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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Korn had already dipped his toes into the franchise waters by completing Enterprise Rent-A-Car's management training program in San Diego, when his father offered him the opportunity to buy his Safeguard franchise in Tucson. Safeguard, a business management-solutions company, seemed like a good fit for the younger Korn's background in marketing, sales and management. And certainly the price was right: His father was giving him a great deal. But there were two more selling points: First, the younger Korn could see "the potential to double and triple business based on the current customer base and new product offerings." And, second, the guy loves golf. Beautiful Tucson offers opportunities to play the game year-round.
Name: Ben Korn
Franchise owned: Safeguard, in Tucson, Arizona.
How long have you owned a franchise?
This franchise opportunity was appealing because I was able to step into an established business with a foundation of long-term customers and local relationships. At that time, Safeguard had made a strategic turn, expanding their product offerings to include promotional products and other marketing solutions, which I really enjoy. Since then, we’ve experienced significant growth in the category and see it as our biggest opportunity for growth.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I went through the Enterprise Rent-A-Car management training program, which was a great experience. Enterprise is a very successful business model that recruits similarly driven people directly out of college. It’s a fast-paced environment, and every new employee starts at the bottom rung of the ladder. High customer-service survey scores are a prerequisite to advancement, and you’re always striving to reach the next level by competing with your peers. The potential is surprisingly enticing, and you learn how to run many aspects of a business throughout the process.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I chose Safeguard mainly because my father recruited me. For two years, he tried to convince me to move back to Tucson from San Diego to purchase his Safeguard franchise. I decided it was an opportunity that I should jump on for a variety of reasons. I could see the potential to double and triple the business based on the current customer base and new product offerings. The Safeguard model is a good fit with my marketing degree and sales and management experience. Moreover, Tucson is a beautiful place to live, and I get to play golf year round!
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I spent time in due diligence assessing the real market value of the business to be sure that I was making a fiscally sound purchase from my family, but I didn’t need to make significant investments before taking over. My purchase consists of monthly payments over 10 years, so it wasn’t a big upfront investment, venture capital or a loan.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
My wife calls me a “maximizer” because I look at every angle and potential alternative on any purchase over $500. I certainly did so when considering to buy this business. Even though this was a purchase from family, it’s still a significant business transaction. I started out with many conversations with the franchise development professionals at Safeguard corporate. I had to be sure I understood all the requirements necessary to complete the transaction with them, including a comprehensive business plan, market analysis, financial projections and more.
I worked with my local business coach, Sue Porter, who arranged joint meetings with some astute businessmen and a financial expert who gave me their perspective on the business’s financials. I was fortunate to be referred to a solid business broker, who helped me with the business valuation, which is a complex process, but a great learning experience. I connected with a well-established CPA firm with a strong business background and a young entrepreneurial tax manager to determine the type of corporation I would form. Last, I engaged a business attorney to draw up the necessary legal documents.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Before coming into the business, I came from a corporate environment at Enterprise, where, if you follow the system and the policies, you can move up the ladder. With my own business, I've learned that I have some responsibility to create something of my own. My strengths are big-picture vision, relationships, sales, understanding people and a certain comfort in knowing that from day to day I’m flying by the seat of my pants. Therefore, I hire very detail-oriented people. They would love to see very well-defined policies and manuals, and I don’t blame them.
At first, I figured I’d just “cross that bridge when we come to it,” but then I realized, "We’ve come to it." So, I’m dedicating some time to think through certain aspects of the business with a professional who is familiar with local laws and HR practices.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
It can be a huge winner! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you can pour your own character and creativity into it. If you’ve got the drive, you can make it your own and grow it like crazy. So, do your homework. Confer with other franchisees in the company or the industry who will, on many occasions, tell you all you want and more about what to expect. Be confident, but humble. You don’t know what you don’t know, so seek strategic advice from mentors, colleagues, friends and business coaches. Schedule the time in your week to step out and “work on your business, rather than in your business.”
What’s next for you and your business?
We’re working on adding new sales people as well as a new office space with a showroom. I’ve looked into and will continue to pursue mergers and acquisitions, which could be competitors or other Safeguard franchises -- hopefully in beautiful coastal markets! We are continually investing time into our people and systems to be sure we’re the best at what we do and that our employees are growing personally and professionally.