Is Franchising Right for You, Ladies?

This is a reprint from The Huffington Post.

This may be the year of the entrepreneur, but does that include franchising?

Brenda Dronkers says:

Yes! There are so many reasons that right now is a good time to buy into a franchise. For women in particular, there are so many low cost as well as home-based franchise brands. In the past, it seemed that franchising was geared more for the brick and mortar, high investment, high strung entrepreneurs. However, these days, with options like tutoring services, food trucks, home services and so many other industries adding a low cost franchise opportunity with flexible work schedules, it is primetime for women in franchising.

Brenda Dronkers knows about franchising. She’s the founder and former president of Pump It Up, the Inflatable Party Zone. Founded in 2000, she grew it to what is now the largest children’s recreational franchise system in the country. She sold majority ownership in 2007 after sales hit $70 million.

Brenda’s kids were 4,9, & 11 years old in 1999 when she attended a church carnival. There were two big inflatables in the church warehouse that were by far the most fun attraction at the carnival. Kids would wait in line to jump up and down for a few minutes then swing around to get right back in line again.

Brenda found herself awestruck in two ways. The first was that both her youngest and oldest kids were both completely enthralled with the inflatables. Usually her kids weren’t entertained with the same activity since they were seven years apart. Secondly, she realized that because these were inside, there was no weather issue allowing for year-round fun and parties.

Without a college education or biz experience, ten weeks after this aha moment, Brenda opened her first Pump It Up.

If you are considering buying a franchise, Brenda recommends that you ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can I follow training and directions easily?
  2. Can I follow someone else’s system requirements?
  3. Am I a multi-tasker?
  4. Can I fund the franchise until it is up and running successfully?
  5. Last but certainly not least… Do I have my family’s support?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, then franchising may be for you. If in fact it is, Brenda suggests these questions be asked of a potential franchise:

  1. How long has the franchisor been in business?
  2. What kind of ongoing support will the franchise offer?
  3. Does the franchise have a solid growth plan?
  4. How do the rest of the franchisees like working with the brand?
  5. How much freedom does the franchise give you?

Brenda describes how she managed to balance mom & biz when she first launched:

When I began PIU, my children were 4, 10 and 12. When hubby was at the firehouse, I took them with me to the PIU when I had parties booked. I had an office, and I taught them all to make goodie bags (free child labor, except for all the ‘goodies’ they grabbed). I brought a TV, books, toys and made a play area/homework room for them. This lasted for about six months, and then I was able to hire a manager to work the parties. I did the rest of the business from home. Many moms, if given the chance, would choose to work from home once they have their baby like I did. As moms, we have this amazing way of being able to balance our home and business life. It will take some practice, but it can be done.

For many moms franchising can be an effective, flexible, rewarding and supportive business option. There are lots of franchise systems set up by franchisors that are focused on targeting women who want to work from home. Out of the approximate 3,500 franchise opportunities, Brenda says that about 1,000 are home-based options.

She recommends the following franchises for mompreneurs who prefer to be home based:

Games On the Go: This is a mobile RV that travels to birthday parties and events. The RV is full of retro games, such as Pac Man, Donkey Kong and more It has a very low start-up cost and is designed to be run from a home office.

Stroller Moms: This is a franchise that trains you to host stroller fitness classes in your neighborhood. This is not only a great source of revenue, but the mompreneur actually makes friends and can take her baby to work!

Bark Busters: This franchise will teach its franchisee to train dogs. So, if you love dogs, what a great way to get out of the house, and run your own business as well.

Home Helpers: If you love senior citizens, you may love Home Helpers. The franchisee of this franchise work’s from home, making appointments to visit and assist senior citizens…o n your own schedule!

Brenda talks about the benefits of going with a franchise as opposed to starting your own similar type of biz:

When you invest in a franchise, you are investing in a proven business model. I was very blessed that PIU was a hit. According to About.com, studies show that franchises have a success rate of approximately 90 percent as compared to only about 15 percent for businesses that are started from the ground up. The increased probability of success usually far outweighs any initial franchise fee and nominal royalties that are paid monthly. Also, many franchises participate in women’s funding opportunities, or have pre-registered with the SBA to avoid lending issues. Franchising is amazing. But not all franchises are created equal. If you decide to explore franchises, be sure to use your talents as a woman…practice discernment and use your intuition as you speak to these franchise brands. Any doubt, find another brand.

There’s such a variety of options available and if you spend enough time researching, Brenda is confident that you will find the right business match. You too can then jump for joy!

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Building a Sustainable Brand..

Whenever our family is able to take a trip somewhere in the US, we always make an effort to stop in to a new Pump It Up facility that we have never been to before. As the President, I was so busy when we were opening all of them, that I have only made it out to maybe 30 of the 150 that opened in the first few years! I enjoy visiting various Pump It Ups (PIUs) and visiting with the owners. I feel a kinship with them – even the ones that have opened since my departure. After all, I have a lot in common with those who are passionate about the same things!

Recently, we were blessed with a trip to Virginia to watch my son Jake play in the Babe Ruth World Series. While traveling from the airport in Washington to Leesburg, we drove by a Pump It Up right on the highway frontage! What great signage! I had to pay a visit.

I recalled meeting the Flynns, owners of the Leesburg location, while they were in franchise training. Unfortunately, they were out of town this particular visit, so I kept my stay short. As I walked into the PIU, I was greeted warmly, and asked if I needed help. I could feel the positive energy in the front lobby! There were a few children with their parents in the waiting area, watching a video and laughing… “Wow,” I thought, “I love Pump it Up. I love the joy that is created over and over and over again”.

The girl running the front counter was busy checking in a family who was there for a party. The front entryway looked just like every other Pump It Up; bright primary colors, checkered floor, great signage, clean and inviting. The girl was pleasant. When I introduced myself, she spoke eloquently, yet, as she was interacting with the customers, she had a slightly more animated, joyful voice – the voice and temperament of the perfect Pump It Up employee.

The inside of the arena smelled of freshly cleaned floors — it was early in the morning but this isn’t easy to obtain in an arena of carpeting, with smelly feet running on it all day!! Prior to the acquisition of PIU, my partner, Terry and I secured an agreement with Clorox to have our facilities “Clorox clean.” Boy, was this one Clorox clean!

As I left, I realized that the mission statement and branding promise of the business, which I began 10 years ago, was still alive and breathing in every Pump it Up across the country, and soon around the world, because we are expanding internationally right now.

Here is the branding promise we created for Pump It Up ten years ago: Pump It Up is the entertainment experience that provides a private, safe, and stress-free party environment when celebrating with family and friends. We did it then, and we still do it now! That is what I call a sustainable brand!

I really enjoyed seeing Leesburg Pump It Up. Congratulations to Pump It Up of Leesburg owners, the Flynn’s, for maintaining an amazing facility and to PIU Corporate for continuing to nurture the culture throughout the franchise system! It is truly exciting to see.