Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

Entrepreneurs have an uncanny ability to spot opportunity. Edgar Gonzales bought an existing small business in an established market because they saw a good news / bad news opportunity.
In Illinois, the good news is if you’re over eighteen years old and want to drive, you are not required to complete the thirty hours of classroom training and twelve hours of behind the wheel driving and observation to meet standard driver’s license requirements.

Of course no teen wants to wait until they’re eighteen when they can start driving at sixteen – as long as they meet requirements – but in the Chicago metropolitan area schools lack the infrastructure to meet demand, forcing many kids to wait until their junior or senior years to take driver’s education classes. That’s the bad news – which created the opportunity for Edgar Gonzalez.

“Waiting until your junior or senior years is not the cool thing to do,” Edgar explains. “Plus you have to hold your learner’s permit for nine months... so if you’re a junior or senior you’re practically eighteen already. The schools don’t have the manpower or resources and the kids get frustrated... so they come to private schools like ours."

Edgar purchased the small business in March of 2009 and already employs nine instructors and a receptionist at his three locations. “The business has exceeded my expectations from a cash flow standpoint,” Edgar says, “and I’m very happy so far."

It helps that Edgar has a background in education and marketing. He holds a Bachelor’s in Marketing and an MBA with a marketing focus. He worked in college admissions as a recruitment officer, and then spent four years as a recruiter for two different automotive schools. “When I saw this opportunity it went hand in hand with my eleven years of experience recruiting and filling classes for colleges and schools,” Edgar says. “While Progressive Enterprises isn’t a college, in many ways it feels the same."

A key to the entrepreneur’s success is word of mouth marketing. “What impressed me the most was the amount of referral business,” explains Edgar. “Parents talk to each other, buddies hang with buddies... and we get clusters of three or four friends. The previous owner set up a good academic structure and a good base of referral business, and that impressed me. I’ve extended that with some search engine marketing, Yellow Pages ads, and a few direct mail campaigns. But the key is building and extending a solid referral base."

Progressive Enterprises isn’t Edgar’s first foray into small business ownership; previously he was a part-owner of a Subway franchise. “I enjoyed the small business experience,” he says, “but owning a franchise is a little limiting in terms of creativity and growth and controlling your own destiny. Clearly it had benefits: It’s a great brand name. But this time I wanted to purchase an existing small business: I didn’t want to take the high risk of trying to establish a brand name, so this opportunity was right because the name was already strong, and after viewing the financials and all the information it I felt it was right."

In late 2008 he sold a piece of property and started to look for businesses for sale, independently searching for the right opportunity. Instead of traditional small business financing, he invested his retirement funds into the operation by seeking the help of Guidant Financial Group. Edgar found the opportunity through a business brokerage website. “I became serious once I knew all the cash was in place,” Edgar explains, “and I literally would run Google searches for small businesses for sale."

Not just a savvy entrepreneur and business owner, Edgar also brings hands-on skills to the table. “I’m a licensed instructor,” he says, “and I guess you could call me our fill-in person. If we’re really busy I’ll take a route, and if a client demands a particular time slot I may work with them if my staff can’t due to scheduling conflicts. I have to say no to any type of revenue."

Hands-on skills also form the basis of his expansion plan. “Now that I’m licensed it’s relatively easy to establish operations in other Illinois locations. I have the cash flow, so I plan to open up two new locations every year for the next five yearss."

His success is admirable but like any other small business owner he still faces challenges. “One challenge is making sure my instructors are friendly. You have to be patient with new drivers, so making sure my instructors can offer a little tender loving care is critical."

Edgar's expansion plans are also based on hiring employees to staff new locations, which creates a further challenge. “Say I have ten people who apply and two are sharp as nails,” Edgar says. “Those two still have to go out and learn the business and learn the classroom environment. They have to get licensed before I can ever put them on my payroll. That creates its own challenge because I have to say, ‘As much as I like you and think it could work, you may not pass the test.’ Or, possibly they don’t want to dedicate the time needed to meet licensing requirements. That’s been my biggest challenge." 

As father of two children, Edgar hopes the effort he puts into growing his small business will pay off for his family in the long term. “Right now my kids just think it’s cool their father owns a driving school,” Edgar says. “If things continue to grow at the pace I anticipate, I hope there will come a time they start to learn about the business.”


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