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
As an active duty officer in the Navy for 22 years, and later a senior manager in the Department of Defense, Bobbi Collins thrived -- and still does -- in environments with structure and strong support teams. She found those same qualities, when she went looking for a franchise, in Tutor Doctor, whose work with kids develops future leaders -- another aspect of the company Collins feels mirrors her military tenure.
Name: Bobbi Collins
Franchise owned: Tutor Doctor, in Oahu, Hawaii
How long have you owned a franchise?
I sent in my franchise agreement six months ago, in November,and opened for business on January 23, 2015, following training in Toronto; so we have been open for business for three months.
Franchising offers several benefits that appealed to me. First, it provides structure, proven systems and a strong support team. With a background working within the Department of Defense as both active duty and civil service, I am very accustomed to working within a system that provides these same organizational traits, structure, established processes and a strong support team. The comfort and confidence that this type of organizational structure provides a new business owner walking into a new adventure makes it easier to deal with the unexpected issues that always arise in a new business. The structure also limits the number of these issues you face.
Second, a franchise gives those around you greater confidence in your ability to succeed. This applies to employees, funding sources, business partners and clients. Being able to reassure them -- that you may be new to this business, but the franchise behind you is a proven success -- speaks volumes.
Finally, the franchisor becomes an extended staff for me. I don’t have to get an information technology department, a training department, a marketing department, etc., because I already have access to some of the best available. In the case of Tutor Doctor, they are some of the best around and very responsive to franchisees.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I worked in a federal civil service position as a senior manager with the Department of Defense. I worked in supply and logistics, but spent most of my time developing personnel into strong leaders within my agency. The job was very similar to my duties as an active duty officer in the United States Navy for 21 years.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
When I put my time and effort into anything, I want to add value, make a difference. In a military setting I did this through my technical expertise, but even more through my role of developing leaders. The satisfaction from developing someone’s potential and seeing what they can do is hard to match. Tutor Doctor does this by providing the support that helps students succeed in meeting educational goals and gain the self-confidence and desire to become lifelong learners, which serves them well into the future.
I was also looking for a business that sustains itself in my absence. Tutor Doctor provides this framework. I have a network of quality tutors delivering our service, an education consultant to work with helping to identify client needs and a tutor-recruiter to help in finding more tutors to serve our clients.
I also know that anything worth doing is better when you take others with you. My husband is my financial manager and works closely in that area as well as supports me with events in the community. My daughter has also been a tremendous help, working as an education consultant and reaching out to the local community through events and contacting schools.
After talking with representatives from Tutor Doctor Home Office and other franchisees, I found them to be enthusiastic, innovative in their thinking, giving of their time and energy to help and selective in whom they bring into the company. This gave me confidence that they would provide the support I needed, not allow the company to grow stagnant and falter in the marketplace. And they were making sure that only franchisees aligned with the corporate values were brought in to represent the brand.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
My total cost before opening for business was $71,710. That included the franchisee fee, $44,700; the mentorship program fee, $4,000; my used Smart Car, $9,695; my startup costs [fees, licenses, etc.], $386; marketing, $2,449; and assorted costs [insurance, a computer, supplies, travel, marketing, and online presence, $10,500].
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
When I began looking at potential franchises, a small booklet provided by the Small Business Administration provided great advice regarding how to evaluate a franchise and key questions to ask the franchisor and current franchisees. I also researched veteran-friendly franchises through Veterans Business Services. These two sources were great starting points.
As I reviewed potential franchises, I looked for a good fit in the product or service to me and how it would satisfy those personal goals I had, like adding value, making a difference, not being dependent solely on my presence to run and having corporate values that aligned well with my personal values. I also looked at profit potential based on the market need and competitors in my specific market. Most of this information was gained through a lot of phone calls around the island.
After talking with representatives from Tutor Doctor’s corporate team, I spoke to a variety of current franchisees who had owned their locations anywhere from three years to six months, owned multiple locations, were knowledgeable about the Western Region Veterans Affairs contract and more. These conversations were targeted so that I could gain specific information, and each was very helpful to educate me about the opportunity.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Even with my market research, I underestimated the need for tutoring services in my community. I had imagined that I would retain a set of tutors and then have a monthly push to add to the existing pool to keep up with client demand. I am finding that I have to do weekly recruitment, at a minimum, through a wide variety of resources to try and keep pace with the client demand. This is probably one of the best challenges to have!
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Figure out what you are looking for in a business. Find a service or product that you can easily identify with, a business model that suits you and a corporate culture and value system aligned to your personal values. I also believe it is important to find a franchise that knows how to stay relevant in a changing marketplace; you know they are in it for the long haul, not a short-lived concept without the innovation to respond to changing signals from your market.
What’s next for you and your business?
Tutor Doctor in Hawaii has gotten off to a great start thanks to our online presence, word of mouth and a few small events. We are working towards opening additional ways to reach our customer base. Summer learning programs, exam preparation and helping students start their school year right with confidence are a few ways we are striving to provide support for critical tutoring needs throughout the year.