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.