Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

Brad Murray and friends on the road.
Brad Murray knew that it was time for change.

He had worked in construction for 40 years and was let go from the company he last worked (for 21 of those years) because he needed time off for health reasons. He sued the organization and won, but the entire exchange left a bad taste in his mouth and he decided not to return to the industry.

While he was searching for something new, he met a man who owned a motorcycle rental company and was looking to sell the business.

Murray's father coincidentally ran a Yamaha franchise when he was young, so he had raced motorcycles in the past—in fact; he'd been riding since he was 11 years old. This opportunity to take on a motorcycle business seemed like serendipity.

After a few Google searches and phone calls, Murray found Guidant.

"There wasn't a bank in the world that would help me get this company. I couldn't even tap into my home equity because I didn't have a job," he said.

Murray made the decision to move forward and use money from his retirement accounts to purchase the existing business. He was pleased with Guidant's customer service from start to finish.

"I just want you to know that the quality of people you sent me to for the different phases of the rollover process was amazing." He goes on to say, "Every single one of them is fantastic and they treated me like they really, really care. It was a great experience."

Since opening earlier this year, Murray has seen better results than he expected.

The previous owner would not accept one-day rentals, but Murray realized there was a demand for that service, so he offers that option to his customers. He also stays open late to accommodate those who can only pick up their motorcycles after work.

"It's really sort of an inventory management gig because you don't want anything on the shelf. That's where you're making money."

Murray handles all of the scheduling and rentals while his wife Carol manages the marketing.

"We are both learning a lot about the marketing part of it and where to go. She [Carol] travels a lot—handing out fliers and setting up shop at events."

At present, Murray rents out seven bikes, but hopes to one day have 10 – 12.

He says he's had renters from all over the world, including Australia and New Zealand. His clients sometimes take the bikes out for as long as a month to explore the whole country. He also allows renters to take the bikes to Canada.

"The fun part is to hear their stories when they get back—where they went, who they met and what they saw," says Murray. "It's phenomenal."

For safety reasons Murray is very selective during the rental process. Customers must have experience on heavy touring bikes in addition to a valid motorcycle endorsement on their license. He also uses intuition as his guide and reserves the right to deny rental to any individual at his discretion.

Risks and all, Murray feels fortunate to enjoy his work and hopes to run the business for many years.

"I love doing this, I love Harley-Davidson and I love people. It's amazing that I get to do this for a living."

Interested in renting a motorcycle? Visit Oregon Motorcycle Rentals official website or visit their Facebook page.

Service-Disabled Veteran John Hartigan dreamed of owning his own business for years. With his background in consulting, construction, vending and Internet businesses, along with fundamental skills he gained in the U.S. Army, he and his wife Barbara felt they were well-equipped to start a business. It turns out, they were right.

His company, Technology Management Group, provides a full range of information technology and professional services including secure facility construction; network infrastructure; furniture design and provisioning; environmental management and more. In business less than a year, their group already counts clients like ANH Communications and Switzerland Air among their satisfied customers.

“We picked these fields because of the experience we had from the service, industry and federal government over the past 30 years. Serving [in the military] helped me focus on doing the right thing, treating people with respect, and staying focused. These are key factors to success in not only business but in life,” said Hartigan.

He heard about Guidant’s services through research on the Internet, then after speaking with a Guidant financing consultant, also learned of the Veteran Scholarship program, which is part of the Operation Enduring Opportunity campaign.

“The entire process working with Guidant has been terrific—very professional, very patient and very detailed. Right from the start the Guidant process moves you down the right path step by step. A new business could not ask for a better team mate.”

His advice for those wanting to make the leap into entrepreneurship is clear: pick a business line that you enjoy doing, have patience during the extensive paperwork process, network as much as possible and finally, “Set a realistic schedule. The first year can be very long.”

As for his 17 years of service in the military, he has very fond memories. “I am still in touch with folks I met in the ‘70s. You never have to say goodbye—just ‘see you at the next post.’”

In his spare time away from the business, Hartigan enjoys camping and traveling, and he’s grateful for the preparation his background gave him to thrive as an entrepreneur.

“The key take away for us is that the fundamentals we learned being a service family have translated into being successful in the business world. We have been fortunate and lucky to have been helped and mentored along the way. Now we want to grow [our business] and give something back for the blessings we have benefitted from.”

John is the third recipient of our Veteran Scholarship Award. To learn more about his business, visit the official Technology Management Group website.

Entrepreneurship was nothing new to Dennis Fuller—he’d owned service and restaurant businesses in the past, and acted as a franchise consultant for years—but he still felt he needed to take an aggressive approach to saving for retirement.

“The stock market [in recent years] has been very volatile and unsettling. The real estate market has been in decline and I viewed it as a good time to buy,” said Fuller.

He used Guidant’s iDirect service to buy three investment properties with his self-directed IRA and is currently negotiating a fourth purchase.

So, how did he learn of Guidant Financial?

Fuller continues, “I heard about your organization through the many channels of the franchise industry. Upon doing extensive research as to who to utilize for this type of transaction, Guidant won hands down.”

As for the process, Fuller comments that it was easier than he anticipated. “[The Guidant Financial] staff handled everything from forming the corporation to transferring the funds and all the steps in between. [It] also took less time than I originally planned.”

For investors who may have apprehension about this method, he advises them not to worry. “Guidant actually made the process quite easy with their step-by-step guidelines. There was always someone there to respond to my questions in a professional manner. For me, it was exciting to see my goals becoming closer and closer as we finalized the process.”

Of course, there is strategy to being a smart property investor.

“Purchasing the right properties is the first challenge,” says Fuller. “We only buy three bedroom, two bath houses with a garage. This seems to be the most desirable to tenants and the most marketable when we plan to sell our properties. We renovate them like we were going to live in them ourselves. When this is done, they rent quickly and appeal to the right tenants. The next step is to find the right tenants. Most landlords rush into renting to anyone, and then wind up with challenges. We do extensive background checks and have had no problems whatsoever—and we’ve been doing this for four years now.”

His strategy is literally paying off. His investments have exceeded his initial expectations.

“After expenses, taxes and insurance, I am yielding a 9.5% annual return; not factoring in the appreciation value of the real estate,” remarked Fuller. “In this market, I view this as a very strong return. I call it my ‘mailbox money’ strategy. Every month the rent checks come in like a passive investment. When you rent to the right people and you have a very well thought out rental agreement, this can be a very pleasant and prosperous experience.”

Fuller says he’ll also continue his franchise consulting business and make time for his favorite hobby: fishing. “I live in Clearwater, Florida and this area has some of the best fishing in the world.”

So, what’s next for this thriving investor?

“More rental properties! I am aggressively planning for my retirement and with the current real estate market as it is, the timing is right to add to our housing portfolio.”

Sounds like a plan.

Growing up in a family that owned a small town car dealership, Mark Larson learned what it takes to succeed in small business. So, when he was outsourced in 2010, he began looking for opportunities.

“I was both looking for a job and looking for a business I could buy or start.” 

Larson says he had loved wine since he was stationed in southwest Germany in the late ‘70s with the U.S. Air Force, so opening a wine tasting room was a natural fit. 

He began researching ways to use his retirement funds to start the business and found Guidant on the Internet. After speaking with two tax attorneys and another financial firm, he knew Guidant was the right choice for him. 

“Working with Guidant Financial was very simple. I was concerned about how difficult it would be, but those fears were unfounded. I was walked through each step [of the process] and the attorney I was paired with was great.” 

When asked what he would tell aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to do the same thing, he advised, “Do your homework. Each person has their own tolerance to factor in. Starting this business debt-free reduced my start-up risk and that made the difference for me.” 

Larson holds a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and also has experience in construction. As a veteran, Larson recognizes that many of the skills he’s now applying to start his business, he gained while in the military. 

“I was exposed to people and areas I would have never seen otherwise," says Larson. "The job experience was great too—I worked in engineering and got a solid background in facilities design and construction management. The sense of mission you get in the military cannot be overlooked.” 

In his spare time, Larson enjoys fishing, cooking, hiking and canoeing. Larson will open the doors to his new wine tasting room later this month. 

Watch our blog for updates on the opening of his new business.

Mark Larson is the second recipient of our veteran scholarship award. Click here for additional details on VetFran.

As her retirement from a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy drew near in 2011, Dr. Jennifer Nicholls began a full job search. She wasn’t even considering starting her own business until she discovered the Mathnasium franchise. She explains:

My father was a math teacher, and I have always been good at math. While growing up, my dad tutored math students, so I have always been aware of the demand for supplemental math education. I have university level teaching experience both at the United States Naval Academy in the Systems Engineering Department, and at the George Washington University in the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering Department. Education is really my passion, but I wasn’t interested in getting a credential so I couldn’t go the pure teaching route. Mathnasium seemed like a great fit combining my passion for education with my extensive program management experience.
While investigating ways to utilize her Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for business funding, she found Guidant. Mathnasium, coincidentally, also recommended Guidant’s services.

“The process with Guidant was very easy to navigate,” notes Nicholls. “They answered all of my questions—even the silly ones. The sales team, legal counsel and tax folks were/are extremely helpful and continue to answer any questions to this day.”

With academic degrees in aeronautical engineering and systems engineering, and a wealth of experience in the military as a government program manager, “budget and execution are old hat,” says Nicholls of running her own business. The challenges come with things like credit card processing, payroll taxes and learning the specific requirements of business ownership.

Nicholls credits her years as a Naval Officer for her strong work ethic, leadership skills and accountability. “These are all things that were introduced to me early on, but the military recognizes and rewards these attributes in a stronger way than I have observed in the civilian world.”

She states that she doesn’t have just one favorite memory from her time in the Navy. What she remembers most are the people, “Extremely talented men and women from varied backgrounds, all committed to working toward the same goals. It was truly an honor to serve with every one of them.”

Nicholls reflects on her intentions for joining the service over two decades ago:

I originally joined the Navy to fly airplanes, but it turned out that for me, being in the Navy wasn’t about being a “warfighter.” It was about serving my country, a mission in which I believe in totally and completely. I learned that I needed to believe completely in the mission to feel like I was contributing something worthwhile. I retired because now that I have a son, being deployed to a war zone is no longer palatable.
Now that she’s transitioned into civilian life, her new role as a franchise owner allows her to give back in a different way, “Mathnasium provided a way for me to serve the community on a smaller scale. I couldn’t have opened just any business, but I believe in the Mathnasium mission just as strongly and in some ways with more passion.”

Her franchise is located in Virginia Beach, Va., where a large majority of the population is made up of military families, so the children she’s serving are largely the sons and daughters of service men and women. She sees this as a bonus.

“All of the opportunities presented to me were as a result of being a woman with very strong math and engineering skills. My goal is to give as many boys and girls as I possibly can the same opportunities that were given to me,” states Nicholls.

Jennifer Nicholls is the first recipient of our veteran scholarship award. To learn more about Dr. Nicholls’ Mathnasium, visit her center’s official website. Click here for additional details on VetFran.

Jim Butenschoen, Owner
After 22 years in corporate sales and marketing, Jim Butenschoen of Springdale, Ark. decided that he'd had enough. "Corporate became more important than the customers. Internal processes and procedure, while important, were valued more than the needs of our clients. I really wanted to control my own destiny. As with any good salesman, success or failure is wholly dependent on my own initiative. Why not apply that to my own business?"

So that's just what he did.

Butenschoen spent five years searching for the perfect business to buy and decided on a beauty school. It's not the industry he thought he'd enter into, but the fact their financials were audited brought him great comfort, and he liked the idea of growing a mom-and-pop operation.

Put simply, since its inception his business has flourished.

He initially opened two schools, and by the second year had opened a third. By the third and fourth years, they moved the first two schools to larger facilities to accommodate continued growth. To date, they've expanded to include 375 students, including 117 who are still in high school. They'll be opening the doors to a fourth location later this year, and accepting up to 100 more students.

What is his secret of success?

Butenschoen says he "constantly preaches" to his staff that their corporate objectives are 1) Customers 2) Employees 3) Financial 4) Growth. He tells a story to support this:

A year ago we had a student move three hours away to Little Rock after completing our course here. The owner of the salon where she went to work called us, unsolicited, to brag about the student's abilities and capabilities. More importantly, the salon owner knew that the difference in our student and others she'd hired locally was the quality of our school and the education that student had received. That told me we were doing something right.
Butenschoen went on to say that if his first two objectives were addressed correctly, the third and fourth "would not be a problem."

Before his schools were up and running, he utilized Guidant's iFinance service for funding. "The most impressive aspect of Guidant was their comprehensive approach to the entire process from incorporation of the business with all of the supporting documentation to the annual reporting requirements."

When asked if he had hesitation using this method of financing, Butenschoen stated, "I was initially concerned with the IRS issues and of course a little afraid of stirring that pot. However, I have been very satisfied with Guidant's mastery of the IRS regulations and rules. I have complete confidence in Guidant's compliance with the IRS."

Although long hours are spent running the business, Butenschoen does still make time to enjoy his hobbies. "I'm an avid bad golfer," he jokes. "Actually, I was fairly decent until I bought the business. Then my time on the golf course dropped dramatically. I'm hoping to spend more time there this year."

He certainly deserves some days on the links.

For more information on the Career Academy of Hair Design, visit their official website.

Mark Schottland, Owner
Mark Schottland of Nashville, Tenn. always knew he wanted to own his own business.

After working for years in the financial services industry, getting married and completing graduate school, the time was right. But he needed a smart way to preserve spending capital for his new Dogtopia franchise. That's when he turned to Guidant.

"The [iFinance] program was smart, elegant, and Guidant led me through every step of the way. It couldn't have been any easier. Looking back, it was the smartest business decision we made. Because we used retirement dollars to help fund construction, we had savings to use as operating capital instead of taking a larger loan."

So, why pet care?

"Dogs shake up your life in the most wonderful ways. Their faces are pure joy when they see you walk through the door. They are always SO happy to see you, and it is hilarious to see which possession was chewed up while they waited for you. In my old career, I couldn't have a dog because I traveled so much. I guess we kind of went overboard. Because we take care of people's 'children,' I think we have a much more meaningful interaction with our clients than a typical service. My wife and I marveled at how we have deeper relationships with our clients at Dogtopia than we ever did with our financial services clients. Obviously, some things matter more than money. Other great perks are: no suits, no shaving and no travel."

This business also makes the case for doing something you lovejust eight months after opening their doors, Dogtopia turned a profit. Since then, they were voted Nashville's Best Daycare/Boarding Facility. He attributes their success to a variety of factors: the franchise domain name, the education, the clients, the location, the Web presence and the customer service.

"Our employees go far above and beyond what we require. One of our clients was deployed for an extended period. While the owner was gone, the house sitting plans for the dog fell apart. Our employee stepped in and the dog is now living with her until the owner returns. That is the kind of effort that makes our business so easy to manage."

He also notes the difference of environments from corporate to small business:

"I was not a big fan of the corporate anxiety filled world. Accidents and inefficiencies happen in business as in life. In small business, you learn quickly that wasting time assigning blame often costs more than the original mistake. Sometimes, things just go wrong and you have to help people understand why and how to improve. Each member of your team responds to different approaches, and you have to learn what motivates them personally. The most enjoyable moments in this job come from learning and teaching how to do better the next time."

Now that he's a business owner, Schottland finds that he can enjoy his hobbies and activities that he didn't have time for when he was in the corporate world.

"[My wife and I] spend a great deal of our free time with our two huskies. One of which failed his evaluation and is not allowed to come to our own daycare. Go figure."

For more on Dogtopia, click here.

The Mallett Family (photo credit: Chrys Rynearson)
“Life is too short to drink bad coffee.”

Jacki Mallett, wife of Brad Mallett, echoes this saying often, and with good reason. She and husband Brad own and operate Coastal Coffee Roasters, a Summerville, S.C. organic coffee company that emphasizes sustainability and fair trade practices.

Before venturing into entrepreneurship, Brad was an operations manager for Verizon in the northeast, but the corporate atmosphere was unhealthy, and the weather in the region wasn’t the greatest, so the family decided it was time for a change.

He and his wife approached a roaster in New York and spent a few days learning the craft of coffee bean roasting hands on.

With that knowledge, they took the skill a step further and modified the process to their specifications. Coastal Coffee Roasters was born.

So, how did they find Guidant Financial?

Brad read an article about using a 401(k) to self-invest. He investigated and researched extensively (at the recommendation of Guidant), then decided to use their services. He cites the “no pressure approach” as what helped them decide to take the risk.

His advice for those who may be apprehensive about starting their own business is this:

“Over capitalize by a large percentage. The government seems to be embedded very deep in regulations. We have very expensive codes to work with—Energy Code, Seismic Code, International Building Code, etc. You become frustrated when you see the guy next door able to operate under different rules because he was open earlier.”

Of course, there are great benefits to owning a business as well. Brad says, “After more than 20 years in customer service it feels AWESOME to be doing something that truly puts a smile on people’s faces. When we see our children enjoying the same results, we know it is the right way forward.”

Up next for Coastal Coffee Roasters are additional building renovations and a continued commitment to providing the freshest coffee around.

In his spare time, Brad likes spending time with his family. He says his motto is “Everything happens for a reason…We just have to figure the reason out.”

A clever philosophy for sure!

To learn more about Coastal Coffee Roasters, please visit their official website.

Have you ever attempted to kick a bad habit? Maybe you’ve tried hypnosis or just going cold turkey—but have you ever tried a miniature coffin?

That’s the method behind Bury the Habit, a product created by Guidant Financial client John Immen.

With 25 years of experience under his belt, working in sales and marketing with a Fortune 100 company, Immen was confident he could start his own business successfully.

So how did the idea for such a novelty come about?

Immen says, “I was a business marketing major in college and one of our case studies was learning about appealing to consumers with either a ‘functional’ or ‘emotional’ attribute. The examples at the time were Nike running shoes (didn’t claim their sole was thicker or stronger) and how they appealed to consumers on the emotional level to ‘Just Do It.’

We were challenged to come up with our own examples and submit a paper on this topic. I chose cigarette companies and how they were very much marketing ‘emotional attributes’ for the many different brands. At an early age I realized just how effective/deceptive some marketing campaigns can be and their potential good/bad consequences for consumers. It really made me want to market a cigarette on a ‘functional’ attribute basis with full transparency … like we will kill you faster than any other brand just to let consumers know they were being bamboozled by big tobacco marketing. I had to laugh 20 years later when the Thank You For Smoking film was introduced because I feel like I could have written a lot of the content.

Our item is not smoking-centric as we respect that there are many other bad habits which can be addressed in a similar manner, but the inspiration was the result of decades old cigarette marketing.”

Once the idea and plans were in place, Immen turned to Guidant for funding assistance. He read an article about Guidant’s ability to help entrepreneurs start their dream business by tapping into their retirement funds without incurring early withdrawal penalties and decided to go for it.

So, how was the process?

“My Guidant experience has been fantastic. The quality of individuals and responsiveness to questions/needs has really been exemplary. The only advice I would offer others is to be certain about the level of risk and funding they are willing to take to pursue their dreams.”

When asked if there are any challenges associated with owning a business vs. working for someone else, Immen notes, “It is important to expect some unanticipated reactions and be open to new learning and skills, which take you outside of your comfort zone.

I didn’t fully anticipate some of the challenges/biases of being a single item company (for the time being) and challenges that could bring both gift brokers and selected retailers as one example. There are also unexpected upside surprises that I wouldn’t have expected. [Specifically] there are some casket makers and funeral homes that have purchased our item in larger quantities (not sure why I thought people in the funeral industry would not have personalities).”

And has Immen ever used his own product to kick a bad habit?

“I have dabbled with each and every habit we list on our package so I’m not a stranger to bad habits, that’s for sure! I still have a few bad habits, which won’t fit in the coffin. ;)

Seriously, there are people I’ve known who have put their credit cards in a block of ice in their fridge or who have scheduled a party at a bar to celebrate the last day of smoking so more inspiration was derived elsewhere. Although, I do have a Bury the Habit coffin on my desk right now—I’m using it as a candy dish reminder to go easy on the sugar leading up to Halloween.”

What’s next for Bury the Habit?

The product will be featured in most major national catalogs for the upcoming holiday season and Spencer Gifts will test the product in their stores in 2012. Immen says, “We want to continue to grow the brand with our current item through increased distribution in major retailers. We also have two other very fun/topical items in different stages of development, which we hope to bring to market soon.”

If you’d like to kick a habit and want to give Bury a Habit a try, visit the official website.

Randy, at the winery.
Transitioning from a career in law enforcement to owning a winery can’t be an easy thing, but Randy Biehl is living proof it can happen.

He was a United States probation and parole officer for almost 25 years and developed a passion for wine in his early 30s. He later decided he wanted to plant a vineyard and open a winery, which he would call Eveningside.

Why that name?

Biehl explains, “I live in Western New York (Buffalo area) and due to our close proximity to Canada we pick up radio stations from Toronto. Many years ago I would hear traffic reports on a Toronto radio station talking about how traffic was backed up on ‘Morningside Rd.’ I liked the name, so I flipped it to Eveningside.”

After an 18-month search for the perfect property to plant the vineyard, he was on his way.

To get his winery going, he turned to Guidant Financial after hearing about the company through his son, who had received a recommendation from a colleague.

“I have been very impressed with the level of service, the professionalism, and friendliness of Guidant staff and management.”

He also recently endured an IRS audit, but came through with flying colors.

“An IRS audit is very unsettling but Guidant stood by me every step of the way and that brought me great comfort. We were successful!”

On being his own boss, Biehl states, “You need to be very orderly yet creative in your thinking. Working for someone else is easier in many ways but that never gives you the freedom and ownership we all seek.”

He likens caring for a vineyard to gardening because “a great garden takes great care and so does a great vineyard,” and mentions that his life and his spare time are all consumed by his love for wine. “You know you have a passion when your hobby becomes your vocation.”

Eveningside wines are currently available online and in various fine dining establishments and stores throughout New York.

Biehl has aspirations to expand into building a facility to host events such as weddings at the vineyard.

Learn more about Eveningside at their official website.

Since he was a teenager, Scott K. knew that he wanted to own his own business. He just didn’t know what kind of business, where it would be, or when he would make it happen.

He was content in his role as an insurance broker with The Graham Company (where he’d worked for eight years) when as a result of the economy, his biggest client went bankrupt. That set off what he calls a “chain of events” that made him think about how he wanted to spend the next 25 years of his career.

“I started brainstorming and put together the draft of a business plan. Over the course of several months I had something that I thought would work out well,” he said.

“I wanted to stay in the insurance industry and continue working with the people that I’ve spent so much time getting to know. If possible, I wanted to cooperate with, rather than compete with, my former company. I settled on the idea of putting together insurance solutions for niche industries to be distributed through other insurance brokers.” Shortly thereafter, Wahoo insurance was born.

So where did he come up with the cool name?

“A ‘Wahoo’ is a game fish found off the coast of New Jersey. It’s fast and aggressive, sort of like a barracuda. I want our business to be fast and aggressive. ‘Wahoo’ is also a popular model of fishing boat that was made in the 70s. I bought a carefully restored 1978 Pacemaker Wahoo from an engineer who, coincidentally, works for one of the best infrastructure contractors in New Jersey.”

When asked about how he found Guidant’s services, he explains that he just “couldn’t get comfortable” with the idea of giving up so much ownership to investors to get the cash he needed to start the business. He says he explored the idea of going a more traditional route using debt financing through banks, but that “wasn’t very attractive.”

Scott noticed an ad from Guidant while reading an email about businesses for sale and spent two weeks doing research on the 401(k) rollover concept. He says that in the end he was willing to risk losing his retirement savings in order to start his business, and he believes that’s the true test of how much an entrepreneur believes in his or her idea. He states, “If you don’t believe [in the idea] 100%, it’s going to be hard to convince anyone else to believe in it.”

Describing his Guidant experience, he says it “has been great.” He goes on to note, “It’s allowed me to start a business and have some operating capital without taking on crippling debt or suffocating investors.”

As for the difference between being someone’s employer and being self-employed, he says “When you own your own business, it’s all up to you. No one’s going to tell you what to do or how to do it—that’s the biggest blessing and challenge.”

In this spare time, he enjoys surfing, fishing, playing the guitar, basketball and even yoga. He claims that yoga helps him reduce anxiety by “letting go of that which does not serve me.” (By the way - he credits that mantra to his trusted yoga instructor, Nicole).

Up next for Wahoo is stabilizing the Infrastructure Contractor segment and then adding solutions for the Human Services niche.

Founded in 1986, The Teriyaki Experience franchise was created to provide a delicious meal experience that was fast, but also healthy. Food at every store is prepared with water instead of oil on a steel grill, which reflects authentic Japanese simplicity.

Started in Canada, with locations also in Europe, Central America, the Caribbean and the Middle East, the chain only recently arrived in America, and one of our Guidant clients, Zia Hassan, was among the first to open a domestic location.

A resident of Texas, Hassan had a background in restaurant management and wanted to explore the option of franchising. “It has always been my goal to own a business,” says Hassan. “The Teriyaki Experience was a brand new concept in the U.S. and I knew I could have an edge on providing consumers with a healthy choice.”

Hassan heard of Guidant Financial through a friend who had seen a magazine ad. When asked about how the process went once he called for a consultation, he replied, “Very smooth—I’m very happy with my experience at Guidant. Obtaining adequate financing was my biggest challenge getting the business started. This gave me a solution.”

Area Developer Bryan Littleton, who worked with Hassan to get the location up and running, was also pleased at the opportunities Guidant provided. “It’s a great thing for folks to have 401(k) rollovers as a [financing] option. Mom and Pop operations don’t always have the money necessary to start their businesses and this is perfect for people like them.”

Littleton goes on to say, “When I tell people about Zia’s experience [and how he was able to fund his franchise] they always raise their eyebrows and think it’s very cool. I see huge opportunity in this [financing method] and am definitely recommending Guidant to other folks.”

Candy Budyta with her Lil Baby Cakes creations.
For over 21 years, Candy Budyta juggled a lengthy commute and hectic schedule working for General Motors (GM). Toward the end of her career there, the conference calls and meetings that took away from her family time really caught up with her.

"I felt I was missing out on my children's lives. I was never able to take a field trip with them; they were waking up, getting ready, and getting to school all on their own. As they were approaching their high school years, I knew it would only be a matter of time before they would be on their own life path. I knew I would look back and regret not being able to share prior [time] with them."

Tired of missing out on these milestones, and also wanting to visit with her ailing father who had been diagnosed with cancer, she and her husband decided it was time for her to resign and start her own business.

For five months, the two worked with business brokers and reviewed companies for sale before deciding on, an Internet company dedicated to making gift cakes out of diapers for expectant mothers. The business appealed to Budyta because of its creative opportunities and the time freedom it would allow for her to attend her children's activities. She named her corporation LAGM ("Life After General Motors").

Her husband researched a variety of financing options and decided on Guidant Financial. Of their time working with the firm, Budyta said, “The people at Guidant were very accessible, answered all my questions—even the same ones I asked over and over, were very patient and very organized.”

Of the continued relationship she maintains with the company, she notes, “I appreciate all the annual reporting and how they keep things on track in terms of filing required paperwork. This includes giving me a ‘nudge’ when something is due. As a small business owner in this economy, I have a ton of things to manage on a daily basis. With Guidant I only have to respond to their requests for info and they do the rest. It’s one less thing for me to worry about.”

Budyta credits her time at GM for giving her a great work ethic and teaching her many lessons that have translated well into small business ownership. Having worked in purchasing, she understood inventory control, supply base and logistics. She admits she took for granted "having a staff to prepare reports and not having to worry about paper for the copy machine."

Though every business owner faces bumps in the road (continued financing is a challenge for Lil Baby Cakes in light of the recent economic climate), there are also tremendous joys that come with being in control of your own destiny. Budyta made a list of her favorites:

  • Customers who like our product
  • Businesses that use us for their clients and employees
  • Using my creative talents and also still using my analytical abilities
  • Having been part of the kids' high school dances, matches and having the time to be with my dad
  • Having the best "free" partner, my husband Alan
She's also had time to recently pick up one of her previous hobbies—crocheting, which allows her time to relax and brainstorm on themes and products for her business.

Budyta looks to expanding her offerings in the future, possibly launching a sister site to Lil Baby Cakes called Lil Baby Gifts, which will offer more boutique gift items for the new baby, siblings, parents and grandparents.

In the meantime, though, she is enjoying her youngest child's senior year of high school and all the athletic events that go along with that—in fact, she plans to attend every varsity tennis match!

To learn more about Lil Baby Cakes, visit their official website.

Dr. Susan Lin with Actor Billy Zane at the Golden Globes
Delivering babies in the middle of the night can get tiresome, especially when you’re part of a large HMO and allowed little opportunity to think outside the box. That was exactly the situation that Dr. Susan Lin found herself in when she was a full-time OB/GYN.

She and her husband, Dr. Isaac Choy, a general and thoracic surgeon, both had an interest in business and decided that he would continue with his practice while she went in a new direction that would allow for more opportunities and expansion.

With Issac’s support, Susan soon started her own cosmetic and anti-aging center, where they established private labels for various cosmetic products. They did initial work with lash extensions and noticed that customers were intrigued by the up-and-coming lash conditioners on the market, so they saw an opportunity to develop their own product line and conduct further research on the formulas.

A few months later, MD Lash Factor was born. The product is an eyelash conditioner that enhances the appearance of natural lashes, giving them a longer and fuller look. Better yet, the formula contains no harmful ingredients, such as prostaglandin, and is paraben-free.

Choy and Lin admittedly had different ideas about how to fund MD Lash Factor, but a friend of theirs recommended Guidant. They looked into it and decided that it seemed like a good idea.

“Our experience with Guidant was great,” remarked Choy. “They guided us through the process, which was very involved, and have been with us the entire way. They have provided the technical expertise required to be successful.”

He recommends that others new to starting a business should be sure to know what they want to do and have a “clear and defined plan, then charge ahead.”

Since their launch in 2007, MD Lash Factor has enjoyed much success, expanding to over 20 countries outside the U.S. It was also named Product of the Year USA in the Cosmetics Category by TNS in 2011.
The couple has also had a taste of Hollywood since starting their company—MD Lash Factor was a featured item in the Golden Globes Celebrity Goody Bag, and has appeared twice on the Home Shopping Network (HSN). 

Discussing the HSN experience, Choy said it was “great,” and they learned a lot about the industry and sales from participating. They also gained “tremendous mass market exposure” broadcasting to 70 million viewers in the U.S.

Even when the road became bumpy, becoming the subject of an IRS audit, the couple pulled through.

When asked what the process was like, Choy replied, “It was OK, not terrible, [a] little stressful, and kind of a pain. We had great attorneys who handled most of the nitty gritty so [that] took a lot of [the] direct pressure off of us.

Of course, the result of the audit was a Favorable Determination Letter, so all was well that ended well.
Looking ahead, Choy and Lin plan to continue expansion of the brand to several other South American countries (they’re already selling in Peru and Chile), and will appear on HSE24 (the German equivalent of HSN) next month. They have their sights set on broadening their European customer base and promoting the other MD branded products that were recently launched.

Says Choy, “Ultimately, we would like to reach that tipping point!”

It seems they’re well on their way.

To learn more about MD Lash Factor, visit their official website.

Most people don’t enjoy tax time… unless they are entrepreneurs who own a small business franchise providing tax preparation services to individuals and other small business owners. After buying a franchise from Liberty Tax, one of the largest tax preparation franchisors in the United States, Chris Fehr actively looks forward to tax time. With good reason: Last year Chris was one of the top rookie franchisees in the entire country.

Even though he exhibited a healthy entrepreneurial spirit in his youth, for a long time the idea of owning a small business took a back seat to a successful corporate career. “I have to laugh when I think about it now,” he says, “But in high school I sold exotic weapons to other students. By today’s standards I probably would have been kicked out of school. I sold throwing stars, throwing knives, and nunchuks to kids who wanted to be cool. I bought items wholesale and marked them up 200 or 300%.”

After high school he attended Illinois State University and received a degree in accounting. He worked in sales for several years and went back to school, earning a Master’s degree. During that time he also passed the CPA exam. Chris used his educational background and experience to land a job with State Farm, and over a seven-year period worked in a variety of accounting and mutual fund compliance functions. “It wasn’t huge fun,” he says, “But I did gain a lot of experience.”

He was then hired to be the compliance officer for a small futures brokerage firm, later moving to become the Vice President of Marketing for a mid-size insurance company, a job that involved not only marketing but financial planning and analysis and oversight of a number of back-office functions.

“The problem was I eventually outlived my usefulness to the company, and them to me,” he explained. “I wanted to own my own business but I was also a little hesitant. So I started looking for jobs. I had an outstanding resume, but in 2008 the economy was down and no one was hiring people with my qualifications.”

Chris then started looking at franchise opportunities. “I looked pretty seriously at two different opportunities, but in both cases decided not to pull the trigger. One opportunity required a larger capital investment than I was willing to make, and in the other instance the financials didn’t work – I wouldn’t see a return until I had six or eight stores in operation.” Then a conversation with an area developer caused him to take a serious look at buying a Liberty Tax franchise. It turned out to be an opportunity that not only suited his accounting and financial background but also came with one other significant advantage.

“One of the things I liked most about their franchise program was that it came with an incredibly well-designed, cookie-cutter, turn-key operating blueprint,” he says. “All I had to do was execute the plan Liberty Tax had already developed proven. And that’s what I did.”

Another key factor was Chris, with the help of Guidant Financial Group, was able to fund 100% of the franchise start-up costs using his retirement savings. “I figured rolling over my 401(k) was a great option. I trust my abilities. The thought of investing in myself makes a heck of a lot more sense than investing in someone else.”

First-year success behind him, Chris has aggressive plans for growth. In fact, when he bought a franchise he did so with an eye to expansion. Even though he currently operates one location, he purchased three distinct territories under his original franchise agreement. Territories already in place, he has plans to open a second location this year and two or three the following year. In five years his plan is to operate ten locations.

Small business success aside, entrepreneurship has also made a significant improvement in his family and personal life. Due to the seasonal nature of the tax preparation business, Chris can spend summers with his daughters instead of behind a desk. And he is able to devote significant chunks of time to another passion, day trading.

“I wish I had made the decision to own my own business a long time ago,” he says. “While I was without a doubt successful, I really did not fit in to corporate America. I didn’t like the slow pace and I didn’t like the fact we weren’t growing. Making good money is fine, but I don’t want to have to check my soul at the door and not be true to who I am. Treading water in corporate America is a dead end game for me. “I’m glad I am finally in a position to succeed on my own merits.”

Many entrepreneurs know exactly what small business they want to run. Others seek to buy a small business that meets specific criteria. Mike Royw’s, owner of, spent three years looking for the right opportunity.

“I was a corporate guy,” Mike explains. “I worked at ACI Worldwide, a technology-based company, for 25 years. I made my way through operations, management, sales, marketing, business development, and ultimately corporate acquisitions. So I had a few parameters in mind.”

Mike’s family wanted to stay put. As a senior executive Mike was well compensated and wanted to remain that way, so the business had to be of a certain size. And he didn’t want to own a restaurant, a retail operation, or anything requiring heavy assets. “In short,” he says, “I wanted something light on assets with a focus on cash flow and a lot of variable margin.”

Mike found eSupply Store through a small business broker. One problem, though: The business was located over 500 miles away in South Bend, Indiana. So what did he do? He moved operations. “We had the business moved inside of eight weeks,” he says. “In fact the office administrative functions, the computer functions, telephone systems, office management… all were moved within the first week. The rest was just shipping as much inventory from South Bend as we could while we stocked up the Omaha location – we didn’t want the expense of trucking inventory from one site to the other.”

As a small business owner Mike services other small business owners, providing shipping and packaging supplies. “We serve the segment of the small businesses that need shipping supplies and packaging materials that do too much volume to pay the markup at a major retailer like Staples or Office Depot… but they don’t have a local distributor to turn to. We fill a major void in the marketplace.”

“Our unique differentiator,” he continues, “Is that we’re able to sell various lines of bubble products and deliver them to our customers’ doors for a good price. Bubble wrap, bags, and mailers are our leading product – in the future we’ll expand our product line to become a single-source provider for the packaging needs of small businesses.”

What challenges has Mike faced in buying a small business? One risk entrepreneurs face when they buy a small business is that major customers may disappear during the transition the old owner to the new. As an internet-based ecommerce business, customers had never met the previous owner face to face, and since no customer made up more than 1% of total sales, the transition was relatively low risk.

Another challenge was going from a major corporation to being the head of a small business. Yet oddly Mike feels his stress levels are now lower, not higher, since leaving corporate America. With an MBA and a B.S. in computer science and nearly thirty years in technology positions, Mike handles all computer and web efforts on his own. He functions as his own webmaster and also manages internal systems, product procurement, accounting… which according to Mike may sound like a lot but on a day-to-day basis is easy to handle since he purposely avoided custom systems and uses proven third-party applications whenever possible.

“I also feel my stress has gone down by owning my own business,” Mike says. “At my previous job I was on my fourth CEO in five years. I like to be able to make decisions. In corporate America more people were involved, more presentations, more data, more communications, more differences of opinions, and more politics. When you own your own business you gather the information you think you need and you decide and in 60 seconds it’s over.”

One decision Mike made fairly quickly was to avoid traditional small business financing methods and enlist the help of Guidant Financial Group to use retirement funds to help purchase of the business. “I was an analyst,” he explains, “And I analyzed company acquisitions and returns on investment based on multiple-year timelines under a variety of assumptions. I looked at what I was able to contribute to my 401(k) and my historical return and realized if I could make 20% on my money over the long haul by owning my own business, why would I not do that? In my mind I’m not spending my 401(k). I’m simply investing it differently. And I’m investing in my knowledge, my work ethic, and my own success or failure.”

Now that Mike has completed the transition phase he looks forward to growth. His first step is to diversify eSupply Store’s product base. When he bought the company it sold approximately 1,000 SKUs; currently they sell 2,500 products and are hoping to hit 10,000 in the near future. The goal is to penetrate the existing customer base while gaining new customers through a wider variety of product offerings. “Our goal is grow our business by helping our customers grow,” he says. “A number of our customers are home-based, and as their businesses expand they’ll need alternative business models to support that growth.”

What thoughts does he offer to potential small business owners? “My main advice is to never pay for growth when you buy a small business or purchase a franchise,” he says. “People selling businesses have a business that is worth ‘X’ dollars and they want you to pay ‘X’ plus ‘Y’ because the business may grow. Don’t pay extra for growth potential; getting to ‘Y’ is your job.”

Starting a small business can be incredibly stressful… unless your small business develops products that actually reduce stress.

Along with his partners Sonja and Jasminka, Kenneth O’Connor had worked in the food industry for about twenty years. “The problem was as executives for many corporations we created formulations, built manufacturing plants… but we were always small cogs in a big wheel. Two of us went to work for one company and created a number of formulations and made them a lot of money – and then when they were finished with us they let us go. So we decided not to put up with that again and went out on our own.”

Together they founded Emerald Star International ( to develop and manufacturing fine foods and supplements. Their first compound was Accord, a beverage designed to work with brain chemistry to reduce stress, and improve clarity, focus, and memory. They tested the product, launched into the retail market, developed distributor relationships – and just last week launched nationwide.

How did they find success so quickly? “We have done this for other companies,” Kenneth says. “And we made them into very large companies. By education we’re not only food scientists; for example, Sonja is a machine engineer and a pharmacist. We have a lot of skills in doing a lot of different things. I don’t recommend people starting a business in something that they don’t know, if you’ve never made donuts don’t open a donut shop. If you’ve never groomed dogs before or don’t like animals don’t open a dog grooming place. What we know is the food industry and especially about food supplements.”

Their goal was to find a new product in a developing category. They also wanted to own their own business without outside investment or interference. After investigating a number of possibilities, Kenneth turned to Guidant Financial Group for small business financing advice. “I talked to a few companies and I just wasn’t happy with what they offered. I loved the thought I could actually take a 401(k) and use it to invest in the business. After all, my 401(k) hadn’t done well for many years. So we all pulled our money out of our 401(k)s and as a result we own the business ourselves. Just make sure you get professional guidance,” Kenneth continues.

In the early stages Emerald Star focused on developing a product with a broad appeal. Instead of competing in the energy drink market, they took the opposite approach. “We decided most people could use stress reduction and a way to eliminate some anxiety. We know a lot about herbs and supplements and we combined that knowledge with scientific results. Then we started testing, and 87% of the people who tried the product said they could feel the effects. We even tested our product with paratroopers – who feels more stress than someone jumping out of an airplane?”

Along the way they noticed an interesting phenomenon. 20% of the people that took their products felt a “runner’s high” after about ten minutes. After some research he determined that some of the product was absorbed through the tongue, bypassing the normal digestive process and entering the bloodstream quickly.

Early results were encouraging, but they didn’t stop there. Over time they tested their products with army rangers, teachers, firemen, policemen, salespersons, and students. In fact, the company actively evaluated their product using high-stress, high-risk professions to ensure they were on the right track.

In each case they experienced great results. And since the people who tried the Accord tended to love it, Kenneth and his partners realized that demonstrations and samplings were a great marketing tool. They started servicing smaller independent stores, built up a solid base of sales and experience, and eventually moved into large chains like Whole Foods and Henrys.

“Now our problem is being able to service all the stores we’ve landed,” Kenneth says. “I just got word we’re going into 15 new stores in New York. Once again we need to organize demo people and ramp up quickly.”

Kenneth feels part of Emerald Star International’s success is due to his having a marketing and advertising background; his first job out of college was in sales and marketing. When they started the business, he and his partners developed a strong business plan and extensive marketing model. “A business plan is not something you write and put away, it’s something you follow,” he says. “Evaluate what is working and what is not working. Measure everything, especially marketing. I look at marketing as a profit center. Every piece of literature I put out I expect a return on.”

But while he keeps a close eye on how the business operates, and is conservative in how he allocates funds to different projects, Kenneth is not conservative is when it comes to projecting growth. “In five years we are going to out-perform products like 5-Hour Energy and be a serious contender in a new category of foods. I think we will hit $150 million in sales.”

And due to the nature of his product, he and his partners will probably experience a lot less stress along the way.

Buying a franchise is not quite like buying a small business. When you buy a franchise the system behind it has been tested time and again and deviating is most often not a recipe for success. This is not to say that franchisees can’t take any creative control, but for Chris Zook, a franchisee of Crestcom Training, sometimes the best model truly is the one that others have established—especially when you are just beginning.

Zook had a background in education first as a coach and teacher. When he entered the business world, he excelled in sales which allowed him to move through the management ranks. Eventually, he was combining his business expertise with his educational background as a trainer and business developer internationally.

“I worked in London on three different occasions and in the far east and continental Europe. My role was often times to establish an office in a particular country or city, build the infrastructure, get the people in place, and then move on to another territory and do the same thing in a two or three year period. In essence, what I was really doing was developing people, developing my succession plan, and getting the right people in the right seats, giving them skills to be successful.”

Being mobile, encountering new people and new cultures, and sometimes being caught up in the turmoil of mergers and acquisitions made Zook very adaptable, but he eventually began to consider going into business for himself.

“I realized as I was entering my fifties that jumping around from job to job isn’t fun, especially in a tough economy. I felt like I didn’t have control of my future... I looked around at different businesses. I toyed with consulting and I realized that I wasn’t the explorer; I was more of a farmer. And I wasn’t someone who was going to come up with some new widget or new method or new technology. The idea of getting involved in a business that already existed, that already had the process in place, made sense.”

Zook began looking at options with a franchise broker. Through the broker’s coaching, he was able to eliminate many paths that didn’t really match his skills, such as retail. Management and leadership had been Zook’s strongest points for years, and this led him to Denver-based Crest Com, which provides leadership development and management training worldwide through franchisees.

“Looking at my background, what I had done and enjoyed was developing people. It kind of went back to my roots as a teacher and a coach when I was developing kids, whether it was in the classroom or out on the athletic field or on a wrestling mat. This is the same thing except I’m not developing kids anymore I’m developing adults to help them become better managers and leaders.”

Zook started Zeta Management Training in June 2006 as a Washington state franchise of Crest Com International. Zeta Management offers a 12-month training program that helps managers at every level with essential skills for successful business, including big issues for upper management—from communication, to negotiation, to delegation, to strategic planning—and subtler matters that people at every level might find problematic—better communication through voice mail and over the phone, presentation, stress-management, dealing with difficult customers and different personalities—and more. Participants come in for one four-hour session a month that focuses on two different essential skills. The experiences of the participants vary widely, but all can benefit from the program, based on Zook’s experience. This diversity has in turn proved rewarding for Zook, who has a very diverse background himself.

“People participating in our program might be managers who moved through the ranks self-taught and haven’t received any formal training, or people who were trained so long ago that they have forgotten it and haven’t been applying it...I meet with people on a regular basis from different companies, different backgrounds, different experiences, so I’m constantly learning from people I meet with on an initial basis, but I also lean an awful lot from my participants because these are managers that are young and old and in between who have been all over the place: different companies, different cultures, different background, different experiences. So it’s a two-way street: They learn from me and I also learn from them.”

An advantage of buying a franchise instead of a small business is the network of franchisees that comes with the package in addition to the proven model. This network, too, has provided Zook with diverse input and experience which he has used to improve his business.

“Once or twice a month, I talk to three other [Crest Com franchisees] about our monthly sessions—what the topics are, what new and better exercises and activities we can do that would benefit our participants. That keeps me sharp because these people are all over. One person is from Texas; one person is from Atlanta; the other person is from California. And there are other people I’ve met through Crest Com that are all over the world. They’re in China and in Vancouver, and we are constantly comparing notes.”

With all this diversity and innovation and with Zook’s background in developing businesses in new areas and markets, it seems to easy to arrive at the idea of deviating from the franchise’s business plan, but, according to Zook and the lessons he has learned with other franchisees, trying to force a new approach can be a big mistake for new franchise owners.

“Before I bought the franchise, I contacted existing franchisees, and one of the first questions I asked was, ‘What were the mistakes you made and what would you have done differently?’ The majority of the people said the biggest mistake they made was I not following the script. They said to themselves, ‘I am a good enough sales person, so I’ll try my way versus the Crest Com way!’ and after six months not making any sales and not being very successful, they would go back to the Crest Com style. When I heard this from enough people, I realized that there must be some validity to it.”

Zook stuck to the Crest Com plan, and sure enough, his business was up and running in the time that he and others had estimated. No one anticipated the dive in the economy, but he and others are working through this tough time, too, adapting the plan and expanding on their program as needed.

“Crest Com has a proven model that works. They cover everything from initial contact and marketing, and they’ve done a very good job of tuning that model globally...Unfortunately, the economy took a dive that has hurt my business as it has hurt many companies and franchisees. Perhaps it hasn’t affected people internationally as much, but it has hurt, and it has changed things. We just have to plug along and do things a little bit different, such as looking at different markets that maybe have not been affected by the economy, that have the money and are willing to spend on developing their people.”

In a struggling economy, where businesses need to operate as efficiently and cohesively as possible to succeed, the training at Zeta can prove vital, and one of the biggest rewards for Zook—a man who has been developing people of all ages and backgrounds for his entire career—is seeing his participants flourish personally and professionally. Every day is a new challenge, though, and the combination of challenge and personal and professional reward keeps Zook going even in the down times. It has given him more control over his own future while helping others reach their full potential...a dream prospect for many potential franchisees.

Zook was qualified in every way by his experiences, but like many potential franchisees, the biggest obstacle was financing. Zook overcame this by using retirement funds through Guidant’s 401(k) small business financing plan.

“Without the tools from Guidant I would not be where I am now. I’m very appreciative that Guidant is constantly reminding me of when things are due because it hasn’t been engrained in my mind as much as when your tax is due in April. It’s a very complex plan—reinvesting the money and, how much you have to reinvest, the different things you need to be doing—but Guidant has provided the guidelines and the help and support to make process much easier.”

When you buy a franchise, remember that you are buying more than a business: You are accessing a network of franchisees and acquiring an established plan for success. It can be extremely helpful to be in contact with other franchisees, to compare notes and learn to adapt as the business environment changes. At the beginning, however, no matter how diverse and expansive your experience may be, if you deviate from the franchise’s business plan, you are tossing aside one of the larger reasons to buy a franchise in the first place. If you are the sort of person who wants only to forge your own path, buying or starting a small business may be a better option than buying a franchise. Either way, finding a model that matches your skills and then being persistent is absolutely essential. Of course, funding the purchase is another big step, and Guidant’s 401(k) small business financing plan is one solution. There is much to consider, so allowing an expert such as Guidant Financial to lead you through the process just as a franchise establishes your business model may be your best guides to personal, independent success.

There is much to consider when deciding whether to start a small business or franchise or buy an existing small business or franchise, and beyond the initial capital investment, the continued investment of time should certainly be a factor. All small business and franchise owners must be willing to invest a good portion of time into their enterprise, but those who do proper research might be able to buy a relatively cheap small business that can be improved, thereby saving time and money.

Paul Malstrom followed this business strategy when he purchased a small storage facility in Vale, CO in 2005. Malstrom retired earlier that year after three decades with the Oregon Agricultural Department, and knew that he wanted to do something different. He also knew that he wanted a little more control of his retirement funds.

“I wanted to do something else with [my retirement funds], and so I drew out all of my retirement funds from the state of Oregon, rolled it into the IRA and then over to the 401K. It was a big jump for me, because I hadn’t done a lot of business just to make a living.”

Malstrom wanted whatever investment he made with his funds to allow him a working retirement, which would allow him to find a better return on his retirement funds until his wife retires from teaching school in 2011, at which point he plans to sell the business. This gave Malstrom a relatively small window before his established exit strategy, and so commercial real estate seemed to be one of his best options.

“Four years ago, the residential real estate market was really up and it was kind of scary. I thought I would try commercial real estate. Working with a realtor, I came across this business and it looked like it was something that I could grow. I bought the one unit here in Vale, then we picked up a second one later when we were in Ontario.”

The first storage unit that Malstrom purchased had a companion business as part of it that seemed slightly unconventional to him at the time: It also sold cell phones and cell phone plans for a cellular startup company, US Cellular. He and his wife were initially dubious of whether this additional business would be a match for them, but it exceeded their expectations that when they acquired their second storage facility they immediately began dealing US Cellular there, too. Both sides of the business have grown: They have at times had 100 percent occupancy and the phone business now almost makes as much as the mini-storage. The latter side of the business is a little more high maintenance than the former, though, and this has created jobs for others within Malstrom’s working retirement.

“It’s quite a bit to keep up with for somebody. Models are changing all the time; the promotions are changing with the carrier; it’s a lot to keep up with, so I have a couple [people] that work for me. They’re really sharp with cell phones and they do a great job,....”

Malstrom admits that he was surprised most by the cost of running a small business, and like every business owner he recognizes certain things that he could have done better.

He emphasizes the importance of understanding the books as well as you can before you purchase a small business or franchise because it can help you negotiate a fair deal and is something you will eventually need to learn anyways as the owner.

“A basic understanding of QuickBooks is useful. Just about everybody in small business uses QuickBooks and bookkeepers and accountants want things in that format. Reading the accounting statements closely before buying a business can help you know whether the business is making money or not, whether it has room to grow, and so whether you are doing the right things in buying the business.”

This is especially true for those who are using retirement funds to buy a small business or franchise. All investments carry a certain level of risk, and small business ownership carries additional responsibilities. Careful due diligence and planning are essential to protect one’s assets and one’s family and to ensure that the investment provides more opportunity than burden.

Despite the heavy costs and the added responsibility, Malstrom is pleased with his investment and remains confident that it will pay off well in the long-run.

“I missed the fall on the stock market; I missed the fall in the real estate. The return has been good.”

There are many lessons to be gleaned from Malstrom’s story.
  • One can sometimes combine two very different small businesses to maximize one’s profits within the same space.
  • A strong understanding of the cash flow and value of a business is absolutely essential, and familiarizing yourself with accounting and the common platforms used to conduct it is an excellent way to start.
  • Using retirement funds to buy a small business or franchise can be a big leap, but could provide a great return on investment.