Greg Muzzillo had put an unbelievable amount of time and energy in launching franchises for his promotional items and business supply company Proforma — and the efforts were showing results. The growth was so impressive that the company earned the U.S. Small Business of the Year award, and President Ronald Reagan handed Muzzillo the honors.
But as it expanded, Proforma had not developed the support and the resources that the successful franchises wanted, so the task was to figure out how to keep those people happy while still recruiting other franchises.
“Bringing on-board those first 50 to 60 franchises was unbelievably difficult work. We were trying to run the distributorship at the same time, which paid for the bills. It was unbelievable,” Muzzillo says.
A little later, he concocted the brave idea to get franchise owners more involved with the company by creating a franchise advisory council to let them seek solutions about the rapid growth.
The franchisees were so pleased they kicked him out as they met at the annual Proforma convention.
“I thought they were going to come back with a lynch mob, hang me or tar and feather me because we were just struggling to do everything they wanted from us,” he says.
But setting up a franchise advisory council was not only a brave move, it was a shrewd one.
“We were very fortunate that most of the people on the franchise advisory council were the cream of the organization,” Muzzillo says.
“They’re not the people who demanded to join a company with 500 franchises, so they were patient, and they were kind. Fortunately, we had great relationships with them, and they believed in us. We delivered everything we said we would do. They knew that someday we were going to grow as they wanted us to, and it was just hard to keep them happy.”
What he learned through the advisory council experience was that though it was a frightening time, the cream rose to the top of the organization: “The cream told the others that might have been wanting to break away, ‘Don’t break away; let’s stay. Let’s follow Greg; let’s believe in Greg; let’s believe in the vision.’”
When the franchisees kicked Muzzillo out of the meeting, the action actually gave them credibility and a voice that held the organization together and continued to help build what the company is today.
Now serving some 750 member offices, 60,000 clients and with $450 million in annual sales, Proforma is ranked as one of the five largest companies in the industry. Here’s how Muzzillo made a concerted effort of many small steps to build Proforma into that industry leader that counts Coca-Cola, Sherwin-Williams, PepsiCo, Harvard and Nordstrom as customers.