How Buying an Existing Franchise Gave this Corporate Leader Greater Work-Life Balance

Welcome to another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today with host Leslie Kuban, expert franchise consultant and owner of FranNet Atlanta. Atlanta Franchise Today is dedicated to bringing entrepreneurs and business owners the best practices and tips for their franchise goals. Buying a franchise business that is already up and running can be a great way to enter business ownership. On today’s episode, Leslie sits down with Drew Salapka, owner of 360° Painting of North Georgia. Salapka enjoyed a great career as a hospitality sales executive and general manager. Buying an existing business in the home services industry was his pathway into business ownership, and today we’re going to learn about his journey.

Transcription: 

Leslie Kuban:
Drew, we’re thrilled to have you welcome to the show.

Drew Salapka:
Thanks for having me.

Leslie Kuban:
Tell us a little bit about your business and who your customers are and what you do for them.

Drew Salapka:
Sure. So there are approximately a hundred and thirty-eight 360 franchises across the country, and I always tell people, if you want something painted, then we can do it. We cater a lot of our business to residential repaints, but we do a lot of commercial painting and all of that, but we’ll do anything from painting walls to ceilings, to staining decks, to painting driveways. You name it, we’ll do it.

Leslie Kuban:
And you’re just running out your first year in business.

Drew Salapka:
Yeah, absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
And you’ve had a busy one, haven’t you this year?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah, Its been a very busy one, absolutely. Yeah. We average about 45 or 50 jobs a month.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s a lot.

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. It keeps us busy.

Leslie Kuban:
So, but this was not your background, Drew.

Drew Salapka:
No, it wasn’t.

Leslie Kuban:
So you had a great corporate career and then you started thinking about your own business. What had you pivot in your thinking? Do you remember your why?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah, so I started in the hotel industry when I was 15 years old as a housekeeper. I grew up in that industry. I found a great little small hotel franchise company that I worked for. We had four hotels at the time and as my career went on, we grew and I grew and did a lot of neat things for that company. But at some point I got a wife, I got a seven year old son and a five year old daughter. And the time constraints that my old job put on me didn’t allow me to be the father and the husband that I knew I needed to be.

Drew Salapka:
And so about a year and a half ago, me and my wife sat down and said it’s more important that I am at home than it is for me to go chase these career goals of mine. So I left that industry in February 2020 and took some time off to reestablish myself as a father and a husband and then I got in touch with you and started to pursue franchising. I knew I wanted to be my own boss and I knew I wanted to be home for dinner every night and I knew I didn’t want to be on an airplane anymore. So, that’s what brought me into franchising.

Leslie Kuban:
February 2020. That was an interesting time to make a career pivot, wasn’t it?

Drew Salapka:
Sure it was. I resigned one week before the entire country locked down and hotel occupancies went from 85% to 4% overnight. My mentor and former boss said, I should go to Las Vegas more because he thought I had really good timing.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, you went the pathway of an existing business and that’s a really interesting avenue, one with a lot of attractive features to getting into your own business, but it’s different. That’s different than buying a franchise license and starting the business from the ground up. Tell us a little bit about your process or how you went about that and thinking about buying an existing business.

Drew Salapka:
So again, and with my experience in the hotel industry, we had started a lot of hotels from the ground up and we had also purchased existing hotels and there are pros and cons to both, but I thought since this was my first franchise adventure by myself, I wanted to find a business that was well established in the industry and the community, had a good reputation with the customers and online. And really just kind of found the perfect franchise where I knew my predecessor had done an amazing job and was ready to retire and so it was something that I was familiar with the territory. I always knew how to take good care of customers and associates and it was just really learning a new business, which was the biggest challenge for me.

Leslie Kuban:
And remind me, were you looking at home improvement? Was that on your radar screen or was that in a totally new idea?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah, no. Honestly, when I knew I wanted to go the way of franchising, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t necessarily want to run a business that had a front desk or had something that I could be called in on a Saturday at nine o’clock because no one showed up or I couldn’t find help. I didn’t want that, but I really didn’t know what I wanted at that time.

Leslie Kuban:
And so what we did was we established a list of criteria, which ultimately led to 360 Painting. So do you remember that criteria list just kind as you went through, thinking through, this is what I do want, or this is what I don’t want in a business. What rose to the top of what you knew you’d be looking for?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. I loved the process that you took me through because it really helped me understand what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, what my likes are, what my dislikes are. And it was really a matter of A, I wanted something that gave me balance of life, I wanted to be home enough with my family, but B as you know, I have a strong sales background. I like sales, but I don’t really like doing cold calls. I don’t like knocking on the door saying, Hey, I’ve got this product, will you buy it from me? I’d rather have a service that someone already needs and then I can go and explain that service to them. It’s an easier sales job for me and a little less cold calley, which I didn’t want. I wanted to be able to kind of control my own destiny when it came to understanding my accounting, I wanted a pretty simplistic accounting model, so it couldn’t get away from me.

Drew Salapka:
I left the industry that used to have a monthly profit and loss statement that was 28 pages. The statements in this industry is about one page. So just a very more simplified version of things I had done in the past. And it was neat to kind of look back at my 20 some odd years of career and say, well, what do I really like? What don’t I like? And what, what do I need to avoid here and what can play to my strengths? And that process that you took me through really helped.

Leslie Kuban:
And the playing to your strengths part is a really key piece of all of this and I’m going to brag on you for a minute. You had shared with me, you just rounded out your first year in business and you’re in the running for the top franchisee in the entire system. Congratulations-

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. Thank you.

Leslie Kuban:
… on that. But what else would you attribute that to? Just one year in the business, it’s a new business. What has you leading the pack?

Drew Salapka:
I’ve relied a lot on the skills that I learned through the hotel industry. I understand that you’re only as good as the last sale you made to never be comfortable and say, well, I just booked $15,000 worth of business today, maybe I’ll take tomorrow off. I just know that you always keep the foot on the gas and never think that you’ve got it made. Never think that you have enough business on the books to be comfortable. And I always look at it as it’s not about me, it’s about my associates. It’s about all of the painters. If I don’t continue to book business and keep going, they don’t get a paycheck. And that is really, really good motivation for me is I want to go out there and work as hard as I can to make sure that my associates and the painters and everybody stay very busy. And again, closing sales is fun. It’s addictive and it’s nice to have a win, whether it’s a $1000 job or a $50,000 job, winning’s fun and you can capture that every single day in this industry.

Leslie Kuban:
Plenty of opportunity for the hat.

Drew Salapka:
Yep. Without a doubt.

Leslie Kuban:
And I’m reminded, I heard you inner reviewed on a podcast recently and you were talking a lot about servant leadership and I would have to think that that comes into play with your success in hospitality industry and you talked about how you brought that forward and I would venture to say, that’s a big part of why you’re in the running for top franchisee, is how you work with your… Especially in a labor industry where there’s a lot of demand for that labor. We hear a lot about how finding good labor is challenging. Just talk about your philosophy around that and clearly how it’s working for you.

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. My earliest mentor has always just told me to follow the golden role and treat people the way you want to be treated and to realize that no matter if you’re a painter, you’re an executive, if you’re a CEO, whoever you are, we all put our pants on one leg at a time. And I feel like I am only as good as my weakest painter. And if I go out and mistreat and abuse my painters, take them for granted. Don’t pay them fairly. Don’t pay them on time. Don’t support them in the field. They can go find other places to go. There’s plenty of things in Atlanta that need to get painted. So we really pride ourselves in taking good care of our painters, showing up, giving them food, celebrating wins, letting them share in some of the success.

Drew Salapka:
So, that’s really important to me and then just the associates that work with me, whether it’s our estimator, our general manager, our production manager, just always making sure that they have everything they need checking in with them, learning about them on a personal level. I just feel like if you are in a business with other people and you’re not investing in those people, you’re missing out on the magic. And so that’s really my philosophy is, I want to make sure that the associates are taken care of, that the customers are taken care of and if both of those people are taken care of, I know me and my family will be taken care of. But if you reverse that and always worry about yourself and look out for number one, in my opinion, it just won’t work. You won’t be successful.

Leslie Kuban:
The rest of it falls apart at that point.

Drew Salapka:
Yep. That’s right.

Leslie Kuban:
So what are your plan for next year? Kind of looking ahead and as you continue to grow, what do you see your business looking like? Adding staff, adding roles, what’s the plan?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah, no, we definitely want to grow. I feel like if you don’t challenge yourself and you don’t want to grow, you will eventually become complacent. So we want to grow. We have about seven crews working for us now. We’d love to see that get up to about 10 crews. If we add that many more crews, we’re going to have to add more sales estimators. We’re going to have to add more production managers and we’re looking forward to that, but I’m glad to have year one of franchising behind me now.

Drew Salapka:
I feel like most of the surprises that happened in year one are behind me and now it’s really a matter of growing the business and also fine tuning the business and saying, how we spent our marketing dollars this past year. Is there a better place to se spend some of those dollars? And we even looking at all the vendors we use and making sure that our pricing is correct for our customers, just all of that stuff, fine tuning is a lot more fun than in year one where you’re just kind of taking some lumps because you didn’t know what you needed to know in every which way. So yeah, I’m looking forward to that.

Leslie Kuban:
Going through that learning curve.

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
Nothing replaces going through the learning curve yourself.

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. Definitely.

Leslie Kuban:
Do you have any words of advice for people? Maybe people who are looking at getting into your same franchise. Sometimes people ask questions like, well, if you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? Does anything come to mind?

Drew Salapka:
I would tell you that be patient and believe in yourself. Being a franchisee can be lonely. When I used to work in an organization, we had, I don’t know, 2000, 3000, 4,000 associates. You had a lot of people to kind of share the weight of the world with and when you branch out on your own, that that weight’s on your shoulders and it’s on you, whether you can bring home a pay paycheck for your family or not, and that can be very intimidating and daunting. But if you believe in yourself… And again, through this process, you all did a wonderful job of matching my skillset to the right industry, to the right franchise that helped me be successful. As long as you believe in yourself, keep your head down. You will have bad days. You will have sleepless nights, but you’ll get through it.

Drew Salapka:
You just have to stick to it, and just realize that every day isn’t going to be perfect, but just have confidence that you can do this. Surround yourself with people who love you. My wife and my kids for some crazy reason, love me more than anyone else on this earth and they’ve been a huge support mechanism in this to always say, Hey, it was a tough day. That’s all right, we’re going to make it and so I think it’s important.

Drew Salapka:
But I also think it’s important that you have a release, whether you like working out or whether you go hiking or go on the boat, have something to take your mind off of it and then always go back to remember why was the real reason you did this? And everyone has different reasons. My real reason for doing this was my wife, Lindsay, my son Lincoln, and my daughter Lanier. And so every time I’m sitting around the dinner table, even if I had a bad day, my kids know who I am now, my wife loves me and appreciates and respects the job I’m doing as a husband and so I’ve won, no matter what I’m doing in the business, I’ve already won because I’ve got my family me now and that’s really the most important thing to me.

Leslie Kuban:
You’re home for dinner.

Drew Salapka:
That’s right. Yep. Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
I want to go back for a minute to buying an existing business, because that’s a pathway that a lot of people ask about, but there’s more involved. There’s more to it. There’s more things you have to consider. There’s more things you have to look at. Just recalling back to your due diligence process. Just any words of advise for others who are thinking about buying an existing business, what do you look at? What do you pay attention to?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah. So by nature, I’m a huge numbers nerd. I am happiest looking at Excel spreadsheets and crunchy numbers and all that stuff. I would say that if you are not really into numbers or you don’t really like numbers, that doesn’t mean that franchising is not right for you, but make sure one on your team or someone on your side has a good grip on that. Because if you do not study the numbers and really understand trends and really understand, all right, what do I think this thing’s going to do in year one, year two, year five? I think you can get yourself into a lot of trouble and you need to also sit down and say, how long can I go without a salary? And when I decide to take a salary, what does that salary look and really set up goals and kind of check marks to make sure that you’re not spending more than you’re making, because if you get into this in a year down the road, you realize I haven’t made any money or I’m actually losing money, that’s going to be really discouraging.

Drew Salapka:
And so I think it’s just really important. You have a good grip on the financials, understanding what your goals are, both from a top line sales and also from a net income standpoint.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s critical and a CPA or the good news is we have lots of free resources right here in Georgia with the Small Business Development Centers with SCORE that have qualified advisors to help people run through the numbers.

Drew Salapka:
Absolutely. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
So, if it’s not your hobby, like it might be some people, then there are great resources to help people. Do you have any inspiring customer stories or employee stories that come to mind that you’d like to share with our viewers?

Drew Salapka:
I have a lot. I’ll try and condense them, but I would just… The one story I think that puts a smile on my face every time is we hired a production manager in July and he’s had just a really, really tough background, tough life. Talk about if something bad or something hard could have happened. This guy’s gone through it and on top of that though, has the most amazing attitude I’ve ever seen. Some of our days are very long. They might start at 7:00 AM, they might end at 7:00 AM or 8:00 PM and he is just as friendly, just as happy and just as willing to serve at 8:00 PM as he was at 7:00 AM. Even if he’s worked six straight days and knowing that this job has made him happy and given him purpose and hopefully helped him pay his bills is just great.

Drew Salapka:
And watching him treat our customers and treat our other associates and all that is just fun to watch. I’ve always enjoyed that even back in the hotel days of just watching people grow in their career, inspiring people, giving them hope. It’s been truly just a blessing to do that. And then just customers, I think there’s opportunities out there. You can turn anything you do into a ministry. And so I think there’s opportunities the other couple of weeks ago, our estimator came back and, and said, Hey, Drew, I just did an estimate for this customer. It’s a war veteran. He wasn’t able to do all the painting himself and he was frustrated by that and he wanted us to come out and give a quote. She’s like, and I was really hoping that you would just tell me that I could go back and say, we’ll do this for free.

Drew Salapka:
And I was like, absolutely. I mean, that’s a no brainer. And so I think to be able to take the resources you have and share those resources with others, to help people out of tough situation. It doesn’t mean… You don’t need to be a pastor or you don’t need to be working in a soup kitchen to truly use the gifts you’ve been given as a ministry. And one of a big challenge for me next year, now that I have my feet more on the ground and the world’s not spending so fast is to really low look for ways that we can give back to our community and just do small little things like that, that make a difference in people’s lives.

Leslie Kuban:
And what is the community that you serve, your franchise territory in north Atlanta? Tell our viewers where you are and how they can find you.

Drew Salapka:
We handle all of north Georgia. So I mean that stretches from Lawrenceville to Beauford, to Sugar Hill, Alpharetta, Milton Canton, Woodstock and kind of everything in between. So it’s a very large territory and we love every area. Every area is a little bit different and that makes it unique and fun.

Leslie Kuban:
And how can potential customers find you?

Drew Salapka:
Yeah, easiest way is just to find us on the web. You can go to 360painting.com/cumming because I live in Cummimg. So that’s why it’s that way. So you can find us there. You can find us on Google, you can find us on HomeAdvisor and Thumbtack and all of that.

Leslie Kuban:
You’re everywhere.

Drew Salapka:
Yep. We try to be.

Leslie Kuban:
So when do the awards come out?

Drew Salapka:
I think they have a conference in January. I think this year it’s still virtual, so they normally either do it in Orlando or New Orleans. So this year, I think it’s still virtual and it’ll be the following year that’ll be back in person. So fingers crossed, we’ll hopefully end up at the top of the mountain.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, yeah. I’m rooting for you.

Drew Salapka:
Well, thank you.

Leslie Kuban:
So it’s been great to have you on this show. Really appreciate the inspiring story that you are still enjoying and learning and sharing that with our viewers. Really appreciate you being here today.

Drew Salapka:
Awesome. Thank you.

Leslie Kuban:
Folks. Thank you for joining me for another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today. I look forward to seeing you next week.


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