So, what's my story?
It was back in 1988, I had the Sunday night scaries. I was confused about my career and wanted a change.
I had a great job, but it wasn't fulfilling my soul. I worked for the New York City Subway as a train conductor. I had the benefits, promise of a pension, and a great union behind me. I loved the job because I was part of the fabric of New York City. I met people from all over the world. However, I was frustrated. I felt like there was more for me to do in life and in my career. Although I loved the job and the people I worked with, I had ideas and dreams and needed to fulfill my destiny.
On Sunday evenings, I worked on the R train that ran from 95th Street in Brooklyn to Continental Avenue in Queens. It was a local train. It made all the stops from the southern tip of Brooklyn, through Manhattan, then made a right and headed into Queens, almost to the end of the line. 45 stops. Worse than that, the train never came out of the underground. You never saw daylight or breathed fresh air on that run. When I got home, I'd blow my nose, and black soot would come out. They called it steel dust. It was a byproduct of the brakes and the wheels grinding against the running rails.
It was another long line of Sunday nights. So here's the thing; I am of Italian descent. And yet again, my whole family and my new wife were home eating macaroni and meatballs, and I was eating a bagel with cream cheese in an underground breakroom. I was a bit depressed, and I guess it showed on my face. My motorman, the person who drives the train, came over to cheer me up. He said, "Hey kid, don't be down. This is a great job. It's steady. You'll always have a paycheck. Ya' know, you'll always have a shirt on your back. It won't be a 'silk shirt,' but you'll always have a shirt. So be happy."
WHAT!!?? That hit me like a bucket of cold water!
What do you mean I will never have a silk shirt? That sounded like a cop-out to me. I wanted a silk shirt. I stopped and looked around. My bosses were not wearing silk shirts. They were just counting down their time to retirement. I would hear them say, just 6 years and 4 months to go, and I'm outta here! It sounded like a prison sentence. I realized that business owners were wearing metaphorical silk shirts and living the lifestyle I wanted to live. I decided at that moment I wanted to be a business owner. But what did I know about business? I was a subway conductor. My dad was a New York City Police officer. I didn't have money, education, or pedigree. I'm just a regular guy. That conversation was a big pivotal moment for me. I realized that something had to change, and when I got home that night, I was deep in thought as I ate some cold leftovers, standing alone in our tiny kitchen.
Over the next 13 years, I read books and went to seminars. I studied self-help and motivational books. I read all the classics. Think and Grow Rich, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Tony Robbin's stuff. The list is endless. I also read business books such as the e-Myth. I soon realized that a franchise is a business with training wheels. That's what I needed. I need someone to hold my hand and show me the way. A company that has figured it out blazed the trail. I just would need to follow their system.
In late 2000, my wife, Gina, and I worked with a franchise consultant who, at the time, worked for the company I've now been with since 2005, FranChoice. She matched us to a smoothie franchise called Maui Wowi, and we bought in! It was a low-cost special events concept. We had kiosks or Tiki huts on wheels that we could roll into any venue from a street fair to Yankee Stadium. I secured a great spot at the Jacob Javits convention center in Manhattan. I also had the Nassau Coliseum and Jones Beach Amphitheater on Long Island and several other locations. We had good days, great days, and not-so-good days along the way. Not to mention having to shut down for two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, we persevered and worked hard in the following years. In 2005 a gentleman made me an offer to buy me out. He bought my contracts and paid me a handsome sum of money. I was semi-retired at 41 years old. It was a blessing.
It was hard work, but it was the most gratifying thing I have done outside of having my family.
I think the best things in life come with an obstacle or two. If business was easy, everyone would do it. Actually, be grateful that it's hard. The challenges thin the herd and make for less competition for you.
After selling our business in 2005, we decided to buy another franchise called Super Suppers in 2006. This is what was called a "make and take" concept. The premise was our customers come to our Tuscan-styled studio kitchen and make meals in bulk following our recipes, using our ingredients. The customer takes the meals home, uncooked, and freezes them. On days when mom is busy, she can throw one of these meals into the oven and have a home-cooked meal made with TLC in 30 minutes instead of ordering a pizza again. It's brilliant. Who wouldn't use this service? My wife Gina, a working mom, thought this was the best thing ever.
Because we were in New York, we got a ton of press. Gina was on almost a dozen TV news shows. She also appeared on the FRONT COVER OF THE SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES! The food reporter said, "we are changing the way America easts the way McDonald's and Swanson TV dinners did 50 years earlier."
I thought we were not going to be millionaires; we are going to be billionaires! But, in less than two years, we were out of business and lost almost our entire life's savings.
However, that's what made me a franchise expert. I've won some, and I've lost some, and now I can share my experience with you.
If I was in a fox hole, I hope the person next to me has been in firefights before and did NOT spend their career teaching war at the Naval Academy or West Point. I have been in the firefights and can help you win.
You're probably wondering, why did Super Suppers fail? Well, we failed, and the whole company and then the industry went away, too. Chiefly, convenience and habits trump a perfect idea. The issue was that many people were intrigued by the concept; however, getting them to come back was difficult. In the final analysis, people are generally lazy and will choose the path of less resistance. Instead of coming back to Super Suppers a second time, it became easier to stop at the supermarket and buy a rotisserie chicken, a can of veggies to heat up, and a bag of salad and call it dinner. Someone had to go to the market anyway to get milk, eggs other provisions. Having to carve out a two-hour time slot to come to our kitchen to prep food once per month was way too much trouble for most people.
The lessons learned were many, but for now, the main thing I want you to take away is, don't look for the newest, hottest franchise concept out there. There is no way of knowing if there is a market for the product or service. You need a ton of money and time to advertise and market the concept and teach people about it.
If you want to learn more about avoiding failure, pick up a copy of my book, Franchise Savvy. I tell the whole story, the good, the bad, the ugly, and all the lessons learned.
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