Tulsan Shannon Wilburn's multimillion-dollar franchising business sprang from a garage sale she and friends started in her living room 16 years ago to earn some extra cash.
“I have no business being in business,” said Wilburn, a former elementary education teacher and pastor's wife who is now the president of Just Between Friends (JBF) Franchise Systems Inc. Her firm's franchisees rent facilities to hold consignment sales of gently-used children's clothes and products.
With 131 franchisees in 25 states, JBF reports some $27 million in total annual sales, Wilburn said.
Wilburn and two other Tulsa women business owners shared franchising tips Tuesday at the Women Entrepreneurs Inspire Conference presented at the Cox Convention Center by Oklahoma State University's Riata Center for Entrepreneurship.
“Franchising is a way to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” panel moderator and marketer Linda Haneborg said.
A former executive with Oklahoma City-based franchisor Express Employment Professionals and past chairwoman of the International Franchise Association's Institute of Certified Franchise Executives, Haneborg led a national effort to get franchisees recognized as small business owners so that they now qualify for setbacks for women- and minority-owned businesses.
“When you open a franchise, you're buying the franchisor's experience and expertise,” Haneborg said, “including a brand, duplicable proven system and ongoing support,” from marketing and software to equipment purchasing power.
According to The International Franchise Association, the average cost to buy a franchise is roughly $30,000, while franchises annually pay average royalties of 6.3 percent on their total sales.
Wilburn urged prospective franchisors to “surround yourself with smart decision-makers.” Along with joining the association, she recommends new franchisors seek specialists who already work with franchisors and know how to grow with them.
Wilburn and co-presenters — Adrienne Kallweit of SeekingSitters online child care referral service for local background-screened sitters and Kim Carns of the business-to-business enterprise Cookie Advantage — share the same attorney, technology firm and public relations agency.
Kallweit started franchising in 2006, two years after she founded SeekingSitters as a way to expand and be first to the market. “Your franchises are like investors in your company,” she said.
SeekingSitters has 96 locations, including 40 franchises across most major cities nationwide. Together, their sales total $600 million, Kallweit said.
Based in Bixby, Cookie Advantage has franchised for 12 years, Carns said. Its 20 franchisees in 18 states bake the company's gourmet chocolate chip cookies, using Carns' grandmother's recipe, and ship them as gifts to prospective or current customers of their clients.
Carns, who has a total annual sales target of $5 million, warns franchisors to choose franchisees that best support their companies. “Franchisees, or business owners, tend to be leaders, and not all leaders want to follow your concept alone,” said Carns, who recently released a franchisee.
Meanwhile, Wilburn cautioned entrepreneurs about paying brokers to solicit franchisees versus growing organically. “You don't want to have more franchises than you're able to support,” she said. “Your goal is keep franchisees happy and for them to succeed over the long-term.”
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Franchising is a way to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself.”