Finding some help Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

When Neil Gass and his team decided to set a new direction for Sunbrook Franchising Inc., they knew it wasn’t a quick process, so they spent nearly six months evaluating what they wanted to accomplish.

They decided they wanted to open or have in development 60 new centers over the next five years. Then he broke it down and decided that in order to achieve his goal that he would need to open 12 centers this year.

“You start with your longer-range objectives — where do I want to be in five years?” says the CEO of the 160-person child care franchising company. “You hear this in the business publications from everybody, and it’s an often repeated story, but where do I want to be in five years, and then back it up in smaller increments. Now I have to look at what does it take to get these 12 months accomplished?”

But he also recognized that he couldn’t achieve this alone.

Smart Business spoke with Gass about how to bring in the right people to help achieve growth goals.

Recognize your weaknesses. We began as a family business. We know what we’re doing as far as building, developing and operating successful child care centers. We began to realize, as we geared up for this growth, that we did not have the expertise in the actual area of franchising. We’ve been doing it for a while and getting by and been moderately successful, but to move to the next level, you have to have someone on board who knows the industry and knows the business and knows the business of franchising.

It goes back to it’s time to re-evaluate the way you do business and what your goals and objectives are. The market has changed. It’s a new economy. There are different lending environments and some new buyer behaviors and patterns these days. The world has changed or is in the process of changing very rapidly and you go back and you look at what you want to be and how you want to get there.

Hire people who fit with you. It’s critical to have, when you’re gearing up for active growth, the right people in place. You want to know what experiences they’ve had — some key decisions they’ve made that could have gone either way and why did they choose this way versus that way.

I’m happy to continue to grow at a slower pace as long as we’re bringing in the right people to enhance our organization and enhance our missions and philosophies, so one of the things we wanted to know is, ‘How committed are you to active growth, how many sales do you want to make, and what are your key decision factors in making sales?’ If they’re just looking for a warm body with a fat wallet, that may or may not fit with your organization’s goals. It certainly didn’t with us, so what are the key decisions for you in your process? What kind of experience do you have managing systems and developing and revamping?

It almost comes down to the more personal beliefs and philosophies than the hard experience. We can teach people how to operate child care, how to franchise, how to sell, build, develop and grow a child care system. What I can’t teach people is how to have good work ethics, good interpersonal skills, good communication skills and the right philosophy.

Those would be my two big points: Re-evaluate what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and then find the right people to fill those gaps.

Get outside help. Bring in some business consultants. Any small business trying to grow, it’s nice to have an outside perspective on where you are and where you should be. In that, you can often identify gaps or holes that need to be filled, and some of those will be in terms of leadership and experience that the company would benefit from bringing in from the outside.

It depends on where you start from, of course. We started as a family-based business. One of the first things we did was bring in a family business consultant. For us, it was knowing that we had family business issues, and how can we identify and really address those correctly, and that was bringing in a family business expert.

Beyond the family business expert, there’s a multitude of experts. There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around providing advice and consulting now. Anyone can benefit from some form of a business coach to just provide a fresh perspective. You get stuck in your day-to-day routines of doing what you do, in the way that you do it, and that leads to stagnation and failure to recognize new opportunities, ... so anybody from a third-party perspective sheds a whole new light on where new opportunities exist.

Hire consultants like you would employees. Ideally you want someone who has worked in a similar or related business or industry. ... Then you want to look for some success — how have the businesses that this consultant has coached fared after the work was done? Did they go on and were they able to implement the strategies and ideas given?

Oftentimes, we would work through referrals — through networking contacts, both within and (outside of) the industry. We would look for folks, ‘Have you worked with this company or individual before?’

There’s no replacing good old face time — interviewing. Sit down with this person prior to engaging them and find out what their philosophies are and what their experience is. Does that fit with your philosophies and objectives? You don’t want to bring in a yes-man to further the ways you’ve been working. But definitely somebody who has a similar philosophy of growth and they understand the growth cycle that your company is in and hopefully has been there before to help guide others through the same waters.

We’re more interested in quality over quantity. If I had brought in a franchise expert who was purely growth, purely show me the numbers, that would not be a good fit with our company. That’s part of the process of weeding through the available candidates to find the right match for us.

How to reach: Sunbrook Franchising Inc., (770) 426-0619, www.sunbrookacademy.com or www.sunbrookfranchise.com