The Pros and Cons of Starting a Franchise with Little Competition

Welcome to another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today with host Leslie Kuban, expert franchise consultant and owner of FranNet Atlanta. Today, Leslie is joined by Kent and Anne-Marie Rogers, owners of a Surface Experts franchise in Denver, Colorado. After launching the franchise two years ago, they found very little competition for their service in their local area when they started. They both realized there are benefits and challenges to introducing a new service in their community, and we’re going to unpack their journey today.

Transcription:

Leslie Kuban:
Welcome.

Kent Rogers:
Thanks, Leslie.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Thanks for having us.

Leslie Kuban:
Yes. Well, Anne-Marie, tell us a little about you and your business Surface Experts.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Okay, so we are Kent and Anne-Marie. We’ve married 26 years. And pandemic happened and we got laid off from our jobs and decided, you know what? We want to take our future into our own hands. And so started looking for a business. We actually worked with a franchise business coach and she introduced us to different, and Surface Experts just came to the top, throughout the whole discovery process. So we do interior hard surface repair. So instead of having to replace something, countertop, floor, tub, sink, we repair it. So it saves the environment and it saves money.

Leslie Kuban:
And do you guys focus commercial, residential, any certain segments that your business really?

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah. We focus on multifamily housing and hotels, construction, moving companies anyone that damages things, which is most people.

Leslie Kuban:
Right. All the time. Well now, you have your business in Colorado.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We do.

Leslie Kuban:
But you’re here in Atlanta and I believe that you’re helping with a franchise training, correct?

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes. Yes. So we have our Advanced Training Conference was this week for sales. So what’s great about our franchise and actually another reason that we chose it was because of the support from franchisee to franchisee. And so we all help each other out. And so we are training each other’s salespeople really.

Kent Rogers:
Anne-Marie was one of the presenters this week. And that’s one of the cool things about it is that everybody helps each other to be a better franchise,

Anne-Marie Rogers:
You’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself. Which is what we like.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, if you’re around franchising long enough, you hear that phrase every day. I think people sometimes have the perception that, you buy a franchise, the value comes from the parent organization and it does, but there’s just as much value in learning from each other.

Kent Rogers:
Oh, yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
This training from within is very common. So you guys must be doing something right. You’re part of the training team.

Leslie Kuban:
So, Kent, tell us a little bit about, you are in the process of, what’s next for us.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
You’re evaluating different businesses, different franchises. You must have had a criteria list-

Kent Rogers:
We did.

Leslie Kuban:
… and then we did Surface Experts is the one that lined up the best. What were your criteria that you recall?

Kent Rogers:
Yeah, we had two or three that kind of rose to the top. We had our list of things we were looking for, and then they kind of aligned with what Surface Experts offered. One of them being executive leadership, meaning we didn’t have to be hands on if we didn’t want to be. We could lead and train people how to do this. However, we chose, because Anne-Marie is lead sales, I’m lead tech, so that we would really, really know the business. And eventually, we’ll be more hands off, but could give total support to our team.
That was one of the things, it was kind of pandemic or recession proof. And so we actually started this at the end of 2020 in the tail end of things. And we’re going, this might not have been the best business move. But we did it and it’s been great.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Great. Yeah. And then finally, one of the things was, well, brick and mortar. It wasn’t a brick and mortar, we were mobile, so we could move around the city. And then finally Amazon can’t do it.

Leslie Kuban:
Probably not in our lifetime.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Probably not.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Well and it’s such a great example. You weren’t raising your hands and saying, “We want a surface repair business.”

Anne-Marie Rogers:
No.

Leslie Kuban:
“That’s our dream. It’s my lucky day to own a surface repair business”

Kent Rogers:
Yeah, from the time I was a kid.

Leslie Kuban:
But you had a criteria list and it was really more about what type of business aligns, what you realize is most important for you.

Kent Rogers:
Sure.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right. And we also wanted something that was, it fit what we wanted our lifestyle to look like. We didn’t want a retail store where we were had to be open from 8:00 to 8:00, or we didn’t want to have to have retail space. And so we love that about it. And then also, we really connected with the leadership as Surface Experts, as we were doing our discovery process.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Just, we loved their just philosophy for business and how they built their business and all that. So we just connected it with the leadership-

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… on multiple levels.

Kent Rogers:
Just with the culture that they had.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
The culture that they had. Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. Yeah. Loved that. And still love it.

Leslie Kuban:
The chemistry has to-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
It does.

Leslie Kuban:
… be there and be right.

Kent Rogers:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah. Yep.

Leslie Kuban:
So it was very interesting when we were first getting acquainted, you shared that something that was kind of surprising to you was the service really isn’t out there when you were-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… getting started-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Sure.

Leslie Kuban:
… which it’s great to have no competition, but there’s some challenges-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… to having no competition.

Kent Rogers:
That’s true.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
Which is kind of, maybe hard to get your mind around.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
But tell us what did you find the benefits and what are your challenges of relatively new-ish service?

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah, whenever we say we wanted something where Amazon can’t replace us, what we meant is we don’t want something that you can buy anywhere-

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… or you can get anywhere. We wanted something that was unique. And so when you’re talking about, at first it sounds like that’s awesome. Like, woo, a unique service that no one does. But there’s also no one does it. So now my sales part of it, my education process is much more, when I’m talking to my customers and potential customers, because I have to actually create a new lane for them. And I have to become top of mind when they are repairing that unit or repairing that countertop. They have to go, “Oh, Surface Experts.” And that takes time to train the customer. But what we have found is that in that multifamily space, is that we can become their number one vendor, because we can work on so many different surfaces. And so once you train them, then it’s great.

Kent Rogers:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
It just takes a little bit more time in that training, in that education process.

Kent Rogers:
Because what we found is that they have tub people or they have-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Counter people.

Kent Rogers:
… countertop people or whatever. But one, they didn’t have one vendor that did all of that and could repair all of these different surfaces. And once they got it, or once they get it-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
They get it.

Kent Rogers:
… they get it.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
And then you’re in and they love you.

Leslie Kuban:
Yep.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
So I think the way you have to think about that, it’s like a double sale. There’s the sale of our service exists and this is why we’re the better option.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yep.

Leslie Kuban:
And then staying top of mind.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Kent Rogers:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
But then once you’re there-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Then it’s great. Yep.

Leslie Kuban:
… it’s like, that’s the benefit of being the-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… pioneering service-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
… in your community is you-

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… get the first mover advantage.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Exactly.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes. But it is challenging.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
It does have challenges, because sometimes they won’t even talk to you because they’re like, “Oh, I have a tub guy.” I’m like, “Well, we do also lots of things.”

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
So getting them to, yeah.

Kent Rogers:
And it’s funny, once you go into maybe a property and you’ve done one certain repair, they forget about all the other things you do, because you’ve become that one surface. And so it’s a constant education anyway.

Leslie Kuban:
Constant education process.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yep.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. So you’re two years in to your business-

Kent Rogers:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
… and I’m sure that you found as new business owners, there’s things you have to learn along the way.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
I had a client say to me, he’s like, “When I was in corporate America, you can kind of fly under the radar screen even to yourself. But when you start your own business, then you become very aware of what you’re good at and what you need to learn.”

Kent Rogers:
You’re very exposed.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
You’re kind of exposed. And so, may I ask you to be a little vulnerable and share.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Sure.

Leslie Kuban:
What did you learn about yourselves-

Kent Rogers:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… that you learned that you needed to work on?

Kent Rogers:
Well, Anne-Marie is great at sales and operations. We knew that going in, and she’s continued to prove that. I’m doing the tech and repairs. And I have time to think through vision for the company, and where we want to go. What we discovered is that we are not numbers people.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
We are not accountants.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
And so we had to quickly find people to do that for us.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
And hire all of that out.

Leslie Kuban:
Was that a challenge? How did you overcome that to a place where you got comfortable with, “Oh”?

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We kind of knew honestly from the beginning that we were probably going to need help in the area with our books and accounting and-

Kent Rogers:
Taxes.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… taxes-

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… and all that kind of stuff. We just, from the beginning-

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… honestly, we knew that was probably going to be our weakness.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We’ve had businesses in the past-

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… and so we knew going from the beginning, we’re going to get this right. And so we just started out saying, “Here you go,” Just from the beginning,

Kent Rogers:
Find people. Now we haven’t kept those same people throughout. Either they’ve moved on or we’ve had to move on from them, just depending on exactly what we’re looking for. But yeah, it’s a constant kind of massaging of trying to get into the right people-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
… and where they work well with you and you work well with them.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. And that’s an ongoing relationship.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Sure.

Leslie Kuban:
So it’s important that it’s the right one.

Kent Rogers:
Oh, absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
And messing around with your taxes is not a good way to spend your time. I mean-

Kent Rogers:
Oh, my goodness.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
… you might be focused on sales and getting business and growing.

Kent Rogers:
And growing the business.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yep.

Leslie Kuban:
Yep.

Kent Rogers:
Absolutely.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yep.

Leslie Kuban:
Yep.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
The other challenge we have faced is, I know a lot of people are facing it now, but it’s hiring.

Kent Rogers:
Oh, my goodness.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We had no idea how hard it was going to be to find good employees and an A team. We want A employees, and five star, or whatever you want to call it.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
And so finding and retaining those employees has been a big challenge and it’s still a challenge.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
So we have a great team right now, but we need more-

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… for our business to grow. And so it’s a challenge.

Kent Rogers:
Our philosophy is we never stop hiring.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
That’s right.

Kent Rogers:
We’re always looking for the next person.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
The next great one.

Leslie Kuban:
And that’s true of many businesses.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
I don’t think that’s new to-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… unique to yours.

Kent Rogers:
Sure.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s just a part of being a business owner.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We just didn’t know.

Kent Rogers:
It is.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. Yeah. Right. Right. Right.

Kent Rogers:
We discovered it quickly.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We had no idea the challenge that was going to be.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
So it sounds like you guys, you’ve really divided and conquered, your partners in business and partners in life. So how do you make that work?

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Well, we’ve been, I mean, it’s been about 15 years I guess, we’ve worked together. We started out in church ministry together, and then we worked in international travel together.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
And so when COVID hit and we decided, we were like, “Let’s find something that we can do together.”

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Because we had done it for so long and it’s worked really well. And I kind of like him most of the time.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. We’ve discovered that we work-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We get along.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah, we work well together, and sure we get aggravated at different things along the way. But yeah, it’s always been a great situation for us.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Well it sounds like a key to this though is you’re very clear about who’s responsible for what.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
This is your silo in the business.

Kent Rogers:
Sure, yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yours is your silo.

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
And you kind of don’t step on each other’s toes-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
No.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… in that. I was in business with my father for a long time.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Okay.

Kent Rogers:
Okay.

Leslie Kuban:
… which is not the same thing as a couple by any means-

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
No, but it’s-

Kent Rogers:
But family.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah, but the family.

Leslie Kuban:
Family.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
For sure.

Leslie Kuban:
And my dad and I were both good at the same things. So that took some navigating-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Massaging.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… to figure out how to separate, divide, and conquer-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Sure, yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… and not step on each other’s toes.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. Yeah. That is sometimes a delicate dance.

Leslie Kuban:
I think, your kids, are they involved in your business-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… as well?

Anne-Marie Rogers:
A couple of our kids are. Yes. Our daughter works in our invoicing and accounts receivable. She’s in college in Texas. And then our youngest son works for us in the summers doing technician work. And then our oldest son says, “No thanks.”

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
So we respect that.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s great.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
So yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
That was true with me and my brother. I-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… clearly the apple fell from my father’s tree-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… and my brother has zero interest in it-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Kent Rogers:
Right. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… whatsoever.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Well that’s great to-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
He’s like, “I’m good.”

Leslie Kuban:
But to have the opportunity to provide a learning experience for your kids when they’re young-

Kent Rogers:
Oh, yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… and develop some skills. There’s really cool.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah, our son is getting a business degree right now. And so him being able to see us start this business and work through challenges and employees, and-

Kent Rogers:
Whether that means-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… troubleshooting.

Kent Rogers:
… that someday he’ll take over or just see the example of this, and may possibly start his own thing. Who knows?

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. But you’ve provided an example-

Kent Rogers:
Sure.

Leslie Kuban:
… for that. Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
So there’s a lot of folks out there who, like you guys, were working and then life changes quite suddenly and all of a sudden you’re figuring out what are we going to do next?

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
And folks may be looking at starting their own business. They may be looking at franchising. Many of our viewers are. And would love to hear just any words of advice just on due diligence or self-reflection, just words of encouragement for people who would love to do this-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… but are scared to take the step.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. We had a lot of experience trying different things from carts in malls, to a couple of businesses through the years. So while you bring your experience to whatever you’re going to do next, our attitude’s always been, “They know what this system is.” Especially for a franchise, because they’ll sometimes have a script for the salesperson, or this is how you do this process. And so you have to have the confidence to come into this, but not the ego and not the pride.
So we had the experience, and what we bring to the table on that. But the whole time we were going, “Okay, you guys know this product. You know this. So we’re going to do it your way.” And-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah, Yeah. Exactly. So that’s one of the biggest things I think, because we see a lot of people kind of come into, not just this franchise, but several different places. And when they don’t have that or they come in with too much like, “Oh, I got this, I know this.” They don’t seem to have as much success.

Leslie Kuban:
I’m so glad you’re saying that.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
And so well said. You got to have the confidence. And because you’re going to be learning some new things, and you kind of have a half a little bit of grit-

Kent Rogers:
Sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… and self-belief that I’m learning some new things. I’m not going to be great at it-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
… at first-

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… but I’m confident I can learn it.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
But not come in with, “Well, I can do it better.”

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Kent Rogers:
Oh yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
From day one, which can be hard sometimes-

Kent Rogers:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
… when people have been very successful-

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… and maybe they feel like they have a little bit of something to prove.

Kent Rogers:
It’s an interesting balance.

Leslie Kuban:
Yes.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
That is an interesting, that you really said that well.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah. Okay.

Leslie Kuban:
I’m glad our viewers will benefit from that.

Kent Rogers:
Sure.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
We would also, I would say, feel the fear and do it anyway. There’s always going to be risk. There’s always going to be fear. But find a company that you really believe in what you’re selling or what you’re providing-

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
… or whatever it is. And make sure you believe in it and you know that you can fully commit to it.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
And if you can do that, then jump in.

Kent Rogers:
Oh, yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
It’s scary, but it’s also exciting and new and it’s always great, I think, to try something new.

Leslie Kuban:
Yes. Well, and I think having that excitement and belief in what you’re doing, it carries you through some of those challenging times-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Oh, for sure.

Leslie Kuban:
… especially in the early parts of the business.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yep.

Kent Rogers:
Oh, yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
You’re learning.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
That also matters in the business you choose.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
So with Surface Experts, we felt the support and, I don’t know, they had so much training and help, and if we need something, we could shoot something and we’d get an answer right away. And make sure whoever you’re choosing has a really good support system for you.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yep.

Kent Rogers:
And it was such a unique product and a unique franchise, that we were just all in on this. I mean, we bounced it off some friends, but man, it was just one of those things that this is amazing.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Kent Rogers:
This is an amazing franchise. We want to be a part of this.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. Well, I’m so excited. The first two years are the toughest. And it’s wonderful, because not every day is a great day-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
No.

Kent Rogers:
Right.

Leslie Kuban:
… in a new business. But no-

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Sure.

Leslie Kuban:
… that’s great that. I mean, you’ve kind of made it through the toughest part and have good growth and opportunities.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Hope so.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s exciting.

Kent Rogers:
Yeah.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
It is exciting.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, thank you so much for joining me  here in Atlanta Safe Travels back to Denver.

Anne-Marie Rogers:
Thank you.

Leslie Kuban:
Really appreciate you joining me.

Kent Rogers:
Thank you.

Leslie Kuban:
Thank you so much. And folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Atlanta Franchise Today. I’m Leslie Kuban and I look forward to seeing again next week.


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