Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

Oct 13, 2009
Buy a small business or buy a franchise and the first word that comes to mind might be “new.”  Buy a thirty year-old business in a thirty year-old building... and “new” might be the last word that comes to mind.
But turning old into new was a challenge that excited Frank Czerwinski, entrepreneur and owner of two Burger King locations.

After earning a degree in finance, Frank started a career in retail banking in Delaware. “It’s ironic,” he says, “that I ended up in retail banking. Delaware is the credit card capital of the world. I thought it was exciting being fresh out of school, working with a small bank that allowed me to work directly with creditors and seasoned executives. I wasn’t making a lot but I learned so much.”

Frank’s financial education started at an early age. “Working my way through school from age fourteen on,” he explains, “meant I never went without having some source of income. Whether it was just a kid working at a car wash, which was my first job, or in the summertime waiting tables, or working at various industry jobs. Having that exposure and seeing some of the freedom and rewards and challenges that business owners face... when I jumped into the corporate world I realized quickly how constraining it is – and my learning curve really tapped out after my first banking experience.”

But he found other ways to gain knowledge... and along the way had experiences that shaped him. “I had five different positions with five different companies over twenty-two years,” he says, “and each one of those companies was acquired or merged. Each time my position was put at risk. Bad things can happen to good people... and it made me realize you could be the best at what you are but if a company acquires yours there could be somebody just as good if not better. The risk I faced was eye-opening.”

Owning two Burger King restaurants is not Frank’s only venture into small business ownership. “A few years back I jumped back into entrepreneurialism after a long hiatus, he says. “A friend and I did a few real estate jobs, taking comfortable risks and managing those risks. We were successful and had some fun, and that let me get comfortable making big financial decisions that directly impact my wallet. I learned I could assess situations, think on my feet, and make the right decisions most of the time... and I realized I was ready to go out and start looking at businesses again.”

So Frank started investigating new opportunities over six years ago. Even though he looked at a number of business sectors, including auto-related products and services, he sought a small business opportunity with an established franchise offering low ticket items that was relatively recession-proof. While that sounds like a tough combination to find...

“Interestingly enough,” Frank says, “these two Burger King locations became available literally in my backyard. I have no fast food experience, but I saw tired staff, tired owner and managers, tired buildings... so I jumped on the opportunity.”

Franked put together franchise financing in part by investing his retirement funds into his businesses with the help of Guidant Financial Group. “I felt it was more risky being in corporate America than putting my own money at risk and controlling my own destiny. I can make a burger with the best of them, I can coach a team, I know how to clean up a tired-looking restaurant and get the staff motivated. So for me it was an easy decision to [invest] retirement funds to help [purchase] the business.”

“I really don’t see it as risk at all,” he continues. “I think it’s a very intelligent decision for people comfortable managing risk and confident in their abilities. As long as your abilities match the opportunity the risk is minimized.”

As a new small business owner, his first order of business was changing the attitudes and mindset of existing employees. “I could not afford – nor would I have been smart – to fire everyone and start fresh, even though it might have sounded easy to just hire new people who agree with your approach.

"What I did was lead employees by examples; not being too firm but coaching, redirecting, and explaining. I told them we controlled our own destiny, and once we were approved by Burger King for expansion, they could take part in my vision of growth and profit from it, too. While I have had to fire employees it was as a last resort... because I want to show people that we can coach people into success.

“I just try to show we can accept limitations or challenges... or we can move forward and be what we want to be: A great fast food restaurant and the best Burger King we can be.”

What is Frank’s advice for other entrepreneurs who want to move forward and succeed? “Don’t be afraid to fail,” he says. “Study everything you can. Start small, take small risks, but definitely take risks, and be prepared to feel uncomfortable to be uncertain, and to lose some sleep at night... because you’re really expanding your comfort zone. Be prepared to be uncomfortable, be prepared to take risks, and do your research.”

And how does he feel about using retirement funds to buy a small business? “The best part is as I pay down my debt the equity of the company of course grows. So my business is growing just by existing; if I grow my top line then it’s exponentially growing my investments. I’d say that’s a good deal.”


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