Forging Productive Partnerships
Every once in a while, you just need a change in scenery.
For 40 years, James Webb seemed content with his work in the medical imaging industry in Texas. However, a chance meeting about five years ago in Florida with a higher-level employee of the OrangeTheory Fitness chain of workout facilities piqued Webb’s interest in branching out and trying something new.
He purchased three stores in the North Texas area, and though he can’t quite put his finger on it, there was something about the franchise model that had him hooked.
“They approached me about buying an area, so I ended up purchasing the entire North Texas market, and we built 33 gyms across the area.”
Though the concept of franchising is a long-standing and proven business model, almost everyone who is currently a franchisee has a unique story about how they ended up in that position. As Webb says, though, the one constant he’s seen when talking with fellow franchisees, regardless of the industry, is the difficult adjustment of no longer being self-employed.
“I was always about multiple revenue streams in my businesses: How could I sell more products, how could I do more things? I wasn’t allowed to do that with OrangeTheory,” Webb says. “They said ‘here’s the product, here’s what we do, you do this.’ I had to go through the growing curve of figuring out what I can’t do in my studios. Once you got that out of your head and once you got on board with the team, it wasn’t that difficult. We were solely focused on ‘we’ve got this one product, let’s sell it.’”
Webb says franchising isn’t for everyone and understands the strong desire to remain your own boss. There are certain perks to having a corporate team actively invested in making sure your store succeeds, though, and Webb says it’s critical to develop those relationships with corporate early to maximize the franchisor/franchisee relationship.
“It took a little bit to learn that, and we had to develop relationships with the right people at the corporate office. We were able to find the right people to guide us along the right path, sit down and have meetings to define strategy and figure out exactly what we were going to do,” he says. “Once we developed those relationships and they got to know ‘hey, this is a guy that’s going to build multiple franchises, let’s pay him some attention,’ we got plenty of help. It was that initial relationship development with the right people.”
That, in essence, is the ideal outcome when becoming a franchisee. Instead of navigating multiple facets of running a business such as advertising, promotion and other logistics on your own, having a corporate team that takes care of those aspects lets you focus solely on serving your customers and building your team.
“We had to convince the consumer that we were better, but that we were different. That was a key. Something new to try, something better to try. I would be trying to prove myself as different, better, higher level of service, better products.” Webb says. “The initial focus was on branding, bringing the product to market, making people aware of it. Most people are aware of quick oil and quick lube, but have that approach that you’re bringing something brand new to the market.”
Even in the ideal scenario, though, being part of a more rigid corporate structure takes some adjustment. Learning to trust your franchisor and having your franchisor trust you isn’t an immediate thing. Webb says that’s OK, though, and embracing that discomfort can force some open communication and expedite the relationship-building process.
“I always wanted to hold them accountable to that marketing fee. We were sending 1.5 percent to corporate, and we wanted to know where it was going, but once you see an ad on TV or in the paper you go ‘oh, that’s where it’s going,’” Webb says. “As long as the franchisor is using that money appropriately, branding the product to make my life easier, my sales easier, we were all on board.”
At the end of the day, purchasing and operating a franchise needs to be a partnership. Though Webb has sold all 33 locations, his relationships with OrangeTheory allowed him to build up those stores to become positive assets, which in turn has helped them remain successful even after his departure. If both sides are committed to working together to build the business, he says, the partnership should be mutually beneficial.
“I can’t over-emphasize that enough. If you don’t have a good partnership, don’t do it. You need a partner there that’s got your best interest at heart, and then you need to accept the fact that you’ve got a boss and have their best interest at heart. Once you co-align that way, it can be quite productive for both of you.”