Starting a business with a friend? It could be a recipe for disaster. And yet, these two best friends decided to drop out of Corporate America to buy and operate a t-shirt franchise. Have they lost their marbles, or are they geniuses?
Robyn Brewington and Lisa Hughes, who have been friends since 2014, met at work. Not long after Brewington moved with her family to Las Vegas from Georgia, she and Hughes bonded over a work luncheon at the company where they both worked, Super Color Digital. Hughes, a Las Vegas native, introduced Brewington to the community and the two became fast friends.
Friends talk about all manner of topics, including dreams and aspirations. Both Hughes and Brewington had always dreamed of being business owners, and realized that, with their respective areas of expertise, they could create the perfect professional partnership.
Brewington had spent 20 years in Corporate America in the financial services and print industries, her most recent title being EVP of Sales and Marketing. Hughes had been involved in her family's businesses for 20 years, mostly in large and grand format print, where she held the position of VP of Operations.
Neither, however, had ever owned a business nor worked in retail. Were they crazy to buy a franchise together?
Going the Franchise Route
Once the friends got serious about the type of business they wanted to run, the decision to buy a franchise rather than starting a company from scratch was an easy one. Brewington says the fact that the “heavy lifting” had already been done with a franchise (meaning workflows, equipment, point-of-sale-system, and vendor relationships were already established), made the idea of buying a franchise appealing to them both.
“Plus, we felt that buying the franchise was a more formal step in being business owners – if we had started from scratch, it would have been probably more of a hobby instead of a career decision,” Brewington said.
They wanted to find a franchise that provided a relaxed work environment and was fun to run. Though the pair entertained buying a franchise in the food industry, they realized that while they loved to eat food, they had no idea how to run a restaurant.
Brewington had been a customer of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More back in Georgia, and the two began to investigate it as a potential investment. Big Frog currently has more than 70 US locations, and was recognized in Franchise Business Review’s “Top 50” for Franchisee Satisfaction for the fifth year in a row.
The brand’s relaxed atmosphere and happy franchisees appealed to the partners.
“The business model molded perfectly with our skills, personalities, and goals. We are serious about working hard, but equally serious about having a whole lot of fun while doing it!” said Hughes.
They spoke with four different Big Frog franchisees, and the feedback was consistent: Big Frog was a fun business, they had great clients, and there was never a dull day. The friends were sold on becoming Big Frog franchisees.
From Corporate America to Business Ownership
Hughes and Brewington were deliberate in their exit strategies from their jobs. Brewington quit two weeks before Hughes, and they opened their Las Vegas store six weeks later.
They took out an SBA loan of $110,000, which covered about 80% of their total startup costs of $183,000. They provided their own financing for the balance.
The biggest challenge when they launched was creating brand awareness. The custom t-shirt industry is highly competitive, both online and off, and the two had to learn not to compromise their value and customer service to get a sale. They learned that, while they may not be able to sell the cheapest shirts in town, they could offer amazing customer service.
“We really feel our secret sauce is service, service, service. So many people call or come in with a story about how their shirts were printed incorrectly [by competitors], or they didn't receive them, etc. We try to move mountains to help them out. We certainly make mistakes too, but do everything we can to correct them immediately and end the transaction with a wildly satisfied customer,” Brewington said.
Finding a business strength so early on paid off for the franchisees, who achieved system-wide record-setting sales within their first month of business together of $15,190.01.
Finding Their Balance for the Future
In their first year of business, Hughes and Brewington have established themselves as the go-to for corporations, small businesses, and charities in the area for their branding needs. They have learned to take on roles that suit their personalities and skillsets. Brewington, who is more outgoing, handles most of the sales and marketing activities, while Hughes, the more reserved of the two, deals with the operations side of the business. But they are both cross-trained to fulfill each other's roles, so there is no business disruption if one of them is away. Additionally, they have three part-time employees that are graphic designers and sales representatives.
To market their business, the franchisees use social media, networking, and cold calling. The majority of their marketing spend is put toward attending festivals and events, where they sell printed shirts geared toward the audience of the event.
While they were conservative with their marketing budget in their first year of operations, spending just $11,000, they are getting more creative in the coming year. The two have hired a professional sign spinning company to work street corners near the business, and occasionally bring out their “Frogger” costume to work events, weather permitting (it’s hot in that costume!).
If their first year of business is any indication of their success potential in the future, things look bright. In their first year of operations, the partners grossed over $265,000.
Both Hughes and Brewington aspire to become multi-unit franchise owners in the next five years, with an exit strategy that would be executed within the following five years.
With so much focus on having fun while providing customers with the best service, Hughes and Brewington are an inspiration. What do they teach us?
- Look beyond traditional from-scratch business opportunities. Franchising provides an established, proven system.
- Don’t compete on price. Going above and beyond with customer service will win you more long-term customers.
- See the big picture. What comes after you’ve proven yourself with this business? Opening additional locations? Selling? Establish your exit strategy from the start and work toward achieving it.
Susan Payton writes about marketing on her blog, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, and has written for Brandweek, Forbes, Chamber of Commerce, CorpNet and Allbusiness. She’s written several business books, including DIY Press Releases, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs.