The year was 2002 and I’d just graduated from business school. The U.S. economy was not exactly in great shape at that time and job offers for foreign students like me were pretty scarce. I knew that if I wanted to stay in America for a few more years, I would have to start my own business. The difficult part was figuring out what business to start.
I’ve always been a foodie at heart, so the first concept that came to mind was a gourmet food emporium similar to Dean and Deluca in New York. As I began to do my research, I was completely overwhelmed by what I didn’t know about the food business (or the retail business for that matter).
I didn’t want my first venture out of business school to be a complete and utter disaster, so I decided to move forward on my entrepreneurial journey with baby steps. That’s when I seriously considered investing in a franchise.
I went to school in the Boston area, but my heart was set on living in San Francisco. So I packed my bags, journeyed West, and settled in a tiny studio apartment in the heart of sunny San Fran.
For most of you who’ve been to San Francisco, you know that it’s a foodie lover’s mecca. Most locals there are food snobs and for good reason. They have access to the freshest ingredients and the most amazing culinary talent.
In other words, they aren’t known to be the biggest fans of McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut! I knew I’d be facing an uphill battle if I decided to open a fast food franchise there. I’m not saying that a sandwich shop cannot succeed in San Francisco — only that the locals prefer an independent deli to the local Subway franchise!
Another thing that worked against the fast food option for me was the huge initial investment required and the relatively large number of hourly workers needed to run a fast food operation successfully. I simply didn’t have enough money to invest in a fast food franchise right out of school.
So I investigated further by visiting the different local neighborhoods. I noticed that there were these tiny shipping and mailbox stores in almost every neighborhood — some franchises, some independents. As I dug deeper, I found that these stores generally stay in business for years, if not decades. I was intrigued.
In 2002, The UPS Store brand still didn’t exist. They were still called Mailboxes Etc. or MBE. I immediately requested for more information and soon enough, I received the franchise disclosure statement.
To my disappointment, the statement did not disclose any earnings estimates or revenue projections. MBE said that the only way to piece this information together was to contact the current franchisees directly. Great!
Fortunately, the franchise owners in San Francisco are a really cool group of people. Those whom I spoke with were very open and generous with their time. And I got the impression that, overall, they had a positive view of the franchise organization in general and their own businesses in particular.
One other positive thing worth noting was that none of them wanted to sell their franchise at that time. I took that to be a good sign!
I felt that a mailbox and shipping store serving both individuals and small business owners was a good fit for me. It’s a business I knew I could run on my own, with maybe 1 or 2 employees.
I liked the business model, particularly renting out mailboxes, which in my mind made me similar to an owner of a huge apartment building complex. Only, instead of renting out apartment units, I was renting out mailboxes. This made me feel like a mogul in the making! Ha!
I’d also been familiar with the MBE brand and in fact considered using them to ship my stuff from the East Coast to San Francisco just a few months earlier. (I ended up using FedEx via Kinko’s, which was closer to my apartment. Go figure.)
And I knew there were still a few neighborhoods in San Francisco without a MBE, (although there were certainly mom-and-pop stores everywhere). So the potential to grow the brand was there.
So, that’s my story. That’s how I decided to focus my attention on the Mailboxes Etc. (now The UPS Store) franchise opportunity.
How did I find the perfect franchise fit for me? I carefully considered my personal interests and background, my neighborhood’s needs and wants, my financial ability and limitations to invest, the success rate of similar businesses in the area, the feedback from current franchisees, the name recall and brand equity of the franchise organization, and the growth potential of the business.
How about you — how did you find your perfect franchise fit?