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Owners made headway with new concepts

Taking a successful business and turning it into a franchise can be a challenge, especially for those whose business concepts go beyond restaurants, motels and convenience stores.

By Margaret Cashill, Staff Writer for the Tampa Bay Business Journal

Date: Friday, September 28, 2012, 6:00am EDT - Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012, 4:34pm EDT

Original Article - http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/print-edition/2012/09/28/owners-made-headway-with-new-concepts.html

The Tampa Bay Business Journal asked the leaders of three less common types of companies how they got their start, what trails they blazed and what lessons they learned along the way.

They discussed how they did their research, what they thought they could add to the limited products on the market and how there is no such thing as over-preparing.

Brian Sanders | i9 Sports Corp. | President and chief operating officer

Based in Brandon, i9 Sports offers sports leagues, camps, clinics and after-school programs for young people. The first i9 Sports franchise was sold in 2003 and now the company has 115 franchisees operating a total of 275 locations.

“I9 Sports was the first company to transform amateur sports into a franchised business, so there were no other companies in the same space at that time. In 2002, CEO Frank Fiume worked with a recognized franchise consulting group to found i9 Sports in the Tampa Bay area. With help from the consulting firm on the mechanics of franchising, Frank developed a successful, scalable model that allows franchisees to earn a living while providing an invaluable service to kids and the community.

“Fiume introduced his innovative youth sports franchise system into an old industry characterized by poor customer service, a severe lack of organization, and a highly political, committee-based operating structure where no one ever seemed to be accountable. His belief was that creating a model in which business owners with a personal stake in running the leagues would result in a superior customer experience. He was right!”

Sanders identified three major lessons learned early on: Putting the customer first and basing the strategic direction on what the customer wants, involving franchisees in the early stages of new program development and ensuring that company leadership demonstrates transparency during times of change.

“No questions can be off limits. We believe in sharing where we’re going, why we’re going there, and making sure everyone can see the metrics that reflect how well we’re doing against our goals. This includes making it safe to openly discuss our mistakes.”

Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman | College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving | Co-founders

The Tampa-based moving and junk removal company promotes a “100 percent stress-free experience” courtesy of hunks. College Hunks has grown to 43 franchised units, in addition to two company owned units, since the business began in 2005.

Soliman: “From the start, there were plenty of junk-removal companies across the country. Many of them, though, weren’t very reputable. A lot of them lacked licensing and insurance. Of the few junk haulers out there that were running legitimate businesses, none were taking their business in the direction that we wanted to go. Those companies focus on hauling junk. We focus on the people we’re helping, providing them with fun, friendly, stress-free experiences.

“So, when we started, we got the basics from the established companies that were out there. We did a lot of research to learn the ins-and-outs of the industry. We took what those companies were doing and used it as more of a rough framework rather than a definitive guide. From what we learned, we pushed the envelope so that we could exceed the industry’s standards across the board. Our trucks are bigger, our disposal methods are greener and our client-care is friendlier. We stuck to our vision, refused to cut corners, and now it’s paying off.”

Friedman: “The biggest lesson we learned early on is that expansion is great, but stretching your brand too thin is bad business. We tried to move into the retail space in our early days. Unfortunately, we overextended and lost some money as a result. Retail was a good idea in theory, but we weren’t ready for it at the time. Now, when we have ideas for supplemental revenue streams, we plan it much more thoroughly, prep it, test it, review it and then, only if it makes sense objectively, we launch it.

“Essentially, we learned to measure twice and cut once. In retrospect, we should’ve known that, but first-hand experiences can teach a valuable, longer lasting lesson. That’s one that we won’t forget.”

Jim Majirsky | DwellGreen LLC, DwellGreen Franchising LLC | President

The Sarasota home services company offers evaluations that focus on efficiency, safety, comfort and other aspects of a “DwellGreen” home. Established in 2009, DwellGreen began offering franchise opportunities in 2011.

“When we first started developing our franchise model, there were only a few other franchise organizations that we considered similar in our industry. They were also fairly new and we decided early on that our niche and approach would be unique in what we did and how we did it. We didn’t look to them much for guidance but spent much more time working with consultant and business development advisor organizations like the International Franchise Association and iFranchise who helped us set the tone for how we wanted to structure the franchise offering.

“In addition, I had the good fortune over the past 15 years of having worked closely with several very successful franchise brands that were also in the home and building services arena and that experience was very instrumental in developing our overall game plan.

“I would say the most valuable lesson we learned early on is, when it comes to building your business model and launching it, there is no such thing as over-preparing. There are many things in life that you can start up without being fully ready and then adding and adjusting as you go along. Building a new franchise organization is not one of them!”

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