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.
Alan Regala, a first-generation American of Filipino and Chinese descent, and first-time business owner, didn't just achieve the American dream; he surpassed it. In his very first year with ShelfGenie, he reached the $1 million revenue mark. What may have helped were his years in product development, in the medical device and consumer packaged goods industries -- he actually invented a portable notebook and pen that fits into your wallet. Something else likely helped too: his master's degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford.
Name: Alan Regala
Franchise owned: ShelfGenie in Seattle, Washington
How long have you owned a franchise?
I'm closing in on my five-year anniversary this summer.
I've started a business on my own in the past, and while I felt it was successful, it was difficult being on my own and starting from scratch. There is the added pressure of staying relevant in the crowded field of technology and consumer products start-ups. When I decided to start a new business, I really liked the idea of having a partner, but I didn't just want to find a random person to partner with. The idea of franchising really appealed to me because the franchisor is your partner and you are starting with a game plan and system based on something that works.
I knew that with my background, I could find a way to optimize those systems and grow our client-base. With ShelfGenie I liked the fact that they were an established brand and there was a high potential for growth. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2010 and Franchisee of the Year in 2013, and seeing my franchise grow to more than $1 million in yearly revenue, I know that I made the right decision.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Cal-Poly and my master's in mechanical engineering from Stanford, I spent seven years in product development. I worked for various companies until I founded Everyday Innovations. With Everyday Innovations, I realized that I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I embraced the challenge and the thrill of taking a product from the concept level to the marketplace.
One such product, the PicoPad, was actually featured in Entrepreneur magazine in 2008. Establishing my own company and seeing it thrive was proof that I could grow a business, and instilled the confidence I needed to get my ShelfGenie franchise off the ground.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I was looking at three different franchises at the time, and after my initial research into each of their business models, ShelfGenie was at the bottom of my list. I’m glad that I did my due diligence on the company and put myself in the shoes of the franchise owner because that really shaped my decision. It wasn't until I visited the companies in person that I could see the difference in how the businesses were run and see the people behind the company.
I was extremely impressed with the leadership at ShelfGenie. They seemed very committed to providing the best possible experience for the end client and the franchisees, as well as doing all of the things necessary to make that happen -- making a top-quality product, hiring the right people internally, listening to clients and franchisees and constantly working towards being a better organization.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
My startup costs were around $127,000: $104,000 for franchise fees (multiple territories), $11,000 for initial marketing materials (home show display, vehicle wrap); the rest was for miscellaneous expenses like training, accounting setup, office equipment, etc.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I utilized the help of a franchise consultant to help me pick my top three franchises. I highly recommend using a consultant, as they typically vet all the companies they work with and recommend only those they feel are quality businesses. There is really no downside to this process as this service is free to the prospective franchisee. Without that guidance, I would have been overwhelmed with the process and the large number of franchises out there.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The biggest challenge for me was getting the right team in place. I didn't have a lot of experience with hiring and managing people prior to this, so that, combined with the learning curve of getting to know the business myself, was tough. We wanted to grow at a pace that was sustainable and would allow our team to provide the highest level of service.
I’ve learned along the way that I always need to be looking for ways my team can improve to better serve our clients. Recently, I created training documents for the team and also shared them with the corporate office in case [that contribution] would be valuable to the system as a whole. Thankfully, the franchisor has provided great support to encourage our success.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Use a franchise consultant to help you explore what's out there and what might be a good fit for you. Have a monetary goal in mind as well as a lifestyle goal; make sure that the prospective business has the capability of meeting both of those requirements. Once you're far enough along in discussions with the prospective franchise, do your due diligence with the validation process and speak to several current franchise owners to get their firsthand experience and see if it's meeting their expectations.
What’s next for you and your business?
Things have been going so well with ShelfGenie that a few years ago, I decided to buy into another franchise, this time in the frozen yogurt industry. Before I was able to open a location, things did not pan out with that business, so I ended up backing out. Although it didn’t work out as planned, I was able to see the inner workings of another franchisor, and I learned that, with ShelfGenie, I am fortunate to be partnered with a solid company with solid values, which cares about its franchisees.
I've since decided to double down on ShelfGenie by focusing my efforts on expanding my coverage area and building a phenomenal team to provide the best possible experience for our clients.