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.
Caleb Nelson grew up living and breathing the Unishippers brand, because his father, Steve Nelson, was one of the shipping-logistics franchise's founders, as well as its president and CEO. Like most kids, Caleb wanted to separate himself from his dad's world. Instead, he started at the company -- at the bottom -- right out of high school and earned respect by working his way up. Then, at the tender age of 20, he bought his first franchise territory, in Oregon, with partner Brian Roberts. The younger Nelson continued to prove himself by growing that first territory from $250,000 in yearly revenue to nearly $6 million. And today, the partners' two territories average 20 percent growth year after year -- reason enough to assume that the older Nelson today is a proud poppa.
Name: Caleb Nelson
Franchise owned: Co-owners of two Unishippers franchises in Eugene/Salem, Oregon, and San Francisco/Oakland, California.
How long have you owned a franchise?
My business partner and I are currently in our tenth year as Unishippers franchisees.
I have a long background with Unishippers -- my father was one of the founders, so I had a unique opportunity to watch the company grow. I started working as a low-level intern at the corporate office when I was 17 and watched the organization grow into a strong and powerful business.
Like most sons, I wanted to do something different than my dad. I wanted to go out and make a name for myself. It was interesting for me to look into franchising, because you can really make it your own, while still taking advantage of the proven systems and franchise support that makes the concept so successful.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before becoming a franchise owner, I bounced around various departments within the Unishippers corporate office. From legal and marketing, to franchisee relations and support, I saw how franchisees interact with the corporate office, and how the corporate office is able to bring value to the franchisees.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
In addition to seeing the company grow, early on I got to see how much franchisees were able to improve their lives by owning a Unishippers franchise. It was really inspiring to watch that first-hand. The proven concept and support systems put in place make franchisees able to get a serious return on investment, while also achieving a work-life balance. Unishippers provides flexibility at the same time as offering unlimited earnings potential based on the effort you put into it.
Also, the Unishippers’ concept is extremely strong in the marketplace. There is a real need for somebody to consult with the small-to-midsize shipping customer and bridge the major disconnect between customers and larger shipping companies. We fulfill that niche because we operate similarly to a small business, and our customers know that we truly understand their problems. We also deliver unique solutions that save them money and hassle on their shipping.
Plus, customers can reach us directly and know us on a first-name basis. As an added bonus, working with us they can harness the power of our unique partnership with UPS which most 3PLs [third party logistics companies] cannot offer. It’s a winning combination that sets us apart from our competition.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
We were in a unique situation starting our business. We purchased the territory from a previous owner, who was very reasonable to work with and wanted to see us succeed because they were invested in our success. We probably spent between $10,000 and $15,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I learned a lot by working in the Unishippers system prior to buying my first franchise. My father has also been a great resource for ideas and information because of his understanding of the business at all levels. He’s been out of the franchise system since 2006, so it’s changed drastically since he was involved, but the core concepts of running a strong business are the same. It’s great to have his ear.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Initially, figuring out a good balance of focus was difficult. From the beginning we were very focused on sales and not enough on cash flow, which is equally as important. We had to make sure we were picking up the right kind of customers. Going further, we had to ensure we were collecting payments from those customers properly and within a timely manner consistent with payments to carriers.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
A lot of people aren’t afraid of working hard, but they’re afraid of taking the leap. Don’t be afraid of the sacrifice that it will take to come in and really work, and don’t wait to jump at an opportunity. I feel that it was easier to start the business at a younger age because I was risking less when we made the initial investment, and I had more time at my disposal.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are at record numbers this year, which we couldn’t be happier about, so right now we’re looking to continue this rate of growth and have this be a residual source of income for me and my family for years to come. We’re looking to continue to hire more people, as well. The most rewarding part of this job has been bringing people on board and watching how their lives are improved because of their hard work and the proven Unishippers system.