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.
Long before he took on a franchise with CMIT Solutions, which offers IT consulting for small business, Bob Riesenbach had proved himself in business, and then some. As an executive with consumer brands in the convenience and food-retail, automotive and credit card industries, he'd developed the first U.S. chip-enabled credit card for Bank One and helped launch the Suburu Outback -- among other impressive feats. But a "must" for small business success still eluded him: the ability to network. "I tend to be on the quiet, introverted side," Riesenbach admits. So, to compensate, he committed himself to attend at least one networking activity every day for his first year. "I scheduled these meetings at the beginning of each month or week, so they would be on the calendar and it would be harder to rationalize skipping them," he explains. "And, I forced myself to go, and to 'pretend' to be the extrovert that I naturally am not." His plan worked: He found his comfort zone, and the relationships that resulted helped him become CMIT's "Franchisee of the Year."
Name: Bob Riesenbach
Franchise owned: CMIT Solutions of Cherry Hill, New Jersey
How long have you owned a franchise?
I launched the franchise location in January 2011. CMIT Solutions of Cherry Hill serves small- and medium-sized businesses throughout South Jersey and the Philadelphia area.
The success I had achieved in my corporate career gave me the confidence to explore opportunities to own and operate my own business. In each of my former positions, I assumed entrepreneurial-type roles, whether that be managing product launches or guiding brand innovation for large companies in the food, credit-card service and automotive space.
In the beginning, I considered buying an existing business or starting from the ground up. While I was exploring the possibility of franchising, colleagues posed the question: Why would I choose to pay a franchise royalty fee, rather than starting a business from the ground-up? By conducting a thorough cost/benefit analysis, I came to the realization that the royalty fee needs to be evaluated on an ROI basis, like any other business expense. I used a ROI analysis to prove to myself that owning a franchise would have a much higher likelihood of providing a positive return on my investment.
Plus, franchising offered me the branding, training and back-end support needed to launch and grow the business quickly. So, I came to the conclusion that as long as I could find an organization that provided high-quality services that I would otherwise have to develop on my own, franchising was the way to go. Once I found CMIT Solutions, there was no looking back!
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I served in key executive level positions with major consumer brands in the convenience and food-retail, automotive and credit card service industry. Throughout my corporate career, my focus and passion was always on launching innovative new products and services.
In my last corporate position managing technology initiatives for Wawa, I developed and launched a gift-card program, which over a few years grew to more than $50 million in revenue, contributing significantly to the company’s bottom line. I also led product development and launched and managed tech-driven programs, including the Wawa Visa credit card and self-service lottery.
In my former role with Bank One, I managed the launch of the first chip-enabled credit card in the United States. And, right out of grad school at The Wharton School, I worked for Subaru of America, launching new vehicles, including the Subaru Outback.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I was introduced to CMIT Solutions through a franchise broker. The business model was appealing to me for several reasons. For starters, the opportunity would allow me to leverage my extensive corporate experience, which included working closely with corporate IT departments, to drive growth for small and medium-sized businesses.
In addition, I had an immediate connection with the CMIT Solutions home office, especially the leadership team. Jeff Connally, the CEO and president of CMIT Solutions, has a strong vision for the industry and where it is headed. His strategic leadership, combined with the camaraderie of the CMIT Solutions franchise system, was unmatched among its competitors.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The initial investment ranges between $126,300 and $174,439, which includes the franchise fee, start-up fee and start-up and working capital.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I connected with a franchise broker, who guided me through the discovery process. He presented a series of business concepts that matched my experience, skill set and interests.
In addition to working with a franchise broker, I conducted quite a bit of research on my own. Rather than following the FDD and calling the franchisees listed in the document, I reached out to others within the system who had found success and those who had failed. It was important for me to call as many people as possible.
Moreover, I connected with business associates and members of my personal and professional network to gather their feedback on the business opportunity. I wanted to learn whether they were aware of a demand for these types of services and whether they would hire a company such as CMIT Solutions. The response was overwhelmingly positive, convincing me that this was the right business opportunity for me.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Bringing on new team members is always a challenge. No matter how rigorous the interview and screening process, it is hard to know how effective an employee is in his or her role until they’re on the job. For this reason, it is easy to make mistakes when it comes to hiring.
It was equally difficult to step out of my comfort zone and become an effective networker. Since I tend to be on the quiet, introverted side, and knowing that networking is a requirement for small business success, I committed myself mentally to overcoming this issue by attending at least one networking activity every day for the first year. I scheduled these meetings at the beginning of each month or week, so they would be on the calendar and it would be harder to rationalize skipping them. And, I forced myself to go, and to “pretend” to be the extrovert that I naturally am not.
This “act” was instrumental in developing many of the friendships and business relationships that have helped me succeed.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
For starters, it is important to make a commitment to networking and becoming actively involved in your local business community. Building and fostering relationships has been essential in growing my CMIT Solutions business.
I would also advise prospective franchisees to analyze their finances in a critical way. In franchising, just like in any other business endeavor, it is essential to understand which financial figures you need to meet in order to succeed. It is important to be rigorous about analyzing the businesses’ revenue and expenses, which means rigorously evaluating the qualitative aspects of the franchise, such as whether it has a culture of collaborative support or internal competition. This question alone could be an important factor in whether it is a good fit. By looking at all aspects of the business critically, you can lessen the likelihood of making emotion-based decisions.
What’s next for you and your business?
My CMIT Solutions office was named the 2015 “Franchise of the Year”! Nonetheless, I can’t rest on my laurels. It is really important to focus on pursuing best-inclass operations in order to provide first class service to our customers. That, in turn, will yield customer loyalty and referrals, allowing my employees to achieve the career growth and work/life balance they are seeking.
It’s all a big “circle of life.” With satisfied customers and happy employees, I hope to be able to relax someday!