is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email.
After losing his 15-year-old business to the recession, Peter Cogan wanted to continue on as an entrepreneur. However, while he still wanted to be his own boss, he was ready for a bit more support. Franchising allowed him to be in business for himself but never by himself. Here's how he's managed to balance his independence with the support of a franchise as a Window Genie franchisee.
Name: Peter Cogan
Franchise owned: Window Genie, Lake Norman/Charlotte, N.C.
How long have you owned the franchise?
Franchising allowed me to be in business for myself but never by myself. I have always worked for myself and I wanted to continue the freedom to make my own schedule, be my own boss, be responsible for the decisions that allow me to be the most successful I can be. Being a little bit older and having four children now I also wanted to have a support system with my best interests in mind and surround myself with people that had experience doing exactly what I aimed to do in this business.
The corporate office has been amazing. They have been and continue to be there with all their support in marketing, software, operations, etc. I do not think I would have had the success I have had so far without them. People who start a business from the ground up take too much onto their plate. Franchises have proven systems that are being practiced by others, always someone to turn to like a fellow franchisee and corporate staff, a strong website, branding, etc.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was self-employed working mostly in sales. I had a consulting business that helped companies reduce operating expenses. We worked with companies that grossed $10-100 million in gross sales and helped reduce any operating expense and then we split the savings 50/50 with the company.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
My college fraternity brother David Flax had bought his franchise about a year before me. I spoke to him about how he felt about it and where he thought it could go. We always stayed in touch and kept up with what each other were doing. I wanted to get involved with a franchise and he seemed very happy with his decision.
I loved that the franchise had multiple income streams. This was a big factor for me as well. I didn’t want the business to hinge on one service, but on multiple services. I have a big family and it’s nice being able to see them more than you would if you worked in corporate America or if you worked a retail/food franchise with a strict schedule.
It’s nice to build relationships with repeat customers who use our service in our community and it’s nice to provide services that improve the homes in my community. When we do a great job it is nice to hear from the community how well we are doing. I take a lot of pride in that. I was also happy that Window Genie asks us to give back to our community with our Windows 4 Wishes program. I started a program called "Cleaning the Homes of Those Who Protect Ours." We give a free service to any current or past veteran of the armed services that has served in the military. We try to do this once a month and I have found it extremely rewarding.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I am a little different than most of our franchisees because I purchased an existing franchise. This obviously changes the dynamics of things. My business came with the equipment, van, and supplies.
I really would not want to disclose the cost of the franchise, but I can say that to get started and buying the equipment, a vehicle, advertising, gas, etc. it probably takes about $20,000-$30,000. Advertising-5,000-6,000, Auto (monthly payment)-$450, Ladders, Pressure Washer, Concrete Cleaning machine-$8,000-$10,000, Window Cleaning Supplies/Tools- $3,000, Window Film stock/Tools- $2,000-$3,000, Insurance/Workers Comp- $2,000-$4,000. There is probably more but those are the big ones. I would say that anyone wanting to get into this business or any business should have at least $100,000 of capital so they don’t stretch themselves and they can do the best job once they start.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Most, if not all, came from David Flax. I owe him a great deal for all of the time he gives me and has given me. I was able to avoid a lot of pitfalls because of all our talks and learning from his experience. I could not be where I am today without him and his advice. I could not put a price tag on it.
Rik Nonelle, Window Genie’s franchisor is great and was extremely helpful and patient with me and got me the answers I needed. He was a great advisor to me when I was doing my research. I also spoke with my wife and friends and bounced ideas and thoughts off of them before I made my decision.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I have to say there were not too may unexpected challenges and again this goes back to being prepared by David, Rik, and the previous owner of the territory I bought. They really had me ready to go from day one.
If I had challenges it was working with employees. I used to work by myself and did not have to worry about employees. So making sure those relationships stayed strong was key and took time to adjust. My techs are crucial to this business and my success and you have to find the line between boss and friend, and that can be challenging at times.
Also, since I am dealing with residential customers now, the customer service aspect can be tricky. I am huge on customer service and want all of my customers to be completely satisfied and want to have us back in the future so we work extra hard to make sure that happens.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I would say talking to a franchise coach and looking into purchasing an existing business if possible. It does help when getting started. I would also go to any franchise expos-- that helped me to start looking and getting ideas. Making sure you really do your homework and do all of the due diligence needed to gather info. Do not settle for just anything, make sure you can see yourself doing this and being successful at it. Ask, ask, and ask questions, do not hold any questions back. Make sure you ask everything and anything that comes up and ask different sources.
I had a ton of info to use and I also just felt in my gut I could do this and going with your gut is sometimes the best move when making a huge decision such as this. But the biggest thing is due diligence. Talk to existing franchisees like I did and the franchisor, which in my case is Rik, is he/she someone you would like to be in business with for 20 years? For me that was absolutely yes.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are going to be expanding in the next four weeks. I will be adding a new truck and two more techs in April. We will have three trucks on the road not including mine, six full-time techs and two office employees. I am hoping this will be an even better year than last and we really take off. We will also continue our 'Windows 4 Wishes' program and cleaning homes of more veterans than last year, as well as giving to different charities including Sloan Kettering in honor of my father who passed away from cancer.