Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

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.”