hit the ground running and that the “road to revenue” would be accelerated. Finally, we wanted to be part of a collegial company where people are open, accessible, and supportive of one another. During our validation calls and due diligence, we found Speedpro owners to be all of those things which made the decision even easier for us.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Approximately $270,000. That included franchise fees, the baseline studio equipment configuration, studio build-out expenses (e.g., overhead door installation, security, network infrastructure), getting all the required insurance and licensing in place, and establishing an initial operative reserve.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Anna Wilds, CEO and Executive Franchise Consultant at Franchise Locators. Anna was instrumental in helping us identify our priorities and presenting us with franchise alternatives that supported those goals. I attended a lunch seminar hosted by Anna and asked for a follow-up meeting with her to discuss franchising.
When we first started the process, Anna asked us to compose a “Dream Statement.” She helped Nancy and me see the need to be as specific as possible about where we wanted entrepreneurship to take us on a personal level. We then replaced our generalities with a detailed statement that was long-term and gave meaningful insight into our personal priorities. Equally important, Nancy and I now have a touchstone that we refer to all the time to make sure we stay grounded in who we are and what we want to accomplish with our business.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I have always understood that to enjoy any kind of success in business, you need to surround yourself with great people. I have built large organizations with several hundred employees, the scale of which can mask the impact of imperfect hiring decisions. Since an individual Speedpro studio will generally have less than 5 employees, the necessity of getting the right person, with the right skills, in the right position is magnified. It is here that the maturity of the Speedpro franchise model and processes, combined with the insight of my fellow Speedpro franchisees, really helped me identify the best resources for each position and took some of the stress out of the hiring process.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
My primary recommendations are:
1) Get someone with expertise to help you navigate through the franchise evaluation process. As mentioned previously, Anna Wilds coached us every step of the way. One of the first things she said was to have an open mind since the process may take you in a direction that doesn’t match with your preconceptions, but will support the achievement of the goals and objectives you established while working through the process. This was of practical importance in helping to make a decision that was right for us, but it was also reassuring to have access to a mentor and coach who walked us through the inevitable emotional ups and downs associated with such a big decision.
2) Do not underestimate the need to have an operating reserve available to help you manage through the ups and downs of a startup. For example, we experienced some delays in site identification, lease negotiation, and site build-out that caused our opening to slide out a few months. You need to make sure you have enough reserve to account for those type of delays. Secondly, your receivables are not always going to align with your payables so you need to have access to funds to manage your cash flow and stay current on your recurring obligations.
What’s next for you and your business?
We have been open 17 months and plan on doubling our revenues year over year. Our immediate priority is to continue the maturation of our existing wholesale relationships which are foundational to that growth. We are also emphasizing operating efficiency and introducing process improvements based on the lessons learned during our first year and a half of operation.
As our local SpeedPro Imaging studio has become more established, I am increasingly focused on my responsibilities as Regional Developer of Tennessee to recruit and support other people interested in realizing their dream of business ownership. There are currently three studios operational in the state, and we are looking to add several more in the near future. The challenge is to realize that growth while staying true to the service and quality expectations associated with our brand.