A New Career for You Might Start at Franchise U – Franchises discussed as a way to become self-employed

Richard Landesberg

you’ve finally made the decision to ditch the job. No more working for “the man.” It’s time to forget all those years of schooling that led to all those years of work. Now it’s time to strike out on your own. Buy into a franchise. Work for yourself. Once you’ve made the plunge, what happens?

It’s back to school.

These are not the ivory towers of old. These are the training facilities for the new franchise entrepreneurs. Instead of a classroom filled with books, you may find yourself face-to-face with a foot-long sub sandwich and up to your elbows in mayo or staring at a cutaway of a moving truck wondering what goes where next.

Two Men and a Truck, an Okemos, Mich.-based franchisor of local moving companies, might better be called “One Mom and Her Kids.” It was officially founded 15 years ago by Mary Ellen Sheets. She is still CEO. Her daughter is president. One son is recruiting director, and her youngest son oversees two franchises. Her sons were the original “two men.” They operated a moving truck to earn money in high school. When they went away to college, Sheets continued the business and eventually started the franchise operation. Today, Two Men and a Truck has 77 franchises in 93 locations in 22 states. New franchisees are sent to Lansing to attend Stick Men University.

Stick Men? The title was derived from the company logo of two stick figures, representing the original two men, driving a moving truck.

Stick Men University is a five-day training program. The curriculum consists of moving techniques, packing, building boxes, and even the finer points of bubble-wrap. Like most franchise training programs, this one places a heavy emphasis on the mechanics of running your own business–from filling out the company’s 92 forms to preparing for an audit. The program also drills attendees on the importance of customer service.

“One of the most important parts of customer service is doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it,” says Sally Degnan, Two Men and a Truck training director. “If I tell you I’m going to return a phone call at 3 on Wednesday then I do, whether I have the answer or not.”

The training is classroom intensive but includes a practical side. The soon-to-be movers work on a real truck, getting an insider’s view on how to stack furniture and pack boxes in a way that keeps Grandma’s glass vase intact from one end of town to the next. A new training facility under construction will make the process even clearer by including a Lucite version of a moving truck, a The 26-foot box with side doors and a ramp will enable students to watch demonstrations from every angle.

Successful graduates of Stick Men University get a T-shirt that has a picture of a moving truck with a tassel on the side. They also get a photo and certificate attesting to their packing prowess.

At Subway Restaurants, the packing is on a much smaller scale. If it seems like a branch of this fast-food chain is just about everywhere these days, you aren’t imagining things. According to the International Franchise Association, Subway is the third-largest franchise company in terms of numbers of locations. With more than 14,240 shops in more than 73 countries, Subway ranks behind only McDonald’s and 7-Eleven.

People who see lunchmeat in their futures have to first prove they were paying attention in grade school. All would-be franchisees are given a test of basic math skills and English language ability, according to Subway’s director of training, Alexander Dembski. “If you can’t pass that test, you won’t become a franchisee. We were getting in people who were sometimes very nice people, but did not have the ability to communicate with customers or employees, or did not have the basic math ability to understand how to analyze their business. We do them no favor letting them come in. We hurt ourselves, and we hurt them.”

Once past that hurdle, the new franchisee gets into former high school history teacher Dembski’s classroom at Subway headquarters in Milford, Conn. Dembski runs a two-week, 55-hour program and then sends students to Subways near headquarters for an additional 34 hours of on-the-job training.

The new franchisees spend an entire Saturday, usually the busiest lunch day of the week, helping out at a local store. “That full day in-store just made the loose ends come together for them,” Dembski says. By the second week, the new sandwich makers run a shop by themselves.

There is a final exam at Subway, and about 10 percent of new franchisees flunk. They get to retake courses they may need or get one-on-one instruction if necessary. But until they pass, they can’t own a Subway sandwich shop.

The best way to get them to pass, according to Dembski, is to keep teaching them with the tried-and-true methods. “High-tech is nice, but it’s really a lot of flash,” Dembski says. “Nothing really replaces the instructor standing in the classroom with a piece of chalk and a blackboard giving people individual attention.”

The people in the digital world of photo developing are taking a different approach. Dayton, Ohio-based franchisor MotoPhoto, with 400 stores across the United States and in Canada and Norway, is embracing high-tech. The company runs a three-week training course at its headquarters, which is much like the other schools until it comes to training tools. MotoPhoto provides a CD-ROM, the Computer-Based Training Program for Customer Consultant Certification, to its new franchisees. “We discovered sometime back that we needed other elements for training besides manuals, videos, and a test, which is primarily how training was taking place with associates at the store level,” says Linda Kramer, vice president for training at MotoPhoto. “What’s fun is, it uses technology. Young people today, that’s what they like to do. They like to get on the computer.”

The CD takes the novice through three major components of MotoPhoto training: making customers happy, keeping customers happy, and sales at the counter. All three sections are interactive, with a “coach” (complete with whistle, t-shirt, and hat). A number of different scenarios are played out, including an angry customer. Choose the wrong way to handle the situation, and the coach sends you back into the program so you can read up on the right way to do things. Kramer emphasizes that this is just one tool for training staff,, and “there is still the manager working with the person when they’ve gone through the model. But when you are working with a young person–16, 18 years old at least first if they have somebody on a CD getting angry with them, they start to get comfortable going back and forth with this model, and then they feel better going to the counter and dealing with it.”

Regardless of the size of the franchisor, training is an important part of the business. There is, literally, no percentage in it for them if a franchisee fails. There is also no substitute for good old, basic, classroom training. But the tools of the 21st century are finding their way into the training rooms of one of the 20th century’s most successful business models–franchises.

Richard Landesberg is a freelance writer living in N.C.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Success Holdings Company, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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