The B.S.:

Talking franchising on a spring day

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC Coverage

Though it’s usually brief in this desert, spring is a season in which daydreaming is a constant threat to productivity. No matter what activity you’re engaged in, a perfect spring day can get your mind wandering about things you’d rather be doing.

Some folks picture a potential vacation, others a hobby or leisure activity they’ve been considering. And a few among us dream of having a small business of our own.

It was just such a perfect spring day when I dropped in the Nevada Franchise Business Network, holding a luncheon sponsored at Cili by the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale.

I wasn’t really daydreaming at the time, but mostly curious about those industrious sorts who had turned their own vision into reality.

There were a few franchisees on hand, but this was a meeting tilted toward the franchisors — that is, companies that grant others the right to operate a separate location of their own businesses and to use its trademarks and products in exchange for a fee.

Fast-food companies are often examples of franchising operations, although not all are, and there was no obvious representation of that industry at the event.

On the panel were locals Debbie Shwetz, CEO of Nothing Bundt Cakes, which produces irresistible baked goods; and CEO Fred Hassen and President Alfredo Rivera of Sit Means Sit, which offers a dog training technique said by many humans to be quite fast, efficient and effective. Both enterprises began in Las Vegas, and both provide an infrastructure of support to franchisees across the United States.

Along with lawyer Matthew Kreutzer, who really knows this stuff, they schooled me about franchising — something I knew little about, since my own daydreaming is usually about other things. It was also helpful to have as tablemates Vinnie Manendo and Ed Williams, co-founders of All Nevada Insurance, which started a decade earlier and for which they began granting franchises four years ago.

Manendo noted that his company provides training to help franchisees get started and licensed. But the real challenge is finding the right people to become franchisees in the first place. His philosophy is to seek people accustomed to hard work.

“Insurance is not for everybody,” he pointed out.

Sit Means Sit began franchising in 2009 and has more than 50 locations, which apparently makes it the largest U.S.-based dog training company ever.

The Las Vegas company started franchising after watching enough other people use its system without mentioning it, giving it recognition.

“We were afraid in the beginning that we’d water down our name,” Rivera recalled. And though the initial goal was 20 franchises, they blew past that in the first year and today have 57, keeping their standards intact.

Nothing Bundt Cakes, which began in the kitchens of a couple of Las Vegas homes in 1997, has also experienced meteoric growth and now has 60 locations. That wasn’t in the original plan, although neither was the harsh reality of finding people who would share an owner’s commitment.

“We thought we’d grow corporately, but that’s a very expensive proposition,” Shwetz said. So after struggling to hire staff who share her passion and dedication, she came upon a solution: franchising.

“Franchisees have an investment in the concept,” which means they are truly on board, she said.

“We have a simple concept, but there’s a lot to it,” she said. “There’s a big learning curve.”

She says success begins by picking the right partners in the first place. She even uses profiling techniques to help select them.

“We’re looking for sales and marketing people,” she said. “We’re not looking for people who want to bake. We can teach them to bake.”

Hassen stressed the importance of selecting true “business people” as franchisees.

These days, Shwetz says she actually is more of a “brand steward” than an operational person, and her focus is more about new initiatives and products and less about daily operations.

“It’s really great to grow a market,” she observed, and she finds satisfaction both in seeing the brand grow and forming the relationships with partners across the United States.

“They’re people with dreams, and they’ve chosen your concept to meet their goals,” she said.

Lunch concluded, I walked out to a beautiful spring afternoon. Just right for daydreaming.