Small Business and Franchise Success Stories


Many entrepreneurs say their dream of owning a small business began at an early age. John Graham, owner and President of a Bright Star franchise in Birmingham, Alabama, didn’t really start thinking about owning a small business until after he enjoyed a long and successful career in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I never really thought about being an entrepreneur or going into business for myself,” John explains, “until my view of the pharmaceutical industry changed drastically. I went from needing an entrepreneurial ability to run my district and take responsibility for growing sales... to becoming a sales manager. My role became less strategic and more tactical, in spite of the fact I could run my team my way. So I interviewed with several other pharmaceutical companies and realized they all operated the same way. I had to seriously consider whether I was willing to leave a great-paying job and try something new... so I decided to look seriously at taking the plunge.”

Keep in mind John was in no way a “job hopper.” After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked in the hotel business for six years and then shifted to a career in the pharmaceutical industry for seventeen years. His entrepreneurial fire kindled, after an extensive search he settled on wanting to own a Bright Star franchise. The president of Bright Star referred him to Guidant Financial Group, who helped him invest his 401(k) funds into his franchise without having to obtain more traditional small business financing solutions. By investing his existing retirement funds, he was able to purchase the franchise without debt, taking a distribution or paying taxes.

“I realized I could go into business for myself,” John explains, “when I saw the combination of medical experience, medical sales experience, and having the ability to invest retirement savings all came together to make owning a Bright Star franchise possible.”

Bright Star is a national company headquartered in Chicago; franchises provide medical and non-medical, private duty, in-home care. Services range from caregiver companionship services like spending time with seniors or helping with meals and light housekeeping to providing complex medical care for patients who have colostomies, chemotherapy, or multiple medical conditions. Bright Star now has over 150 franchises in nearly thirty states, with plans for further expansion due to a rapidly expanding franchise and customer base.

The customer base grows primarily through the direct efforts of franchise owners. “The model itself makes the owner the primary salesperson,” John explains. “On a daily basis I hold myself accountable for sales. Our sales team is responsible for making daily sales calls on traditional and non-traditional referral sources. Think of it this way: Every church has somebody that knows someone in the hospital and who’s sick and what all their needs are. We also call on physicians, surgeons, plastic surgeons, we call on senior centres. There are lots of different opportunities to make individual sales calls, and the goal is to make twenty-five of those calls every day, five days a week. People need our help – our goal is to find those people and make the care they need available.”

John’s focus on sales and customer service has fuelled incredible growth. In just eighteen months his small business has grown to over 140 employees; in his first year alone the franchise owner billed $1.1 billion.

One of those employees is his wife. “She’s always been really supportive,” John says, “and when we started hitting big numbers I said, ‘Honey, I need you; I need you to help me because I can’t do this on my own.’ I had to upgrade our payroll and billing skills, and my wife was the perfect person to step in and take those functions over.”

What has the transition from corporate employee to small business owner and entrepreneur taught John? “When you start a small business or buy a franchise, make sure it’s something you have a passion for. I can’t imagine wanting to get up and come in every day without it being something I feel passion for. There are lots of small businesses you can own to make a living. The small business you choose should match your skill set; find a company or opportunity that best matches you. That’s one reason I’m having success; we’ve been in the top three to five nationally for twenty-five weeks because I’m out there selling and showing my passion for the business.

“Keep in mind I was a sole income earner my entire life,” John continues. “There have been lots of times when I wanted to throw in the towel... and then I think back to my military training or playing sports and remember that true character is how you react when things get really hard.”

And while revenues are high, cash flow remains an ongoing challenge for John. “To this day haven’t borrowed any money; I’ve been able to make it on my initial investment and my retirement funds, but it’s been really close some weeks. Some weeks we have $160,000 to $180,000 in receivables, and I do payroll on a weekly basis.”

Tough times aren’t new to John, and he’s confident he can work through any obstacles. As an army officer he flew airplanes, and he has put his military experience to good use as a small business owner.

“As an officer your primary role is to lead people through difficult times,” John explains. “I remember every day that the attitude I have when I walk through the door will affect every employee... and the way they react to our customers. The biggest goal a small business owner has is to lead people through difficult times and get them on board. You can get people a lot further if you pull them instead of push them. I get my people involved in everything. I don’t mind sharing results and performance metrics because I think it’s important to show we’re in this together.

“It’s funny,” he continues, “because I’m a business owner... but if you walk in our office right now and start talking to our nurse manager or our director of clinical services or our administrative assistant, you won’t hear the word “I.”

“You’ll hear the word “we.”


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