Nick Lopez and Trent Halvorson dive into what makes FranChoice the world’s leading franchise consulting network. Trent dives into what makes FranChoice so elite and it all points to the quality of the people that make up the organization. Within the franchise industry, Jeff Elgin is known for his incredible leadership. As the VP of Franchise relations, Trent knows first-hand what it is like to work for a franchising legend. He shares some stories of franchise brands that have grown nationally while working with FranChoice and what it takes to do so. From vetting brands to partnering with them over the long haul, Trent shares best practices for growing and elite franchise organization.
Our guest has been instrumental in LIME Painting in my career, as well as many other franchise companies and founders. He’s a leader in franchising, and I’m grateful and appreciative of his contributions to franchising. He had a very successful career at Best Buy. He’s the VP of Franchisor Relations with one of the top franchise companies, which many consider the top in the world in FranChoice. Mr. Trent Halvorson, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here.
Let’s kick it off. Many people go through their lives and don’t think about franchising and, frankly, don’t even understand what it is, let alone say, “I’m going to join franchising and get into the franchising world.” I’m curious, how did franchising find you?
The interesting thing is I worked for seventeen years with Best Buy. I was in a department that was getting downsized, and I had about six months’ heads up. You start looking everywhere, like, “What’s my next chapter going to be?” I had enough friends jump ship and take on chapter two. I started that journey a lot of time on LinkedIn and connected with a bunch of people. Through my heart activity, pounding the pavement there, a recruiter had reached out, and I had started a connection. He ended up starting to find this role for FranChoice.
Over the course of 3 or 4 months, I spent some time with them and started turning my eyes and ears open to all things franchising and quickly as fast as I could learn about the industry because, like many others, my thought was Burger King, McDonald’s, and a handful of other businesses that you’d see in strip centers where that’s what franchising was. That’s how it started. It was from the ground up of, “How quickly can I self-educate myself and all things being franchising?”
It sounds like fate had a way of jumping in there and started to connect those dots. I mentioned it. Many would consider FranChoice the best franchise consulting firm in the world. Would you mind sharing a little bit about what FranChoice is?
From a high level, we are a consultant group. Our 85 consultants will help individuals and investors find the right franchise for them. That’s what we are on the surface, underneath, or so much more, where spending time with franchisors, whether we work with them or not, and help them, whether it’s the sales process or validation.
Our founder’s belief is franchising has to win for all of us to be successful. There’s a lot of support, tools and resources that we put out to a lot of franchisors, whether we work with them or not. Our core business is partnering up with franchise systems and letting our consultants do the magic. They’re out there prospecting, working referrals and helping those individuals or investors find what business suits them best, those characteristics they’re looking for in an opportunity and playing that matching game.
You said something pretty interesting, “We don’t necessarily end up working together in terms of a franchise brand.” Is there ever a case where you’re turning the franchise brand away? Do you accept everybody? If you are turning them away, why?
We never shut the door. What I often say is, “Now is in the best time for you for a number of reasons,” then I would like to stay in touch. There’s a brand we’d launched that I probably stayed in contact with for about 3 to 4 years and worked on shared best practices, gave them resources, and other groups to go out and talk to make sure they were ready because franchisors are at different points in their lifespan of a franchise.
Teaming up with FranChoice, we try to get it right at the right time and make sure components of the business are there until that helps support them and put them in touch with several other people to understand what it is like to join with a consultant group that might juice the system as far as growth. I won’t say turn away. I’ll say not now. A lot of brands, 9 out of 10, I talk to now is not the right time, but spending a large portion of my time working with those brands to say, “Can we get you to that point?” or making sure we give them the best resources so they always can grow whether it’s other consultant networks or organic strategies. There are a lot of ways to grow franchise systems, and we’ll try to help support what’s best for them.
I appreciate that response. It may not be the right time right now versus just no. What it’s about in franchising is getting all of those parts together that make it the right time. That was something that you said, “It may not be the right time right now,” but making sure that it’s the right time, and when it is, then joining forces. What are some of the things that make it the right time? What ingredients are you looking for?
In my first or second call, we’re going to talk about four major buckets then I’ll say two bonus buckets. That deals with the territory. Is a system ready to grow for the most part across the 50 states? Maybe not in the registration states, but they’re looking to grow across the states and can support whether it’s a franchisee in New York or California as easily as somebody in their own backyard. We look at territory and say, “Are you a green light for most of the US?”
We look at if they have existing franchisees. We take a pulse check house validation. We’re looking for strong validation throughout the system. Sometimes we hear a 1/3 great, 1/3 neutral, and 1/3 negative. That means 2/3 of the time, you’re not going to hear positive. We need to hear positive. We know validation plays an important part. Sometimes that means the franchisor goes back and coaches franchisees that adding to the system means more for everybody when the system grows, or it might mean, “Maybe we have to put some money into marketing or technology because that’s what the franchisees are talking that they need.”
Validation is a key role. In the sales process, sometimes the system says we hop on the phone and talk about our brand and tell somebody says yes or no. We look for a system that has clearly defined. Maybe it’s a six-step sales process or, in my mind, an education process where you’re educating the candidate on what the opportunity is and how it works. I’ll say a clearly defined sales process. Last but not least, unit economics has to make sense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $2 million, a $5 million or a $100,000 investment.
The unit economics tells the whole story, “What’s my investment? What’s my potential for return?” We like to look at that and compare it with others that we work with and make sure it fits in the bucket. Those bonus buckets that we’re talking about. We’re looking at leadership, “What does the executive leadership team look like? Who’s in charge of this opportunity?” and last but not least, the financial strength. We can look at P&Ls, but it’s much more than that, so it’s just looking at the financial strength of the franchisor.
It’s clearly all very important ingredients to growing across the country in a franchise system. What an incredible position you have. I know personally I had spoken to a consultant at FranChoice. I didn’t know much about FranChoice. He had mentioned LIME to you. He reached out and introduced me to the founder of founder REP’M, Nick Sheehan. That was a path that you felt would be a great solution, at least in my case, to make things make sense for partnership with FranChoice, even though, at the time, I was reaching out to a FranChoice consultant looking to grow. Little did I know I had much more around the corner. When I say that I’m very grateful to you, that stems from, and I echo that again, thinking back then and the journey to now.
I’m appreciative of what you do in the franchise world. We talked much about the franchise owners, which are clearly very important, but there’s this franchisor side of things as well. That’s the world where you live at FranChoice. Thanks for everything that you do in franchising. I want to go back to what we were talking about. Initially, you were reached out to by a recruiter. Clearly, you have many different paths that you can go. It’s a big world out there. Why FranChoice? What led to you joining FranChoice?
I had the opportunity to spend some time with the full team, the founder, Jeff Elgin and some board members. As I was looking at what skillset I had, P&L, and people, all this led me down to what you had said. The stars aligned. I’ve learned much about business from a high-level multi-unit and understand P&L and what makes businesses tick. Spending time with the FranChoice team, I’m like, “This seems like a perfect fit, where a lot of my time is spent with business owners and founders of businesses that are looking to grow.”
That’s what I was a part of, with Best Buy and joining at about 180 to 200 locations and getting up to over 1,000 and watching what that took. It all made sense connecting with the founder and the team here at FranChoice, saying, “I believe it’s the right fit.” So much of my previous years plugged into what they were looking for.
You’re talking about growth at Best Buy from 200 locations to over 1,000. What was your role at Best Buy?
I had multiple roles starting off on the sales floor back when I was seventeen years old, in high school, all the way to running a quarter of the company from a competitive marketing strategy standpoint, getting out there and looking at the competition, what are they doing and deploying proactive campaigns that got out there and in front of the customer, then a lot of the retail roles inside from GM to several district support, supporting operations, loss prevention, inventory control up to eighteen locations. I worked from Minnesota to California to Ohio and back to Minnesota. It’s been a few years out of the corporate office as well.
It takes a team to do that. You’re saying that you were on the marketing part of Best Buy.
It’s under the competitive strategies team, but it was under the marketing umbrella.
Share with me a little bit more about what exactly what did that role entailed.
We had field team members out there from a competitive standpoint, getting into our competitors on what they were doing. We had some collective intel coming in and also working with the retail leadership teams deploying those strategies to say, “This is what we see the competition doing. How can we get out there and deploy a new strategy that either combats that or gets in front of it?” Sometimes that was local store specific, but typically, we were looking at impacting a dozen to maybe 100 stores, depending on the market and deploying those strategies.
When you’re evaluating competitors for Best Buy, who are some of those competitors, at least at that time?
We had Circuit City when I first started, HHGregg, and Walmart, were some of the big ones down in the Texas market. There were some regional players, but typically, there were other national players back in 2010.
How did that competitive analysis contribute to the growth of Best Buy?
They were able to deploy and react quite well. After the retail competition, the whole internet made a huge wave and tried to react there. From a retail standpoint, we’re able to get in front of several things that other retailers are trying to do to stay afloat as the internet becomes a bigger player. A lot of price compression was happening over that time.
We’re seeing prices constantly drop and bulk stacks of large TVs and computers are hitting to try to say, “Consumer, come grab this now,” versus waiting for something to come on the internet. It was that dynamic shift of what we saw taking place inside retail boxes to the internet. At that time, it was definitely trying to lower the price and get those consumers to grab it if they were in the store. Soon after I left, it was the onslaught of what Amazon and other internet players have done to retail in general.
It wasn’t necessarily physical locations and companies. It sounds like it is also the economic conditions they were going on at the time and how the industry evolved as a whole.
There were a lot of hands in the cookie jar and things happening with retail in general at that time.
What an exciting time to be at Best Buy and an exciting journey. I want to get back to FranChoice. I have personally experienced what makes FranChoice special. I’m curious. From your standpoint, what makes FranChoice so elite?
The first thing that comes to mind is our consultants. You can hop on our website and take a look at any one of them. In the business experience, some are franchisees, they’ve started a franchise, they are regional developers, or they’ve started companies. Some of them have been CEOs and founders of multiple companies. The business experience that the whole entire group has to gather is phenomenal. Understanding how businesses work and leveraging their experience to apply it inside the franchise model is the beginning of the talent level that we have from the consultants.
Second is the competitiveness and the fact of full-time commitment of these consultants. This is all they do, and they do it well. They love changing lives and assisting many people. Whether it’s career changes or another diversification play of their investment or pool of money that they have, it brings joy to hear the stories when they work with candidates. They do not always go and buy a franchise.
A lot of times, it’s spending time with somebody and understanding they wouldn’t be a great franchisee because not everybody’s cut out. They’re not all success stories. In my mind, they are because if you learn something about yourself, that’s success in itself. They’re committed to helping find those professional business owners, whether it be an investment or an owner-operator type opportunity, and then spending time with them. Those relationships continue down the road hearing stories of, “I sold the franchise I bought six years ago, and I’m ready for my next one,” brings a huge smile to my face. We hear those quite often.
If you learn something about yourself, that’s a success in itself.
It sounds like the people and the quality of individuals at FranChoice. How do you go about putting together a team, an organization that has such a high caliber of consultants?
There are two things. Jeff Elgin laid the foundation when he started FranChoice back in 2000. Linda Menter has continued his high expectations of vetting when we’re bringing on new consultants and setting the stage with clear expectations. She and I do the same thing. She’s doing it with consultants, and I’m doing it with the franchisors and making sure it’s hard work. There’s a grind to this business. She lays that out and spends weeks and months with candidates wanting to become a consultant to ensure they know what they’re getting into that are committed to the business and set them up for success.
In that recruiting process, there are clear expectations and some great training. Why do you think high caliber individuals, someone that started an organization or owns multiple franchise entities, and the list goes on and on who gets on the list of consultants on the website and look at the backgrounds, why do you think this caliber of an individual is saying, “I will engage with FranChoice. This is an opportunity that I can invest in?” What do you think are some of those factors?
It is the training that supports camaraderie. Everybody likes to surround themselves with successful, like-minded individuals, I believe. That’s the group that we have here. If they’ve found a business or have been in the franchising world and understand the franchise model and what that can do for others, we give them that roadmap and playbook. Not only are they great professionals that have been successful, but they love the franchising model and what that can do for other individuals or investors as far as that roadmap to success and believing in franchising overall, but it’s the culture, teammates, sharing of best practices, and the culture that’s here is what attracts those top-notch consultants.
That starts at the top. That’s probably a huge X Factor and the reason why the Founder of FranChoice, Jeff Elgin, is widely considered a legend in franchising. His contributions have led to that reputation. I’m curious. What is it like to work with Jeff day in and day out?
It’s phenomenal. Many times, I have to remind myself, “You’ve got 2 ears and 1 mouth. Now’s the time to listen and watch them engage.” Sometimes it’s a franchisor reaching out of a problem, they want to change the direction the company’s in, or maybe they want to add another company and become a parent company. I’m like, “Let’s put you on the phone with Jeff because he’s had these conversations with hundreds of people,” and then being able to listen in on that. The things he brings up and puts on the table for these individuals to think about are mind-blowing.
Now is the time to listen!
It’s whether taking notes or sitting back and absorbing as much information as I can. Franchising was on the sales side. He understands that process. He gives so much to franchisors, sales groups, and people in the sales the education of franchises, whether the training or his videos that used to be on VHS to DVD and now are online. Those who have been viewed by thousands of people that are currently or have sold franchises in the past. They use that as a roadmap. It’s exciting and fun to be a part of, and I enjoy every day. I get to learn from them.
For those tactics, strategies, and processes, Jeff’s clearly done a great job of documenting and creating that as training, not only within FranChoice but to professionals in franchising as a whole, specifically franchise organizations. We’re zeroing in on what makes FranChoice special. It’s clearly the people in the training, but more specifically, the leadership and the culture. Those are all things that I’ve appreciated in my time with FranChoice. You feel the culture. You see it. You can’t fake that. Culture kicks strategy’s butt all day. When you have a world-class strategy and world-class culture, it makes for an elite organization.
You’ve seen many franchise organizations take off and do what you said. The initial conversation you have, considering those four points you mentioned in that initial call and those considerations to partner to grow nationally, to seeing brands do that and establish a household name, what are some of the factors that contribute to brands that you see take off and realize that national footprint?
It starts from those buckets. I believe timing has some importance of it as well, but also education. Our consultants have to understand these brands, how they work, what the revenue streams are, and what leadership is. That takes some time for those relationships to bond, gel, and feel confident bringing their candidates, whether they’re individuals or investors. That timing factor plays a part. I’ve got examples of those. For several franchisors, all of a sudden, it was timing. Maybe that’s a new health and beauty industry we’ve never seen or worked with before.
The consultants take maybe 3 to 6 months to understand that maybe some of the consultants go out and try whatever services they provide. Typically, on those newer industry-related franchise systems, it takes a little bit because our consultants have to get behind those brands. Other times we launch a new brand, and the relationship is already formed if they’re using and franchise sales organization and FSL or a development group. Sometimes those take off a little bit quicker.
It is those four buckets that they’re excelling at, plus those bonus questions of great leadership and great financial strength. It is magic. There’s something when success happens the stars align. It’s some foundational work the franchisor has put in years prior. We know these founders have had long nights and early mornings and grind at the business every which way. When that is all laid out, selling franchise systems and franchisees is a little bit easier than the grind that once was when the organization was building. Timing is important, but also those groundwork components are there for a reason because that is the foundation.
All those groundwork components are there, but you mentioned something as well. The consultants have tested. They’ve tried it out. They’ve experienced the brand, or they get it. More importantly, there’s a relationship there. Sometimes that takes time, or if you’re a brand with a franchise sales organization, that could already create that validation that trust there that could otherwise take some time. You are providing competence for the consultants at FranChoice. You’ve done your due diligence upfront because it might not be the right time for some organizations.
Just because it’s not right now, they could go back to the drawing board or put in some more of that grind work to get those components to a point where once it is a brand within the inventory. At FranChoice, those consultants can more quickly have that trust. Granted, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically there across the board. I can see how showing up and being a part of different activities, and the ways in which you can develop those relationships and get in front of consultants are important.
As we’re talking, it’s becoming clearer that franchising in business is about people and relationships. At the core of that, and people, you can look at it and see the culture. That is ultimately the scoreboard of the relationships within an organization. It’s what the culture looks like. Even if you’re not aware of it as an organization, you most certainly have a culture. In your mind, what is the culture at FranChoice?
It’s some of the things we’ve talked about, like the sharing of best practices and camaraderie around professionals. The only component I haven’t mentioned about FranChoice is the results-focused. Coming from Best Buy, we spent some time talking about Best Buy. When I left, we had 1,200 scorecards. As a matter of fact, we had about 60 scorecards that we’re summarizing the scorecards. We don’t have that here.
This group of professionals from Jeff Elgin, across the board at the office, and every consultant are focused on the result. I say that in retrospect of doing it the right way. Many times, you can get the result by doing it the wrong way. Doing it the right way in a result-oriented organization is what FranChoice is all about. To tie this together, a lot of our consultants are putting their neighbors, best friends, co-workers and family members inside of the franchise organizations they work with. That’s the trust level.
The fact that they stay connected with them for years to come is they have to be able to put their head on their pillow at night and say, “I did the right thing by introducing these two parties together.” That ties this whole conversation so far around the organization at FranChoice. That’s what I would add around that culture piece that results in focus and doing it the right way.
There’s a deep love and grit that’s required to be successful in implementing tactics that comes from training. There’s relationship sharing of practices, but more importantly, a standard and want for leveling up, being at a world-class level. That is not taught. That has to be within each individual. You have an entire organization of high performers looking to level up and be world-class and truly make an impact in the world. In this case, by giving people the American Dream business ownership.
You have all of these things coming together. It sounds like such an amazing organization to be a part of helping matchmake and pair these world-class franchise organizations with people that are looking for their path to the American Dream, which could be many different reasons why. It could be the time of independence. It could be more time with a family or simply financial success and all of those things across the board. That’s clearly the motivator. I personally, as a franchisor, love franchising for a lot of these reasons we’re talking about. Why do you love franchising so much?
Every day, I’m coming to work, and it’s a big smile on my face. It’s back to the point you hit on early on. The people I interact with, whether it’s the individual that thinks they want to turn their business into a franchise and say, “I love the concept. Let’s look at the buckets I’m looking for. Let’s go talk to more people,” and being that conduit to raise people to the next level, whether it takes a business and make it a franchise or, “I have a franchise. I have two locations.”
Whether it’s the individual that thinks they want to turn their business into a franchise, we are here to take it to the next level.
I hear stories where they hit 50, 100 or 400 locations, and those success stories. It’s the people throughout this industry of franchising, and that can be franchisors, the suppliers, everybody out there helping these franchisors become successful down to a candidate that wants to be a franchisee or maybe goes through the entire process and goes, “That’s not for me.” Everybody is learning something. It could be about the brands or themselves. It’s a unique of industry and what franchising can do in one year. I say it’s this dog year of a fact of what organizations typically take 7 years to do, franchising typically can do it in 1.
That’s the power of the people. It’s also the money that those people bring, but it’s the talents, their experiences, diversity and thought, and everything. You can change a business in franchising. In a year’s time, it can look completely different because all those people come to play and for an end goal in mind. The joy of people I get to talk to on a daily basis, including yourself, makes me light up ear to ear with a big smile.
It takes a village of world-class individuals, which is so much experience. That’s what FranChoice embodies. Trent, thank you. So much appreciation for the organization that you represent. Being a high performer, I know high performance requires balance. That’s something that you value. When you’re not kicking butt, helping organizations and people in franchising, and making a difference through franchising, what are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?
It was snowboarding or golf. Now I have four kids, and it didn’t happen overnight, but spending more time with the family is my go-to. That could be taking the family to the cabin or spending time at home. We’re getting into the early stages of tee-ball and kicking a soccer ball around. I’m also doing a college visit with my oldest daughter. I do a range of activities, but spending time with the kids and the family is got to be my first go-to if I’m not working.
I always have a blast catching up with you, Trent, whether we’re talking franchising, business, hobbies, or families. There are many values that we share. I appreciate you getting on the show and contributing to the franchise world. The point of this show is to help individuals level up through franchising. Trent, thank you for being on the show. I greatly appreciate it. If anybody is interested in getting in touch with you, how can they do that?
I certainly learned quite a bit and leveled up. I got some insights into this amazing organization at FranChoice. If you’re interested as a franchise brand in joining FranChoice, I highly recommend it. My experience has been nothing short of world-class. More importantly, please contribute to this conversation. We talked about many things ranging from how you scale an organization, what is required to do, the importance of people, training, expectations and culture, more importantly. Subscribe to the channel. The more subscriptions, the more we can grow and the more we can give back and, as always, level up.
Trent is the Vice President of Franchisor Relations for FranChoice. Prior to joining FranChoice he spent 17 years at Best Buy Co. in many roles including Territory Marketing Manager and Senior Customer Research & Development Manager. During his time as the Territory Marketing Manager he was responsible for the understanding of the competitive retail landscape over 2 territories.
He would collect strategic and tactical information with his field employees and analyze the information and co-develop strategies with territory staff to gain revenue and market share in each market. Trent served as the single point of contact for primary retail intelligence within his designated territories. During his time as the Sr. Customer Research and Development Manager he was responsible for retail execution of all company test products and sales strategies. Tests such as “Rent a Truck” and product assortments such as “Outdoor Living” are programs and products they still carry today.
Trent joined FranChoice in 2013 and has served the company in many capacities since then, including managing the selection process for new franchisors, training and supporting the efforts of new and existing consultants, and has trained dozens of franchise developers. He has also gained experience creating sales systems that assist the franchisor in effectively delivering information to candidates in a very efficient manner.