Entrepreneur Matches People with Business Opportunities
More than a decade ago, after the downsizing of his family’s business, Serv-U, Steve Rosenkrantz was trying to decide what to do next. He knew he wanted to run his own business, but didn’t know exactly which path to take. He enlisted the help of a company called Entrepreneur’s Source, which links clients with franchises — and the franchise they linked him with was Entrepreneur’s Source. Since then, he’s helped dozens of couples and individuals take charge of their lives and turn dreams into reality.
Tim Scussel still has many good things to say about the McDonald’s corporation.
“They were great … they made me an owner when I had no money,” said Scussel, who would eventually go on to operate three outlets for the fast-food chain — one at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield and the others in Enfield.
But things didn’t end well between Scussel and the company. Indeed, frustrated by what he considered unreasonable demands for him to essentially tear down and rebuild one of the Enfield locations — among many other things — the franchisee eventually sold out and commenced a search designed to identify what he would do next in terms of business ownership.
He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he had some parameters. He wanted to remain the kind of hands-on operator he was at McDonald’s — “I was at the stores every day; I was behind the counter working most days,” he said. But he also wanted a franchise, or corporate parent, that was more supportive and less combative. Meanwhile, he and his wife and full business partner, MaryAnn, desired fewer hours, a considerable drop in the number of times their beepers went off, and, overall, far greater control of their own destiny.
And Steve Rosenkrantz managed to find all that for them in an outfit called The Maids Home Services.
As the name suggests, this is a company that provides cleaning services, in this case for mostly residential clients. The Scussels now manage two such franchises, one serving Western Mass. and the other in the Greater Hartford area.
They arrived at this stage thanks to a process that Rosenkrantz, himself a franchisee with a company called Entrepreneur’s Source, describes with a number of words, phrases, and acronyms (like ILWE — income, lifestyle, wealth, and equity — more on that later), but boils down succinctly by saying that he helps people take charge of their lives.
Elaborating, he described his role as being not that of a consultant, but rather much more like a life coach and business coach combined. “People tell me what they want their life to be like,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, through an exhaustive process that could last from a few months to several years, he helps them find that life.
“We call ourselves coaches, not consultants,” he explained. “I think of a consultant as someone who’s an expert in a certain area, brought in to fix something; they get compensated, and they leave. A coach, quite simply, puts up guardrails on the highway and lets the client steer the car. We provide the inspiration.”
And very often, it’s with a business they would never have imagined being in.
Such was the case with the Scussels, and also with Jim Brennan and Rick Crews, two local businessmen, neither with anything approaching a background in health care, who wound up starting a Doctor’s Express franchise and now have several locally and in the Boston area.
And it was that way with Peter and Judy Yaffe, who had never worked with seniors or the disabled, but now operate a franchise of Homewatch Caregivers based in West Springfield. Over the course of roughly a decade in business, they’ve expanded into larger quarters twice, and now have eight office employees and about 100 caregivers in the field, who provide non-medical services to more than 80 clients a week, on average. And like most who have made the transition from employee to employer, they thoroughly enjoy that status.
“It was really a rush at the beginning — I really enjoyed the idea of not working for anyone else,” said Peter. “It was a complete and utter change for me, a 180-degree shift from what I had been accustomed to, and I loved it. I loved the free expression and the independence, and the idea of not needing a committee of people to agree with what I wanted to do. It was extremely exhilarating and stimulating.”
For this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at Rosenkrantz’s entrepreneurial gambit, taken just over a decade ago, and how he assists others when they arrive at what he called the “career crossroads.”
There’s one with three portable toilets on the front and the headline, “you don’t have to love a product or service to capitalize on it.”
“Some people think you have to have an emotional connection to a business to be successful; the reality is, successful people are ‘in the business of business’ — they don’t have a love affair with the product of service,” it reads on the back. “The type of business you choose is less important than its ability to get you where you want to be.”
There’s another with that time-honored image of a needle in a haystack, with the headline “finding new career directions can be a little daunting.”
“On their own, most people find themselves wasting time, looking in all the wrong places,” it reads on the back. “They hunt for the business that will make them successful. But the business doesn’t make you successful: you make yourself successful. The business is just a vehicle.”
And then, there’s the one with a monster under a child’s bed and the one-word headline “boo!” On the back, the card explains what Rosenkrantz calls the FEAR (false evidence appearing real) factor. “Fears need a reality check,” the missive explains. “Exploring change can be uncomfortable, stirring up feelings like fear. But just because you have a feeling doesn’t mean events will bear it out. Give yourself permission to dream a little. We’ll take care of the monsters.”
In essence, what Rosenkrantz has been doing for the past 11 years is putting a strong touch of reality to all that hyperbole and, in the process, encouraging people to dream a little and help make their dreams real. Perhaps it’s best summed up with one more of those correspondences, the one with a closeup of a doorknob and the simple message, “you can’t open new doors with a closed mind.”
Opening minds to the full range of franchise opportunities has become an art and a science for Rosenkrantz, a process he knows intimately, because he went through it, from the other side of the desk — figuratively speaking, because most of his work is now carried out virtually, and there is no desk.
The story starts with the dramatic downsizing of what was once a chain of Serv-U hardware and home-improvement stores, owned and managed by Rosenkrantz and five cousins. When most of those pieces were sold off — a locksmith operation and decorating center remain — Rosenkrantz commenced a search for what to do next and turned to Entrepreneur’s Source for some guidance.
Like many of the people he now helps, he was intent on being in business for himself, and in an interesting twist of fate, one of the franchise opportunities put in front of him to consider was Entrepreneur’s Source.
“I was a model client; I went through the whole process in 2001,” he explained. “And I liked it so much that I said to my Entrepreneur’s Source coach, ‘I want to do what you’re doing.’ And he said that, coincidentally, one of the opportunities he had for me was that company.”
Over the past 11 years, Rosenkrantz, who is paid by franchisors when successful matches has made, has helped script many transition stories for individuals and couples, following those axioms printed on the company’s correspondences, especially the ones about keeping an open mind and finding opportunities in places that one wouldn’t expect.
And as he talked about what he does, he returned to that notion of being a life coach and business coach rolled into one.
“We are very empathetic about our clients,” he explained. “We get to understand what their emotions are, where they’ve been, and where they want to go to. It’s more than just looking at a résumé; it’s understanding the whole personal and family dynamics to be the best of our ability, to then fit the right business culture to their personality and what drives them. We don’t just throw ideas at them … we find out what makes them tick.”
And with that, he summoned that acronym (or phrase) ILWE, which pinpoints the four things he works to help people find.
“What we tell people is that you can have a great job and get the first two — income and, if it’s the right kind of job that gives you flexibility and autonomy, the lifestyle as well. What you generally can’t build as easily in the working-for-someone-else corporate world are the last two, wealth and equity.
“Building equity is about something of substance that you call yours,” he continued. “It’s your business to sell, or hand down to your children, to do what you want. Often, the first thing people say to me is, ‘the appeal to me of owning a business is that I want a clear, 10-year exit plan on my terms, not someone else’s.’”
At Home with the Idea
Many of these factors came into play with the Yaffes, who together launched a search for a business to run after Peter parted ways with Casual Corner in the fall of 2001 after a 20-year stint in which he served in many roles, including director of merchandise control.
Finding a job, especially one with the salary and benefits he was earning, wasn’t easy in the downturn that followed 9/11, said Yaffe, who told BusinessWest that his search took on a different complexion after he took in a PowerPoint presentation given by Rosenkrantz at a meeting involving the outplacement group he was involved with.
“I had never owned a business, but my background was a really good background for owning one,” he explained. “I just didn’t understand the product or service — but you can learn the product or service more easily than you can gain the financial background.”
The next step was a host of questions that comprise a big part of what Rosenkrantz calls the “discovery process.” Such questions cover everything from personal and financial background to the type of business the potential client believes he or she would be suited for and like to pursue.
“He has 500 franchises in his database, and he came up with five he wanted me to validate,” said Yaffe, adding that, while a few of these sparked some interest, he eventually asked for five more. That first batch included a paint business, a stained-glass operation, and a health-and-wellness outfit with a name that escaped him.
“Inches Away … Pounds Away … something like that,” he recalled, adding that, while he and Judy gave this option some real consideration, they ultimately concluded that the price — and the opportunity — were not quite right.
Somewhere along the way, Yaffe started thinking about home care, and while one of the companies he researched wasn’t in the Entrepreneur’s Source database, Rosenkrantz included a different company, Homewatch Caregivers, in the next batch of five.
Making a long story somewhat shorter, Peter Yaffe said he did some extensive research on the Denver-based company, and found it to be the match that the couple was looking for. It wasn’t something they knew a lot about from a business perspective, but they understood from personal experience both the importance of the service and its vast potential at a time when people are living longer and, in many cases, desiring to remain in their homes.
“The key to buying it was that we saw the potential for helping all these people because we had gone through it ourselves,” she said, noting that her mother needed some forms of assistance in the home, which she and others provided, and Tim’s parents also needed care. “We saw the potential for a business that would grow.”
So while Judy stayed on at a job as program director of the Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center in Springfield to secure needed benefits (she would join the venture roughly a year later), Peter leased a small space in West Springfield and commenced the process of getting the business off the ground.
The learning curve was fairly significant, he said, while echoing some of Rosenkrantz’s literature when he said that it’s not necessarily the type of business one gets into that determines success, but the skills and drive that one brings to the table.
“I never felt frightened,” said Peter. “I felt determined, and there was no question that I would be successful; failure never entered my mind — I wouldn’t allow it to enter my mind.”
As they talked with BusinessWest, the Yaffes stopped to offer a quick tour of their new offices — larger quarters in the same professional building on Union Street in West Springfield they’ve been in from the beginning. They’ve occupied the new space for several weeks now, but wall art and other forms of décor still sit in boxes waiting to be hung — testimony to how busy they’ve been and how successful their business has become.
It’s also an indicator of how well Rosenkrantz’ process works, and how people with the right skill sets and requisite measure of resolve can succeed in a business they probably couldn’t have imagined being in.
A Clean Break
Rosenkrantz, who said that he’s typically working with 30 or 40 people at a time and at all of the various stages of the process, told BusinessWest that his clients’ stories vary widely, but a common denominator is that they’re going through change — loss of a job, divorce, and relocation are just some of the triggers — and figuring out what to do with their lives.
And while he works with people of all ages, he says most of his clients are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and might have achieved the first two parts of the ILWE equation (that’s might have), but are probably still searching for the others. And they possess many of the attributes necessary to be in business for themselves.
“They have good street smarts — they have some common-sense skills,” he said of those who have successfully made the transition. “They’ve lived a life, they understand personal and family battles and career battles, and they’ve persevered in many ways. Franchising really tends to embrace these people, while the corporate world, while it can’t say anything, generally doesn’t embrace that 63-year-old male.”
Franchising certainly embraced Tim Scussel. Indeed, as he talked about his relationship with McDonald’s, he noted that it lasted 35 years — and for roughly 33 of them, things were generally good.
But those last two … well, he summed them up with an anecdote or two that effectively conveyed his frustration with the corporate giant.
“They wanted me to rebuild the Enfield Street location, which I did,” he recalled. “A few years later, they said they wanted me to knock down the Elm Street location and rebuild it. I told them there was nothing wrong with it — it had all the latest equipment. When I said ‘no,’ they harassed the heck out of me for two years every single day, to the point where I finally said, ‘I’m done.’”
Long before he officially parted ways with the company, Scussel began the search for what would come next. He knew Rosencrantz from his days at Serv-U and counted him as a customer in a small swimming-pool cleaning-and-maintenance business he also operated.
“I was working on his pool one day and said to him, ‘Steve, it’s time to talk; what is out there for other businesses?’ I knew I was leaving McDonald’s — the train was leaving the station, and there was nothing I could do to stop it, short of knocking a building down. It was time to move on.”
After a lengthy period of discovery — ascertaining what the Scussels wanted from their next business venture — Rosencrantz presented them with several options, including a dry-cleaning outfit, a picture-framing operation, and The Maids. None seemed particularly appealing, Tim Scussel recalled, but he did copious amounts of homework on each, eventually had several conversations with the owner of The Maids, and liked what he saw and learned.
The couple started with the Hartford location and expanded into Western Mass. with what Tim called a satellite operation in 2006. The Great Recession certainly took its toll — maid service would, in most cases, anyway, fall into the category of discretionary spending — but they rode out the storm and are climbing back to something approaching pre-downturn business volume.
Meanwhile, they also have the lifestyle and supportive franchise that were both missing from the equation years ago.
“The culture here is to support the franchisee, not criticize,” he said. “The focus is on helping people grow their business, which is a breath of fresh air for me. That’s one of the things I was looking for, and I was able to find it.”
Taking Ownership of the Situation
A quick look around the Scussels’ facility in West Springfield reveals that they’ve traded golden arches for all things yellow and blue (mostly yellow) — the corporate colors of The Maids Home Services.
The walls, marketing materials, uniforms for field employees, and business cards all feature that scheme, and they even have a bright yellow station wagon, decked out with the company name and logo, with which to visit clients and travel between the two locations.
But beyond the new colors, they also have a new and different relationship with their franchisor, and, in many respects, a different and better lifestyle. It came about through a unique business matchmaking process, which is both an art and a science, said Rosenkrantz, and a method by which people can truly take charge of their lives.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]