Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotligh on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ironically, Robert Kenz ended up buying the very Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies restaurant he and his wife had regularly patronized, as fans of its healthful and fruitful snack drinks. "Living a healthy lifestyle was something I could get behind wholeheartedly," says the owner today, 12 years into the business he joined as a way to replace his former medical-device business, which, while highly profitable, limited the time he could spend with his family.
Name: Robert Kenz
Franchise owned: Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies, in Monrovia, California
How long have you owned a franchise?
I have owned and operated Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies locations for 12 years.
Coming from a medical sales nanagement background, I had absolutely no experience in food service and very little experience in retailing. Franchising provided me with the systems and tools I needed to grow the concept in my market. It also short-tracked a lot of the learning curve associated with formulating a one-off concept on your own.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was vice president of sales for a small public medical device company, with over $30 million in annual sales. It was a high-stress, high-travel management position with little time for family.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Oddly, my wife and I had been customers of what would eventually become one of our stores. We were won over by the healthy drinks and overall goal to help others stay healthy and live longer. Living a healthy lifestyle was something I could get behind wholeheartedly, and believe will always be a successful business model to build any concept upon.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to buy an existing store before I was finished building a new one. Buying an existing location gave me the real-world knowledge to work the business and fine-tune the design and layout of my new store. Eventually, it would help underwrite much of the cost for the new store. Finding existing locations that may be slightly underperforming “diamonds in the rough” can cut this cost significantly.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I tried hard to speak to as many existing franchisees in the system I could. Unfortunately, there weren’t very many of them 12 years ago. I also reached out to franchisees of other concepts to get their impressions of business ownership. Many of the challenges in owning and operating your own business are shared among different concepts. The more people you talk to, the better!
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
In building a new location, I did not expect many of the delays that just happen in the normal course of opening a business. Delays from lease negotiations, design drawings, city approvals and construction all add time and money to the venture that I initially greatly underestimated.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Drawing from my years of managing a medical sales force, I treat my employees as my direct customers. My job is to do all I can to empower, support and incentivize them, to do their best to deliver superior customer service to our customers walking through the door. It is very much like an inverted pyramid, with me on the bottom and our customers at the top.
By focusing on what you can do to make your employees’ jobs more efficient and personally rewarding will in the end pay far greater dividends than getting behind the front-line and trying to take charge every day. If you take proper care of your team, they will afford you the freedom to expand your business and experience the freedoms and benefits that owning your own business can offer.
What’s next for you and your business?
I am always looking to expand the brand in and around my market. When real estate is not easily attainable, I focus on how I can sell more products out of the space I currently occupy. I have been able to do this by focusing on large, daily catering opportunities and other fund-raising programs. For example, through years of building relationships with our local schools, we were recently offered the opportunity to sell and serve our custom healthy juices and smoothies in a local public high school juice bar.
Arcadia High School offered us the opportunity, which allows us to extend our brand and our products outside of our four walls. If you’re not moving the ball forward, even in small increments, your competition is most likely gaining ground on you.