Growth is a big concern for any business owner. On this week’s CEO Exclusive, I’m excited to welcome Justin Wetherill, CEO and Co-Founder of uBreakiFix, and one of his local franchisees in Atlanta, Andy Thoms. These guys are good at growth.
Wetherill started uBreakiFix in his bedroom in 2009. From there, it grew to his living room, to his first store, and, within three years, to 47 corporate stores. That’s fast growth by anyone’s standards, but Wetherill and his team wanted more.
They researched opportunities for doubling the number of stores in a year, considering loans and partnerships. Says Wetherill, “There were three really obvious options; we could go get a traditional bank loan, we could raise money from private equity, or we could franchise.” Franchising wasn’t the first choice, but after researching different options, it was the one they decided made the most sense.
For uBreakiFix, franchising offered a chance to expand into the markets they wanted to reach without raising excessive capital or bringing in corporate partners. Franchising, however, comes with a different set of risks and challenges. Justin says, “We started really looking into franchising – what parts of the experience we could control, and how could we hold franchisees accountable.” They got comfortable with the experience, and, four years later, they have 289 stores open and over 500 committed to open in the next 36 months.
Be Careful With Your Brand
Regardless of the path you choose for fast growth, there are plenty of lessons we can learn from the uBreakiFix journey. To start with, you need to be able to trust the people you entrust with your brand. On the one hand, franchising is a great fit because it gives ownership of your brand to others who, literally, have ownership in that brand. On the other hand, with a franchise there is the temptation to offer less oversight with those stores. When you are looking for partners – whether through franchise opportunities or other partnerships, make sure you find a good ideological and cultural fit.
Get Your Organization Aligned With Your Vision
And, it comes down to vision. We’ve talked about it before. We’ll talk about it again. The science of getting your organization, top to bottom, aligned with your vision is the making of a true leader, and a truly successful company. Justin Wetherill has a lot to teach us here.
For Thoms, the customer-centered vision of uBreakiFix was enticing. As he and his wife were considering the opportunity, they visited several existing locations and talked to the employees there. Said Thoms, “What the tech was saying was the same thing Justin was saying.” Thoms realized the challenge of getting your staff in line with your vision, and Wetherill’s success, was a big draw for him as a potential franchise partner.
Franchising creates an environment in which people have some skin in the game. In my experience that is an enticement towards better performance. But even when you own your own store(s), support and relationships matter. Even if you aren’t going the franchise route, relationships matter.
Your business model matters. For a franchiser, the ease and adaptability of the model are the things that attract your franchise partners. For any business, the model and processes you follow invite loyalty and enthusiastic participation from your team.
Relationships with the community matter as well. Wetherill explains, “We noticed some of our corporate stores had local operating managers, and those stores grossly outperformed the stores that were purely corporate…that was one of the things we noticed that made us believe franchising could be a good fit. When people are invested and it’s their business, they tend to work harder, and the customers tend to get a better experience.” Regardless of your business model, finding ways to create staff and customer loyalty are key in creating a loyal tribe of customers.
Wetherill says, “You don’t just wake up and trust somebody… it takes time to build trust.” It also comes with a strong culture. “For example, if all the employees in our corporate office feel safe in their jobs, and they like coming to work, and a new employee shows up and sees how comfortable everybody is and sees everybody individually contributing, they feel safe. They feel like they can grow.” When an environment of trust is created, it’s contagious. Like attracts like, so build what you want to attract.
Says Wetherill, “You can’t force culture, and you can’t make people feel a certain way. You have to do the right things, like trust. You have to build trust, and integrity. Integrity, explains Wetherill, “is doing the right thing when nobody is watching.”
Thoms did his research, talking to other franchise owners as well as the employees. The conversation kept coming back around to the integrity of the leadership. To hammer the integrity point home, his interactions with the corporate office were in line with what he was hearing out in the field. Phone calls were returned promptly, and promises were kept. Says Thoms, “They were constantly doing what they said they were going to do. In business, it’s not that we don’t have a good intention all the time, but we miss the mark by not showing up at the right time.” The small things matter, and Wetherill and his team were masters of the small things. For Thoms, that was a big part of the attraction of the business.
Get Systems Set
Systems have been talked about a lot lately on the show, as they should be. Systems, arguably, matter even more than people do (although hiring the right people, and giving them the autonomy to make decisions outside of your carefully crafted systems matters, too. Ask United Airlines).
For uBreakiFix, communication is at the core of the responsible franchise. All owners and potential owners regularly visit the corporate offices. The in person proximity allows the different branches to learn more about the core of the company.
Fast growth, regardless of your recipe, comes from a strong vision and a coherent strategy supporting that vision.