Western Mass. has seen an impressive surge in entrepreneurship over the past decade, but when people think about the successes, they tend to call to mind startups and independent companies. But there is another way to succeed in business ownership, and that’s through franchising. Through a national company called Entrepreneur’s Source, Steve Rosenkrantz has been matching clients with franchises for 17 years — by focusing on what they want not just in a career, but out of life.
Steve Rosenkrantz has a simple way of explaining his job.
“I think of what I do as planting seeds,” he said — and in 17 years as the owner of an Entrepreneur’s Source franchise, he’s planted many of them.
He also fancies himself a matchmaker of sorts, but not the kind who brings two people together. No, he’s making matches between his clients and what will, hopefully, become their ideal lifestyle, in the form of their own franchise business.
“I learned a few things a long time ago, and one is that nobody really wants to buy a business; they just like the benefits of owning one,” he said with a laugh. “I guess I create a safe space for the client to be educated and discover for themselves what types of franchise options match their career goals and expectations.”
In short, he’s helping individuals — usually people with well-established careers who are looking for a change and a measure of autonomy — transition to the realm of entrepreneurship. Rather than launching a startup, however, his clients are investing in a franchise of an established business.
The evidence of how it works began with his own search for a business opportunity in 2001, when his family business — a chain of Serv-U hardware and home-improvement stores — went through a dramatic downsizing. He then commenced a search for what to do next, and turned to the Entrepreneur’s Source for some guidance.
After a lengthy coaching and assessment process, one of the franchise opportunities put in front of him, oddly enough, was the Entrepreneur’s Source itself. Almost two decades later, he remains passionate about his work and the impact it has both regionally and nationally.
I learned a few things a long time ago, and one is that nobody really wants to buy a business; they just like the benefits of owning one.”
Take Antonia Santiago, for instance. She had an idea for a business startup in the senior-care space. When she talked to a local representative at SCORE, the business-mentoring agency, they referred her to Rosenkrantz. Through a series of discussions about what she was looking for in a career and lifestyle, another possibility arose.
“I said, ‘what do you think about working with children?’” he said. “She said, ‘I love children.’ I said, ‘I have a hunch.’”
So he connected her with a company, well-established in New York and New Jersey, called HobbyQuest, an after-school enrichment program that dovetails with local school curriculum to enhance what children are already learning and building on it.
“The match was perfect, and last month, she launched in West Springfield,” Rosenkrantz told BusinessWest. “It shows how, when people have awareness of what I do, like the SCORE counselor did, wonderful things can happen that benefit the community.”
Like his own experience, the process begins with an open mind to think past specific ideas the client may have in mind, and get to the root of their ILWE goals — income, lifestyle, wealth, and equity — to find an opportunity that fulfills them all in the short and long terms.
“I’m always respectful of opportunities people may have in mind when they come to me, but I like to back up the train a bit to get to understand what they really want their ILWE to be,” he explained. “The right franchise should be able to match all those things. My job is to match my clients with the right franchise models that correspond best to their geography, investment level, family dynamics, and the scalability they’re looking for.”
The options are endless, he added. “It could be with employees or without; with a physical storefront or a virtual storefront. I profile clients and, through lots of Q and A, help them determine what path to go on. It’s not a perfect system; there’s no such thing as that. But the program encourages clients to approach the process with an open mind, to determine whether we’re on the right track, or we need to redirect.”
Put Me In, Coach
There is a third term Rosenkrantz uses to describe his role, and that is a coach — in both business and life, with the recognition that the latter has a huge impact on the former.
The discovery process he undertakes with clients covers everything from personal and financial background to the type of business they believe they would be suited for.
He then offers a series of franchise ideas from his database, based on that all-important ILWE, which the client researches to see what might spark an interest.
Some matches have become well-known success stories in Western Mass., such as Jim Brennan and Rick Crews, who wound up starting a Doctor’s Express franchise in West Springfield and now operate more than 20 of them throughout the region. For their success, they were named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2012, and have significantly expanded their footprint since.
Their field of urgent care is, in fact, a good example of finding a niche with serious growth potential, and Brennan and Crews jumped in at the right time. On the flip side, Rosenkrantz said, anyone looking to open a Dunkin’ Donuts these days is about a decade past peak saturation.
On the other hand, “when the frozen-yogurt craze started not long ago, a lot of major players wanted to connect with us, but we chose to stick with a company called Menchie’s, which had a vision that was a little different. They were focusing on frozen desserts, not just froze yogurt, and they had a vision what they want to look like in five to 10 years.”
New England tends to be conservative about new businesses, he added. “We tend to bring in franchises that are already tested and have a strong track record elsewhere in the world. And that’s good for me.”
Indeed, Massachusetts is fertile ground for some nationally successful franchises that have not exploded here yet, such as Sport Clips, three of which were recently launched by Ian Coogan, a commander at Westover Air Reserve Base who was looking for a business opportunity he could transition into while still spending most of his time at the base. “He doesn’t cut hair, and he doesn’t have to go in on a daily basis,” Rosenkrantz said — again, demonstrating that there’s a franchise to match everyone’s schedule.
Speaking of entrepreneurs with a military background, Rosenkrantz pointed out Patrick Walker, a retired senior chief of the U.S. Coast Guard, who had been responsible for the maintenance and quality assurance of its Aviation Department.
He attended a military-recruiting expo in 2014 with an open mind and a taste for entrepreneurship, but also a recollection of other franchise representatives he had talked with before who were heavy on hard-selling their opportunities, but not as interested in what his own goals and needs were.
But the Entrepreneur’s Source coach he met was different, Walker explained in an interview — one of many with military clients — collected in a booklet to tout Entrepreneur Source’s Veteran2Entrepreneur program. Because he was interested in travel and wanted to relocate to his hometown of Frisco, Texas, he opened an Expedia CruiseShipCenter there in 2016, taking advantage of a career option that let him choose where to live after a lifetime of moving around from post to post.
“Most of my friends are getting comfortable jobs; I decided I wanted something I could call my own,” he said. “I have a sense of pride wearing my uniform and driving to my business. It’s the American dream.”
Rosenkrantz said veterans, as a group, especially understand the potential of franchising. “Why? Because they can follow a system, and they know how to add value to a system. They like organization, they like regimen, and a franchise system is their bread and butter. Franchising and the military is a wonderful combination.”
Walker agreed. “As a retiring veteran, I felt I was too old to start a business from scratch. But in a franchise, all I needed was to read and implement the operations and procedures manual.”
Rosenkrantz works with clients across the U.S. and finds them matches from coast to coast, but he said he’s especially gratified performing that task in Western Mass. and Northern Conn. because of the bonus of boosting the region’s economy and bringing intriguing new businesses to the area.
“I never lose sight of the fact that I am a franchise that helps people find the right franchise. I live franchising every day. I’m a testimonial to our process because I was a client myself.”
The Entrepreneur’s Source is paid by franchises for successful matches, and Rosenkrantz said they consider it money well spent.
“The introduction we make between clients and franchises is a much warmer connection because my clients have already been vetted, and I check the territory availability of the franchise model for the client. So, the franchise gets someone with potential synergies right out of the gate, and that is something that’s valuable to them, so they love compensating my company for those warm introductions. We are advocates to make sure everything is in alignment.”
Because of the wide range of opportunities, clients may have to invest as little as $20,000 for a franchise opportunity or as much as millions, and many, like Coogan, keep their current jobs while ramping up their new business. Rosenkrantz also helps clients navigate funding resources like a unique 401(k) rollover program that doesn’t pile on the penalties, as well as Small Business Administration loans and similar programs.
In addition, “I have helped many people who say, ‘I don’t have the liquidity,’ but you do have family and friends. Sometimes people allow pride to get in the way, but they have people who care about them, and good things can happen if you utilize your circle of influence.”
There is a second facet to Rosenkrantz’s role, however — to help small-business owners with a single location find the resources and support to expand into a franchise of their own. One of those, Extra Innings, was a business based in Middleton that specializes in baseball and softball instruction. After connecting with Entrepreneur’s Source, the business has expanded to 27 franchises across the country.
“I love hearing the ideas of independent businesses looking for the next stage of expansion,” he told BusinessWest.
When he’s not helping clients, Rosenkrantz is always looking for opportunities to speak to all kinds of groups — such as laid-off workers and college students — about the opportunities available through the franchise model.
“My mission is to educate anyone who has entrepreneurial curiosity about franchising,” he said. “Not everyone will or should own that path, but it’s my firm belief that, for anyone who has entrepreneurial curiosity, one of the steps in their educational process should be to learn about franchising.”
Simply put, he added, “franchising is an opportunity to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself.”
And it’s crucial, he went on, for both he and the client to feel strongly they’ve made the right match, because failed matches are bound to be discussed on social media. “I’ve never had a bad comment on social media. I stay in touch with a lot of clients years later, and I’m pretty proud of their successes in their respective franchises and industries.”
In the meantime, he said his mission is to create even more awareness. “I want to get onto more college campuses to spread the word about business ownership. It’s not for everyone, but those who want to learn about and explore entrepreneurship, franchising is an important part of that discovery process.”
It’s all about the support, he concluded — not just from the Entrepreneur’s Source, but from the chosen franchise’s parent company, which has a keen interest in each location’s success.
“Statistics say an independent business, within a two-year period, has a high probability of failure,” Rosenkrantz noted. “People don’t have that extra working capital; they don’t plan things beyond the starting phase. Franchises, though, have an exponentially higher level of success, both short- and long-term.
“People should be educated about this when they’re considering business ownership as a career opportunity,” he concluded. “I want to be a piece of that education. I’m making inroads, but it’s a long battle.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org