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.
Andrea Bisconti was writing direct marketing copy for various clients after many years in the communications field when she started dancing -- not just for fun but for a living. Bisconti's mother had taken up ballroom dancing at a Fred Astaire Dance Studio, and the daughter was stunned at the results: Her mother lost 50 pounds and shed the sadness she'd suffered following the death of her husband. What's more, Bisconti, herself a single mom, wanted a business that would allow her more time with her son. So, she too signed up with Fred Astaire, first as a student and then an owner -- and "danced" her way toward success.
Name: Andrea Bisconti
Franchise owned: Fred Astaire Dance Studio, in Willoughby, Ohio
How long have you owned a franchise?
I’m a single mother, and I wanted flexibility and to be my own boss while raising my son. He was 8 years old when I opened the studio. I felt like a franchise allowed me to run my own business, but still have support behind me.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was a freelance direct marketing writer. Before that, I was director of marketing of the Las Vegas Tropicana.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
My mother was a Fred Astaire Dance Studio student, and she got me involved in dancing. I loved it and wanted to make it my career.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I spent about $80,000: $16,000 to purchase the franchise, $22,000 for the dance floor, $5,000 for the computerized music machine and a sound system and $5,000 for outdoor signage. The rest went to office equipment, supplies, décor, the grand opening advertising and three months' operating expenses.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I selected the three most successful Fred Astaire Dance Studio franchises in the country. I then contacted the owners and asked them to train me and my staff on the methods they used.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Setting procedures as if we were a big company when we only had three employees (including me) at the beginning. Because we were so small, we tended to figure things out on the fly. As we got bigger, it was quite a struggle to switch directions and create and follow concrete procedures.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Talk to as many franchise owners as you can in the company you’re choosing. Make sure you fit the company philosophy and the personality of the franchise. Truly believe in your product. Without that passion, it’s very difficult to work the long hours that are necessary in the beginning. It’s also hard to deal with the day-to-day tedium of bookkeeping, marketing, paperwork, etc. if you don’t enjoy what you do.
Also, build a board of advisors (formal or informal). I have a business advisor who has helped make the company more profitable. I also use other business owners in the community as sounding boards. I have people I trust for legal advice.
Last year, I also invested in an executive coach, who worked with my entire staff on team building, using individual strengths strategically and more effective communication. Our team dynamic, which was good before, is now fantastic.
What’s next for you and your business?
I am concentrating on giving my staff opportunities. I am helping one staff member open her own studio. I am training all staff members to own their own businesses, and eventually I will help them open studios if they would like to. I will look at partnering with them as a way to expand my own business interests while helping them.
This staff training allows me even more flexibility because they all know how to run most aspects of the business if I’m away.
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