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Structure Helps Draw Potential Franchise Owners

Franchises are more than burgers and subs. There's The Entrepreneur's Source, for example, a franchise business whose individual owners help people find their own franchises; Assisted Living Locators, where franchisees are tasked with doing pretty much what the name suggests; and Elements Therapeutic Massage, not surprisingly a massage business.

Franchises aren't a panacea, however. Entry costs can be high, especially if real estate is involved, and each franchisor has a business model that must be followed -- which, a little surprisingly, often is a selling point. In fact, it was the structure that Marcelo Alvarez liked.

TES was Alvarez' next step when family reasons brought him to the Chicago area eight years ago. Now a business opportunity coach and Downers Grove-based TES franchise owner, Alvarez explores possible fits for other potential franchisees.

Two of those fits: Assisted Living Locators, run by franchisee Steven Joffe in Aurora, and Elements Therapeutic Massage, Wheaton, where Ernest Holton is the franchisee.

As part of his personal TES self-discovery program, "I realized I didn't want to manage people anymore," Alvarez says. "Yet I was afraid of starting a business with only a blank sheet of paper. I needed structure."

TES fit Alvarez. Structure turned out to matter to Holton, too.

In the job market in 2010, "I took a peek (at being an independent)," Holton says. "But here's the thing. With a franchise you have proven experience, people behind the scenes who can help, methods that work.

"It's not free. You pay (generally fees and royalties), but Elements fits our strengths."

Assisted Living Locations turned out to be Plan B for Joffe. "I had found job opportunities," he says of Plan A, "but I wasn't being embraced."

Like Holton, Joffe "thought about business on my own" but decided a franchise offered "the biggest bang for the buck." Assisted Living Locators, a no-fee referral service, meshed with Joffe's leaning toward a senior support business.

Initial training was to "make sure we could run a business," Joffe says. "My MBA helped. We saw a lot of balance sheet things.

"We also spent time learning their system and visiting assisted living communities."

Alvarez' process begins with a conversation. "My goal is to understand what potential franchisees want to achieve, what their ideal day would be," Alvarez says. It's an introspective time.

An online questionnaire comes next, followed by research Alvarez conducts to find compatible options. He seeks to show clients "four to eight very different opportunities," Alvarez says. "I want to open their minds to all the possibilities."

If the franchise idea is clicking, Alvarez' clients then pick "at least two, no more than three" franchisors to visit.

There is no quick success guarantee. Elements Therapeutic Massage, approaching its third anniversary, is "not doing yet what I projected," Holton says. "We're still a couple of years from where we could be." More positively, "We've had month-to-month growth ever since we opened."

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