Bloomin’ Blinds: How Kelsey Stuart Is Building A Family-Run National Brand With A Keen Focus On Franchisee Profitability And Happiness

FM 22 | Family-Run National Brand

 

Kelsey Stuart and his two brothers are carrying on their mother’s legacy by expanding their family-run Bloomin’ Blinds business via franchising. By focusing closely on systems, culture, franchisee profitability, and partnering with the right franchise owners, Bloomin’ Blinds is hitting its stride as they rapidly expand across the county. In this episode, Kelsey shares his and his family’s franchise journey including how their mother going dumpster diving played a key role in the company’s genesis.

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Bloomin’ Blinds: How Kelsey Stuart Is Building A Family-Run National Brand With A Keen Focus On Franchisee Profitability And Happiness

I am joined by the founder of an emerging franchise. It has been around for a while, but it’s starting to hit its stride with national expansion. Kelsey Stuart, Founder of Bloomin’ Blinds. Welcome to the show. How are you?

Thank you, Dru.

Kelsey and I have gotten to know each other over the past couple of years as they’ve started to grow. They’ve been a national company and just pushed the button on accelerating the expansion over the past year or so. They’re doing a great job. The feedback is amazing. I look forward to learning a little bit more about Bloomin’ and you and how you guys are rolling. We were talking a little bit earlier before we went on here. You guys have an interesting story in terms of being around since the early 2000s and being a lot. What was the genesis of Bloomin’ Blinds? How did you guys get into this whole franchise thing?

The very beginning was in the mid-‘90s. My mom started this whole thing. This is mom’s fault. It’s all mom’s fault. I’m in Mount Vernon, Washington, which is 30 miles from the Canadian border. We’re way up there. Mom sees an ad in a newspaper for a blind cleaning machine. As a natural entrepreneur, she’s a second-generation entrepreneur. I’ve never heard of that before. Surely, she can make some money.

She goes out and buys this blind cleaning machine, thinking she’s going to dominate the world by cleaning blinds. She puts up an ad and then bought one. She bought a blind cleaning tank that doesn’t do any good. Realizing there’s a need, she starts trying to figure out where to buy stuff. She goes to factories. They tell her, “No, because if you fix a blind, they’re not buying one of mine.”

She begins to go to flea marts or thrift stores or look for blinds on the side of the road, and she starts harvesting parts from old products. She starts pulling them apart just to try and have something to do a repair with. Somehow she managed to get enough stuff for that. At one point, this is my favorite story, the whole thing. A factory told her, “No, I’m not going to sell you parts.” She said, “Will you tell me who you buy them from?” They’re like, “No.”

She waits until they close, and my mom literally jumps in the dumpster and starts tearing labels off the boxes. Not to be told no runs thick in our family. Mom was feet up in the air, tearing boxes, and trying to get labels. Those are some of the suppliers we still use now. I swear. She ran that as a one-woman show in Seattle for seven years. After a divorce, she sold everything and moved to Dallas for something new. Ironically, the business she sold is still open. We’re 22 years down the road and that’s still rolling.

She got to Dallas and that’s where Bloomin’ Blinds was born. Our day of incorporation was the morning of 09/11. We submitted our paperwork, and then the towers got hit. We’re one of the last pieces of paperwork that Washington State did that day. It’s easy to remember what our birthday is. From there, we grew a family business.

She started off with the intention of being a one-woman show. Very quickly, the boys and I jumped in, and over the course of the next seventeen years, we built a $3-million-a-year family business. It was cool. We were having fun and we were masters of our own domain. We were quietly one of the largest blind companies in Dallas, and we knew we had something special.

I, in particular, knew that I didn’t want to be an owner-operator. My parents have always been owner-operator. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family but was always an owner-operator. I knew that we had to build an empire or I was going to be at their cash register for the rest of my life unless I did something different.

It was like, “How do we grow? How do we expand? How do we scale this thing? Do we do company stores?” In our mind, that meant you took the family and you sent one to Kansas City, one to Houston, one to Orlando, and whatever city it was. It meant breaking up the family. We enjoy and have gotten good at working as a family. I still work with my brothers every day, or it was franchising.

The biggest challenge in franchising is that emotional control. Letting go of what people do with your name, your logo, the business concept, and when you’re not watching. It’s just an extension of employees though. Even that is an emotional hurdle. Franchising was the right choice for us because it kept the family together. In 2014, we formed the franchise corporation. In March 2015, we opened up the first one. Since then, we’ve been opening one location a month on average.

The biggest challenge in franchising is emotional control. It requires letting go of what people can do with your name, logo, or concept when you're not watching. Click To Tweet

You guys hit the ground running a little bit because sometimes, finding the right people to partner with to open franchises can be its own little obstacle to get over, navigate through, and figure out.

It took six months of marketing before we had that first franchise. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but those early adopters are your guinea pigs. They’re the ones who are willing to try out something that’s not brand new. The challenge there is they also are not system followers. They’re early adopters. They’re entrepreneurial in their own right. Amazingly, most of them are still open, virtually all of them.

I can say that’s amazing because, at that point, we thought running a franchise just simply meant giving them a little bit of an idea of what we do and then wishing them good luck. I look back on who we are as a franchise versus who we were when we first got this thing started. I can’t believe they’re still in business. We did such a bad job. There was no support. My idea of training was to throw them in a van for three weeks and ride around, “There’s your training. Good luck.”

What changed? What happened? What was the moment that you guys looked back and said, “We need to refine some stuff?” What was that like?

What switched was we have 24 franchise owners. We got this new shiny toy that we want to play with. At that point, I’m single-handedly building the franchise business and selling blinds in living rooms to the tune of $3 million a year. It was a big full day. I would start at 7:00, and I would end at about 1:00 in the morning daily for a year and a half.

We knew that we needed to focus on the franchise. I went to the family and said, “I’m pulling myself out of Bloomin’ Blinds, the Dallas office.” Of course, the other two brothers were like, “Then I am too.” “I build it and then you guys show up. I appreciate it.” That’s fine. Within our family dynamic, I’m the dreamer and entrepreneur. I’m the head in the clouds guy. I’m the visionary, if you want to use that term, and the other two are exceptional operators.

At that moment, all of a sudden, they interjected into the business. They started to build systems and processes, and plug holes in the gaps that I didn’t naturally see because I’m the visionary. I don’t see these things. All I do is look forward. I don’t realize what happened behind me. With their engagement and involvement, and a more robust team, we begin to infuse support structure and infrastructure into the business that would’ve never occurred to me.

I’m like, “Let’s get more people to play with.” That’s all that matter to me, but those two have different viewpoints on our world. We call it a spherical approach. Since that day when they jumped in with us, we have three desks that touch on the corners. We run this company as a triangle, literally. It’s still the same now. All three of us are naturally different. I think that’s because we grew up together. We had to fill different spaces in a room. Otherwise, we would overlap and kill each other.

That’s how we’ve been able to do this for almost twenty years, shoulder to shoulder. We’re different people and that’s okay. We can respect that. We don’t always have to be right. When we look at a problem or a challenge, I have my viewpoint. The other two have their unique viewpoints, and we have a clear picture of different pros and cons that we wouldn’t naturally see. It has been an amazing tool for us.

FM 22 | Family-Run National Brand
Family-Run National Brand: Business owners don’t always have to be right. When you look at a problem, other people may have unique viewpoints. Putting them together results in a clear picture of different pros and cons.

 

It sounds like you guys are aware of the dynamic that exists amongst yourselves, and the different perspectives that each one brings to the table. If you can embrace that, it could be powerful.

It wasn’t purposeful, but it was what kept us together. We began to realize the strength that it gave us. We then began to lean into it and focus on stretching out its abilities.

I’m jealous. I’ve always wondered how my brother and I would interact if we were in a business together. We’re opposites. I have a lot of patience with a lot of people. I don’t have a lot of patience with him for whatever reason.

Here’s a great story from the past. Back in the day, we used to do blind cleaning. In our business currently, we focus primarily on sales, installation, and repair. One of the things that will carry us, or we may morph into strongly if we hit a major recession, is the maintenance side of blind cleaning. That’s part of our roots. That’s how we grew up. Mom bought a blind cleaning tank first. We live in Texas. We’re in the middle of the summer. We’re outside cleaning blinds in a metal U-Haul truck, for lack of a better word. It’s hot and we’re pissy and grumpy. Because we’re still young and we hadn’t figured out taking orders, we’re constantly tearing each other down.

Before this, we all grew up in the service industry. We’re all bartenders or waiters or cooks. There’s also this performance element. There’s the showman. I am verbally destroying him and he is verbally destroying me out in the truck. The moment we go back into the house, it’s like, “Hey, buddy, can you hand me that?” “Sure, pal. You bet.” We walk out the door and I give him the dirty look, and he gives me the dirty look, and we flip each other off. We go off and we go to the next one. That’s how you make a family business work. You can’t pretend that stuff is not going to happen. You just can’t show it to your customers.

Are you the oldest?

Yeah. They got me, and then a year and a half later, they got Kris, and then four years after that, they got Kevin. We’re all within six years.

There’s a lot of wisdom and a lot of nuggets in that for anybody who’s thinking about opening a business with family members, including your wife, your spouse, your husband, and the whole nine yards. It can be a new dynamic in your life. That’s funny. You guys were refining the Bloomin’ Blinds system and working together with your brothers to put in some more support and systems. How did the OG franchisees that opened without the systems that you guys were creating at the time respond to some of the new stuff that you were putting in place?

One of the things that we did in the very beginning was we created requirements that we all stay on the same platforms and the same systems. I saw that from other franchises that had scattered processes or software or POS systems. From the very beginning, that was within our mandates. We’re all going to ride on the same platforms. From software or website or marketing, that was a requirement.

Generally, they were born with that expectation. As we grew, they grew into it and I didn’t get much pushback. The mentality and the methodology in which we do things, and the technology that we’ve infused in partial adoption is a kind way to put it. Even though we’ve proven that it makes more money and it makes your life easier, if you’re a 54-year-old dude and you’ve been doing it the same way for two years, you feel like it’s working. All of a sudden, I come up with some widgets that I want you to play with.

There’s enough personalization or enough room for personalization in this business. The ones that like systems and processes adopt them because they see the wisdom in them. The ones that are a bit more entrepreneurial in their own mind tend to evaluate it and pick and choose which parts they want. We leave room for that because these aren’t critical elements. The ones that are critical, whether it be the branding, the website, the marketing company, or the software, are critical elements. Those are mandated for everyone’s benefit. We wanted to leave a lot of room for people to personalize the business and be able to find that space where it fits their groove.

FM 22 | Family-Run National Brand
Family-Run National Brand: Leave non-critical elements of your brand for other people to personalize. This will help them find the space that fits their groove.

 

There’s a lot of wisdom in that, especially when there’s a legacy of franchise owners. They’re happy, profitable and good. They’re operating good enough within the standards and the critical stuff. Those last few things can always be a little bit of a judgment call on how hard you want to push.

What we’ve learned is as a philosophy, I don’t think anyone is coachable until they ask for coaching. Nobody wants your opinion until they ask for it. We’ve made everything available. We’ve offered to coach. We’ve offered to circle back around and spend special time. If you’re willing to listen, I’m willing to spend time with you.

Nobody is coachable until they ask for it. Click To Tweet

Pulling them in now, the legacy is that the new owners are coming out faster and pushing bigger numbers. They’re finding more success. The ones that aren’t quite content yet are now poking their head up and saying, “What are you guys doing?” There’s no attitude about it. If you’re willing, let’s do this. I need you coachable or I have other things to spend my time on.

We’re honest, fair, and transparent about that. If you’re willing to adopt the recipe, then I’ll take my personal time and help you get there. If you’re going to go back to picking and choosing what you want to do, I have other people who are going to do the recipe. We’ve always been transparent about it. You have freedom, but if you want my help, you have to do it 100%.

I respect the way that you go about it and conduct yourself. Kelsey, as consultants on this side, we get a lot of information thrown at us. A lot of it is BS. Our BS meter is pretty good because we’ve all been doing this for so long. We’ve heard, seen, and done it all. The way that you conduct yourself all the times that we’ve hung out, and you had an opportunity to have some mind share in front of the consultants, you were just real. You put it out there and call it like it is.

That is refreshingly transparent to see. It’s also cool to hear that’s how you roll within the company and then interact with the franchise owners. It’s part of your culture in terms of keeping it real and keeping it raw, “We’re here to make some money and build businesses, a brand, and a family but we’re not going to sit here and blow smoke up your butt.”

The whole thing is led by family. It started with mom, now it’s three brothers running the whole thing. You have that transparency inside your house. At Thanksgiving dinner. You generally get to be that transparent. We don’t know how any other way to act. I work with my brothers every day. We do conduct ourselves with that family ethos that if I can’t act like this with my family, then I have the wrong people in the room.

If you cannot act with your business team like family, you have the wrong people in the room. Click To Tweet

I’m in a fortunate position where I get to pick the people in the room. That transparency does get woven through everything we do. You have to be polite. You have to watch the impact of your words. It doesn’t mean you can’t be honest or transparent in the process. Everyone who has come on board has gotten to know that. You may not always like what I say, but I always mean it.

I guess the franchise owners have a unique perspective on your life personally because you’re a family, and that’s typically how you can get some pretty good insight into people’s character. It’s what the family dynamic is like. As you guys are continuing to grow and bringing on more franchise owners, what are some of the things that you look for in the folks that you want to partner with who want to open up a Bloomin’ Blinds?

That’s been an evolution. For those who don’t know me on this podcast, I’m a blind guy that started a franchise. I don’t have an MBA. I don’t have twenty years in franchising and mentors who have taught me what to do. We had to figure this out from the beginning. In the very beginning, we brought in franchise owners who looked just like us, pure entrepreneurs, people who will take a square hole and push on the sides until it turns into a circle. That’s who we are as entrepreneurs.

We realize that came with advantages and challenges. In a franchise which is system-based, there are probably more challenges. A lot of great people, but challenges. We didn’t know who we had or who we wanted. In the second stage in some of our earlier rapid expansion, we let everybody in. If you have a pulse and an interest, come on in.

We found some incredible candidates, and we found some others. Unfortunately, not every franchise makes it. The bulk of the ones that we’ve had close is from this group because we let in people who we weren’t discerning. We didn’t know how to be discerning. This was our attempt to learn, but underfunded and under-motivated. They didn’t have that work ethic or stumbled upon fantastic franchise operators.

Through that second group, we began to identify, “Who are these ones that are crying for the support, the attention, and the training that we need to develop?” By listening to those franchise owners, they helped guide us on how to build as a company. It also helped identify who’s that candidate that we’re looking for, and the personality and mindset.

We’re in that third evolution where now I have the benefit of all that past knowledge. Now I’m looking for someone who’s ambitious but mildly entrepreneurial. You have to be willing to blaze through challenges with fortitude and grit as an entrepreneur should if you’re going to run a business. I don’t care if it’s this business or an ice cream shop. You’re still going to need it.

We’re looking for someone who likes systems and processes. Someone who looks at an established system and an infrastructure of support as shoulders they can stand on to get above the crowd. Where an entrepreneur looks at them as a limiter of their personal freedom, I would be the world’s worst franchisee.

It doesn’t matter how big your system is and how good it is, I naturally assume that I can find ways to make it better, which keeps me from following it to a T. I’m constantly going to tinker with it. That arrogance helps me in business, but it’s terrible in a franchise business. As a sort, I’m in the right seat. I’m right where I should be because I get to sit here and create things for other people to use.

We’re actually into almost our fourth stage. We’re entering into a fourth stage where I’m looking for an overly ambitious person with that same personality type because we’ve gone from owner-operators to now we’re bringing in people who want scalable businesses. They have higher aspirations. I still love my owner-operators. I got a confirmation day. I got three owner-operators coming in. I got no problem with that. That’s my core. Those are my people.

I can also realize from my own experience that there’s a glass ceiling that comes with being an owner-operator, not only physically but mentally and sometimes financially. I know that this business can do more if we have more vans on the road. If I have an owner who wants a couple of territories and wants to put 3 or 4 vans on the road within a couple of years, I know that Bloomin’ Blinds is growing bigger and stronger because of that candidate and that ambition, ability, and mindset. We found the right people. I’m willing to take the one-man show and the scalable solution but still have the same mentality and still the same person at the core.

FM 22 | Family-Run National Brand
Family-Run National Brand: There is a glass ceiling that comes with being an owner operator, not only physically but also mentally and financially.

 

With that fourth evolution of somebody who’s going to come in and grow to multiple vans fairly quickly with the systems and all the work that you guys have been doing on the internal aspects of evolving as a franchise company, are those the systems that give those folks that want to scale the ability to scale?

The day-to-day activity is the same whether you’re one van or three vans. You go out to the customer, you help them however they need be, you politely extract as much money as possible, and then you go on to the next one. It’s rinse and repeat. They invited us over. It’s their idea. It’s not my fault. Do you like that transparency? That’s how we roll.

The difference between somebody who’s got three vans is the support. We have two layers of support. I have technician support. When someone’s out in the van, we got all kinds of staff that can take their calls, help them on site in the middle of a project so they don’t stall out, and they don’t have to leave without that. We also have managerial support, and that could be a general manager or the actual owner who’s acting as the general manager.

We’ve developed a two-year sequence, and it is founder-led. The first year that they launch, they were working with my youngest brother, Kevin. He’s on weekly touchpoints where he’s watching their KPIs. We’ve uploaded this new software that we’re in love with called FranMetrics. Maybe you can get them to sponsor the show. It’s basically taking your P&L and flipping it into a dashboard.

We sent benchmarks on probably fifteen different KPIs. Some of them are ratio-driven. Some of them are truly financial, but the franchise owner tells us, “What’s your end goal?” “On an annual level, I want to do X amount of dollars this year.” We know the percentage of the revenue that is traditionally certainly within that first twelve months.

In your third month, the average of your annual revenue is this much. How are you on track for that? Because it’s on a dashboard, we can see the whole thing, and it’s mutual. We coach to this dashboard. Because we set the benchmarks, we can see where they’re at. The franchisee gets a little bit of a competitive juice because, on each one of those matrix, they can see where they rank within the company. Are you the fourth most profitable company or are you the 34th most profitable company? It’s not going to tell you who’s above and below, but it’s going to tell you where you sit.

They go through a year of that with Kevin. That’s weekly coaching. That way, we don’t lose track. We want to launch them the right way. In the second year, they moved in with me. Now we’re more of on a monthly status, but now we’re in the scale approach. We’ve got the thing going, you’re rolling, and you’ve got your team settled and established. Now, how far do you want to push this? That’s my gift. It’s that scalable big picture, don’t be scared of anything, let’s go get it kind of mentality. That’s where I take you over and start helping them get beyond that first year, and not get stuck there.

That’s some powerful stuff.

It’s a huge evolution for us. We just launched it a few months ago.

Whenever you’re starting a new business, a new franchise owner has this grand vision and these grand plans for where they want to get to, which is great. It’s okay. Now, how do you get there? It’s not month one, month three or month six. There’s the gradual build that has to happen. I would imagine that by helping the franchise owners take their long-term plan and chunk it down into manageable timeframes like every month or every 90 days and then be able to benchmark where they are against moving towards that long-term goal, it can help them find some sanity in the delayed gratification that folks typically have to go through in order to reap the positive rewards that can come long-term. That’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s cool. I didn’t know that.

It’s an exciting program. It just launched. Even if there is a problem, the fact that we’re doing this coaching, you’re not going to be surprised by it. It’s not going to come up and bite you and you didn’t know what even happened. If you have a problem, at least you’re aware, and you could begin to address it early on and fight against it. Even if you never really solve it, at least you were aware and you were able to put effort towards it. From a revenue standpoint and from satisfaction for the franchise owner, they’re learning how to run a business in real-time, but it’s with good coaching versus the school of hard knocks, which is how most do it.

As you have developed this coaching program that helps franchise owners scale through a path, what inspired you to put this coaching program together? Were there things that you pulled from books or people or other franchise companies? Did you just look back at your own journey and say, “This is what it needs to be?”

We hired a franchise coach. Somebody from the franchising space. I’m going to give out a shout-out to Gerry Henley from Launch to Growth. He’s our franchise coach, and he’s an operations guy. He’s got this business model. It’s very similar to an EOS system, but he’s also very familiar with the franchise business coach role, which is what franchisors ended up building. That’s the coaching model that I’m talking about, and more established brands tend to have it.

We saw that we needed it to keep these. We added it a bit early. He brought it to us and he said, “You guys are doing great but they turn into how they launch. If you don’t launch them well, they’ll never grow into their potential.” It sounded like it made sense. We knew it was a service to our franchisees that is valuable. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s just our time. We ran right towards it.

We said, “If this helps this franchise owner be better, more successful, and more profitable, that’s the definition of a good franchise.” It is that you have owners who are making money and are happy. There’s no reason to turn it away. It wasn’t us, but we do love mentors. As much as we like to be a mentor for our franchisees, we also love mentors. This was a great opportunity for one of our mentors.

FM 22 | Family-Run National Brand
Family-Run National Brand: The definition of a good franchise is having owners who are happy and are making money.

 

It was you guys to even recognize that there was an opportunity here. We may not have the answers internally, but let’s go figure out who the best resource or what the best resource is going to be to help us put this thing together that we know can help the franchise owners make more money and be happier, and all that kind of stuff.

As I said, we’re a bit early in the normal progression of a franchise. Normally, it’s not founders leading this, it’s usually hired business coaches. We’ll get there as we continue to grow the program. We’re going to get to a point where people are skilled at doing this, and maybe have done it for other companies or we could train them how. In the long run, when we get up to 200 locations, we’re probably going to have 4 to 6 or maybe more of these business coaches who do nothing but connect and breathe life into franchise owners every day. We know it’s part of our long-term plan, so why not get it going early?

The fact that you guys are doing it helps to know it better, manage it better, and find the right people to fit and fill in that role.

It’s our opportunity to learn it before we started hiring for it or coaching it and teaching it.

I respect you, man.

We’re very much a, “I can’t possibly tell you to do something that I wouldn’t do or don’t know how to do myself.” That’s what we do.

We were talking offline a little bit earlier. You said something that has stuck in my mind, and I cannot forget it. It’s the idea of this momentary ambition as it relates to the franchise owners, and bringing on the right folks. Momentary ambition, can you explain that a little bit more for everybody? Maybe talk a little bit about how you use whatever you use to assess the franchise owners to figure out if they’re the right fit.

Any candidate or anyone who’s interested in franchising should hone in on this because this is an important piece. This is an emotional journey that most don’t even recognize is happening. Six months before you started considering opening a business, you are who you are. You have ambition levels, a work ethic, and a natural drive. That is who you are if you’re an adult. You’re probably set in that way.

You then get this idea that you want to start a business, whether it be out of fear, pain, or opportunity. You get this idea and it’s a seed, and it starts to slowly grow. It’s a swell that picks up momentum. As you start learning about different businesses, you start talking to consultants and coaches like Drew. You start getting motivated, and you start getting this inflated or exaggerated swell of ambition.

By the time we, as a franchise, meet you, you are months into this process. You have put in a lot of time, a lot of dreams, and a lot of wondering and conquering fears just to get this far. We’ve coined the term momentary ambition. That’s the point in which you meet somebody because now you are all hyped-up and you’re starting to feel like, “I could do this. This might be real.” You’re getting your financing in place. You’re starting to daydream.

For us, I’m starting to watch vans drive by and wonder what it would be like to have a Bloomin’ Blinds van. What we’ve come to realize is that for some candidates, that’s who they truly are. That inflated moment where we meet them. To some candidates, it’s truly in inflation. It’s a hyper version of who they really are when the dust settles.

Sometimes we see candidates come off that swell. They’ve been awarded the franchise. They’ve moved forward with funding. They’ve gone through training. The rubber meets the road at the home, and now they go back to who they were. It’s not that that’s a negative, it’s just understanding that there’s this ebb and flow within this process.

It then becomes more difficult to run a business because you’re not really the person that you showed us. Not by deception but just a natural evolution. We’ve come to realize for our protection and for the candidate’s protection that we have to watch out for this. We have to recognize or try and evaluate, is this who this person is or is this a momentary ambition? There’s not really a good test for it.

We do use personality profiles and things like that. We find those very helpful. We begin to try and talk to the candidate or the prospective franchise owner. We’re looking for achiever science. What have you done in your life that is exceptional or out of the box that took a lot of effort? It could be something like, “I took a six-week walk through the woods on a backpacking trip.” That takes a lot of planning and a lot of preparation. It takes a lot of grit and endurance to make it through. It could be a random marathon. You have to train for months before that one moment. It could be climbing the corporate ladder. That is a thing, especially if you do it at an exceptionally high level.

I had a candidate who worked in a bar and then got to a point where he bought the bar from the owner. He liked it so much. He went and found investors, and he and the investors opened four more bars, and then they were all sold. Those are things that aren’t just the humdrum of, “I go to work, I come home, I eat, and I go to bed.” That’s probably not a lifestyle that’s going to fit owning a business well. That’s not a natural fit. If somebody has something in their past where we can understand that they have that fortitude to push through a long sequence, delayed gratitude is a good word for franchising.

Delayed gratification.

That’s what I was looking for. If we can see that that happened for them, then I can believe that you’ll have the thing that it takes to run a business in the future. That realization was key for us because occasionally we’re surprised like, “What happened? Where did it go?” That’s what helped us understand that there’s this swell. We got to watch out for that. We got to help them watch out for it. In our transparent nature, we actually talk to candidates about this. We’re trying to be vocal so that maybe they can recognize it and save themselves if that’s what’s going on. I don’t find that this is talked about in franchising very much. Often, people are like, “What?” I think it’s a real thing.

I’ve never heard it phrased captured in the essence that you did, but you have identified something that is very real as folks go through the journey of having that itch. The itch becomes bigger. They start looking at businesses. It’s always the chicken and the egg. We’re somewhat limited in terms of how much information we can give people, and it’s their journey and their process. I’ve seen it too when I was on the franchisor side. Folks get caught up in the hype and the emotion.

The little things that I’ve seen on the consultant side are how they do their research can be a little bit of a predictor in terms of how they might operate the business. It’s the folks that spend the time digging in and looking under the rocks and stuff like that, but it is a very real thing. Do you have any examples of folks that you feel were in a momentary ambition and weren’t right for the business at that time in their life?

It happened. I can’t use names or cities. That would give it away. Probably in the last 4 to 6 months, I can think of at least one owner who had everything we were looking for. The show was great. We get them home and they’re just scared of everything. I didn’t see any of that going through the validation process, getting to know them through those calls, confirmation day, and spending two days with them. They are fun-loving, loose and free, and then the pressure of the business and you’ve got so many choices to make that you can almost get paralyzed. It’s similar to analysis paralysis.

New owners, when they go home, they’re out of the nest. Mother bird kicked them out, and now they’ve got to figure out how to fly. We’re here to help you, but I can’t flap your wings for you. That’s not what franchising is. Even now, we’re working hard. I heard Kevin on a coaching call the other day, and it was just one excuse after another about why they couldn’t do what we were trying to help them do of what works nationwide, and it’s all fear.

We’re trying to massage them, encourage them, and help them work through it. The business is struggling because when the rubber hit the road, I don’t even know if it was who they were before, but something else happened. At the same time, I’ll give you an alternative. I had tons of franchise candidates who I commend and I’m like, “I like the guy but I’m not sure.”

They go home and they have that fear. They muscle through it and get used to it, and then they become behemoths like giants in the forest knocking trees down. I’ve had this guy I’m thinking of. For the first three months, he almost gave himself a heart attack just out of panic. He was so wound up from the corporate world. It took him months to unwind. Now, he’s number 2 or 3 in the company every month.

You never quite know how people are going to react when the weight of a new business shows up, and all of those question marks are sitting on your shoulders. What we try to encourage everybody is if you can just keep moving forward and believe me enough to get there. I haven’t failed you yet. You know I’ve never lied to you, so let me help you walk down this path. If you just let me and trust that the repetition and the time will make this better. If you still believe in me, please keep moving forward.” It’s like a shark. If you’re not swimming, you’re not breathing.

FM 22 | Family-Run National Brand
Family-Run National Brand: Franchisees must put their trust in business owners to build better businesses. Let them help you walk down this path, especially if they haven’t failed or lied to you.

 

Just do something. You do one thing, and something good is going to happen. You master that one thing, and now you can do something else. You get momentum and confidence. It just snowballs. You got to do it within the guidelines. Pick something and just do it. Take action and get momentum going. Don’t sit behind your computer every day looking at LinkedIn.

Guys like you and I have been in business for ourselves for a while. I catch myself doing this. Sometimes I approach this almost too casually because, for me, it’s second nature now. I’ve done it for a long time. I’ve ridden this road for a while. We’ve had our ups and downs, but now it’s no big deal. Those new owners, it’s brand new. That’s fresh and tender skin you’re touching. They haven’t built up the calluses. We have to be very careful about how cavalier we are about, “It’ll be fine.” You still have to be empathetic to how they felt despite the fact that I forgot what it was like to start a business. It’s been that long ago.

You’re as much a psychologist as an entrepreneur and a business coach sometimes.

When you go into franchising and you’re not ready to be a counselor, you’re in the wrong business.

When you go into franchising without getting ready to become a counselor, you are in the wrong business. Click To Tweet

Do you guys still operate your Dallas operation?

The Dallas one got sold as a franchise unit. That was in 2018. We want to grow into this fourth evolution of people with higher desires that wanted more vans on the road. We had an opportunity to start up a full absentee. I wouldn’t even call it a semi-absentee. It’s to the outermost extreme, three and a half hours south of us.

It’s totally remote from us. I can’t get there in ten minutes. We hired a general manager and made sure I picked a good growth-minded team-building general manager. I gave him a budget to work with. I hired three technicians and funded it well. It’s equivalent to five territories, so it’s a big operation, and pushed a ton of volume. It’s the fastest launch of a business ever.

We did that before we brought on this fourth generation. It’s like the coaching where we want to do it before I teach it. I had to prove it to myself. I couldn’t handle the conscience of taking somebody’s money if I didn’t honestly know that it could be done. We proved it out for about a year and a half, and then we began to introduce it to franchise owners. The only corporate office we have right now is in Austin, Texas. We touch it five hours a month.

If you’re going to run any business that’s controlled by a GM, the business success is predicated on the quality and the skill of that general manager. At this point, I’m basically an investor. We made sure we picked and incentivized a good manager to do the work. We gave him a good base, but then we gave him his bonus or his extra money off the profitability of the business. Not gross sales but profitability. It has kept the motivation in line and kept the growth coming. It’s almost two years old, and it is in the top 2 or 3 in terms of revenue every month. It’s growing. It will be number one pretty soon, but it’s Austin, Texas, so that’s cheating. It’s a great market to build a business.

If you run any business controlled by a general manager, its success will be predicated on the quality and skill of the GM. Click To Tweet

You’re the franchisor. You get to cherry-pick. It’s all good.

It’s close enough. It was the only big market that I had that was close enough that I could drive down there to triage if I needed to.

It’s great that you guys stepped up. You did it. You learned it and went through it. You made the investment, and you guys are learners. It sounds like you pay attention to everything. Now you have a way to capture the learnings and the feedback and systematize it, and then roll it out to the new franchise owners or existing franchise owners if the existing ones want to adopt it. What’s next for you in Bloomin’?

We’re also starting to launch a podcast every month. It’s going to roll into two months. We do what we call a family meeting. It’s a company-wide zoom call. Usually, we bring on some sort of topic or a new vendor, something that we’re adding to the business. We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn about it firsthand. We never wanted to just leave it alone. We’re going to roll it into more of an internal podcast that we’ll also put on YouTube just for the fun of it. I’m really excited because the intro is going to be a 3 to 5-minute short skit of some of our adventures from the past. I guarantee I’m going to dress somebody up in an old lady’s outfit and have her feet sticking out of a dumpster. That’s going to be a thing.

You can do the skit with your brothers as you guys are fighting in the car, and then turn it on when you walk into the customer’s house.

The one that I’ve wanted forever is this cheesy announcer, some ‘70s guy selling TVs with a big old mustache or something. I want him out in front of the camera talking about, “Have you ever had dog damage on your blinds? We can fix it.” I want my youngest brother in a full-body dog suit with a baseball bat hauling some blinds.

You’re a visionary. This is what you do with your time. We get it.

That’s why I get to the big bucks. The biggest evolution in the business, we have one franchise owner who figured out how to monetize social media. He’s in a seven-figures in his third year in business. I guess I’ll leave the city out of it. It’s not a major metro area. It’s a midsize market. He’s doing it with a very minimal ad spent because he has created an absolute behemoth of a social media account. We’re in the middle of a three-part series with the franchise owners teaching them the skillset. He’s giving this to us. I love his heart. He’s so happy to give it and teach it because we’re all better and stronger together.

By coming to realize what he’s doing, we’re going to hire an internal social media manager through the National Brand Fund. This isn’t going to cost franchisees anything. We’re creating an influencer program. I probably shouldn’t say this here when there are going to be competitors tuning in to this, but one of the biggest problems for window coverings or any home service is from a corporate level. If I want to do social media for the brand, I don’t have real content. I can’t get into the houses. I don’t go.

I have to take Shutterstock images or I have to take generic stuff. It’s watered down and nobody wants to look at that when they’re scrolling. It won’t catch anyone’s eye. We’re building an influencer program, or I’m calling it an influencer program. Franchise owners will be asked to take raw photos or raw videos. Don’t tune them up. Don’t do the filtering or any of that stuff. Send them to us.

Our social media manager will tune them up, cut them, clip them, and then we’re going to repost them locally with all the appropriate tags and identifiers per city. We’re going to sit here and bang them out for every franchise owner because we’re 95% dudes and that’s not our native language. If I encourage franchise owners to become social media behemoths and grow their businesses through it, it isn’t going to happen.

Are you going to put a little Kelsey spin on some of these things to add a little cheekiness to them?

Yeah. That media manager reports directly to me. We’re our own little brand. I fully believe you can have fun and make money at the same time. I make no apologies for it.

That’s probably in the fiber of the folks that you want to partner with as a franchise owner. It’s okay to have fun and make money and not take life as seriously as some other folks do, but if you want to take life seriously, let them just buckle in for the culture that you’re signing up for. We might offend you. You might get a little offended by a thing or two, but we don’t mean it. It’s not intentional.

Will they fit in the room? It is definitely part of our evaluation process.

I appreciate you coming on and sharing more about your journey and your story, and all the good things that you are doing. I love to see it. I love the way that you guys have grown organically. Getting a good foundation of franchisees out there, learning from it, putting the systems in place, and then realizing, “We’ve got the foundation in place to go.” There’s no doubt that you are going to get to where you want to get to. If folks want to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

Picking a new chapter for your life is a big topic, and there are lots of information out there, but the tour guide effect of a franchise consultant like what you do is invaluable. It’s free for them. We pay the bill. They have somebody who can get to know them, understand the brands that are available out there, help cut that learning curve, and almost help ensure a better fit. It’s like having to tailor-build a suit instead of just buying one off the rack.

People can find us directly through our website. Honestly, the best way to do it if somebody is going to protect themselves and have the best chance of success is they come back to you or other consultants that they may know. Your best chance of success is making sure you have a qualified tour guide to help you through it.

I appreciate that. Thank you. That was a non-paid endorsement. It’s good stuff. I appreciate you coming on, and being raw and real. You tell it like it is in a very insightful way for a lot of folks that are there. You guys are building something special. I’ll let you get back to your social media. Talk to you later.

Thanks, Dru.