Ask the experts: Expand your franchise by making the right choices

Two presidents of growing franchises recently spoke with ShopTalk about how their businesses are thriving in the Charlotte area and North Carolina, and offered advice for franchise owners looking to expand.

Daryl Dollinger is president and CEO of Atlanta-based Monkey Joe’s, a popular children’s inflatable play center with locations in 18 states, according to the website. There are five Charlotte-area sites, and one site each in Cary and Raleigh.

Chuck Morrison is chief operating officer and president of Staymobile, which provides cellphone and tablet repairs. Founded in Columbia, Morrison said the company has eight stores in Virginia and the Carolinas, including one in Bank of America Plaza. Staymobile is looking to add more locations in Charlotte.

Here are their tips:

• Go for a high profile: Dollinger advises franchise owners not to skimp on their first location in a market.

“Your first location has to be your best location,” he said. “It has to be the most visible, and usually when it comes to real estate, you’re going to have to pay a premium for a location.”

That means avoiding the cheaper space on the back side of a shopping mall that may be hard to find.

Using a real estate service that’s familiar with the community can be key, Morrison said. Staymobile works with The Nichols Co. to find the best locations for new stores.

“You have to find an excellent real estate service for your franchises,” Morrison said. “They have a wealth of research at their disposal.”

Brokers also often have good relationships with landlords and will have more access to information about prime properties coming available.

• Become part of the community: Successful franchises have used coupons, discounts, social media and corporate sponsorships to promote themselves.

“Immerse yourself in the community,” Morrison said. “That’s just critical.” Providing customers with a great experience can lead to key word-of-mouth recommendations that can build a strong customer base.

“Any concept needs to go out and beat the streets and knock on doors,” Dollinger said. “You’ve got to get the community on your side, whether you are a neighborhood location or (in) an office park.”

Monkey Joe’s has reached people through involvement in schools, churches and in the community, sponsoring kids’ sports teams and charity events. It’s not expensive, and it builds goodwill with the community, he said.

•  Scout out your target area: Franchise owners should get to know their market as they prepare to expand.

“Know that area around where you are,” Morrison said. “How many schools are there? How many churches are nearby? Where are all the restaurants?”

Staymobile’s store at Bank of America Plaza is open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays to cater to corporate customers who may need to drop off and pick up their electronic devices before and after work.

•  Know what your competition is doing: Check out the competition by finding out what they are charging, where they are locating and what they are doing. Online reviews can provide a lot of helpful information.

“It’s pretty easy to do some due diligence,” Dollinger said. “Certainly you’d be well informed to make better choices.”

Morrison said that building a successful franchise also requires love and commitment to the work.

“Go after it with passion and enthusiasm,” he said. “If you do that, you have a better chance at success.”