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Hear From Leslie Kuban About Her Journey From Family Run Business Ownership To World Class Franchise Matchmaking

If you plan on leading a business franchise, you can’t just pick one randomly and hope for the best. If you are to achieve amazing results, you have to find the right franchise fit. This is where franchise matchmaking comes in. In this episode of Level Up, Nick Lopez talks with industry leading franchise consultant, Leslie Kuban, who works with one of the world’s leading franchise networks. The conversation covers Lesli’s days as a family business owner to her current endeavors as a franchise matchmaker with FranNet, and as host of the Atlanta Business Network. Throughout the conversation, Leslie Kuban addresses tips to finding the right franchise fit as well as how to be successful after you’ve found your dream franchise.

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Hear From Leslie Kuban About Her Journey From Family Run Business Ownership To World Class Franchise Matchmaking

Finding The Right Franchise Fit From A Pro That Has Done It In A Recession

Welcome to the Level Up show with Nick Lopez where we get the opportunity to learn from industry leaders in business franchising and high-performance personal development. In this episode, we have an amazing guest on the show. She’s a very successful entrepreneur, has had multiple businesses, multi-brand franchise owner and worked in her family business with her father, which is amazing. She is a Franchise Consultant with FranNet and routinely hosts the Atlanta Small Business Network. Leslie Kuban, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Nick. I’m honored to have been invited.

I am looking forward to diving in and helping our audience level up. What better way to get started than to talk about FranNet? Can you share what FranNet is? What exactly is so special about FranNet?

My business is helping people become entrepreneurs. The folks I tend to help, I hear some common themes from them like, “I’m looking for more freedom, control and wealth in my personal and professional life and owning a business.” Being an entrepreneur may be a way to do that. I’m commonly working with folks who have developed a professional career in a corporate environment and have been in the workforce for a while and then they’re ready to take their skills and do it for themselves.

They haven’t done it before so that’s why they’re looking to one of the many strong franchised opportunities out there where there’s already a business model in place, a training track in the beginning and ongoing, a structure, a playbook for how to run that business but also how to become a business owner. My business is helping people navigate that learning journey.

The first responsibility of my role as a franchise consultant is to help someone figure out if they should be pursuing this at this time and the answer is yes for some people and no for others. We may determine that the timing is better down the road. It’s about helping people determine if this is right for them if they will have their goals met affordably and safely through franchise ownership, choose the right business, get into it for the right reasons and do it in the right way.

What do you think makes FranNet so special? There are many different franchise consulting networks and organizations. Me being a Founder of a brand that works with FranNet, I’ve experienced some pretty special things about FranNet. Franchising as a whole views FranNet as a special organization. Being a consultant with FranNet, why do you think that is?

February 2023 will be my 24th anniversary of having my business aligned with FranNet. I’m very proud of the work that we do. We enjoy a wonderful reputation for being selective of the franchises that we work with. We work with a smaller number of franchise brands than some of our colleagues in our space. We are known for taking brands through a qualification process and there are some that we gently and politely say, “We don’t think you’re quite ready for this yet.”

That’s something that we’re very proud of and is important to us that we’re putting brands in front of our clients who are new to this and they don’t know what they don’t know. They need the businesses for themselves as well but we’re doing a little bit of quality control on the front end. We largely work with people in our local communities. We see them out to dinner and at the grocery store so we know these folks. We like them. We want to be a part of their success. We want to take extra special care to make sure that we’re introducing brands that are poised to be successful.

I can firsthand attest to that. At one point, I was one of those brands that gently said, “It’s not the right time.” A few years later, it was. When I receive an introduction from FranNet, it is a different level of introduction and I appreciate that. Hearing those things from you does attest to what I’m experiencing. What an amazing responsibility and I admire the way that FranNet does business. I enjoy the partnership and truly am honored. I’m sure you didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to work in franchise consulting, specifically FranNet.” Can you take us on the journey of how you became a franchise consultant?

It’s one of those things that you fall into. Many of us in franchising didn’t raise our hand and say, “I’m going to be in the franchising industry.” It finds us in some way. That was true for me as well, although FranNet was not my first jaunt into franchising. I was an owner-operator of what is called a UPS Store franchise in Atlanta. Back in the ’90s, our brand was called Mail Boxes Etc. We’re doing packaging, shipping, business services and mailbox rental. In the ’90s, we’re a very well-established global brand where UPS acquired the whole North American organization several years ago and that was their immediate retail strategy.

Many of us in franchising didn’t raise our hand and say, “You know, I’m going to be in the franchising industry.” It just finds us in some way.

I had my own business and I was successful with it. I acquired a franchisee struggling business that needed to get out. The plane was already in flight and I was in my mid-twenties when I did that. I didn’t know a whole lot about business. My father had been in the franchising world prior to that. I’d worked in some of those businesses in photo finishing and sign production. Our family had a sign production business that ultimately became a part of a national sign network. I did very well with that.

I ultimately sold that business and became a part of the Mail Boxes’ local support network. I was a hired arm that would come in and help other franchisees with different issues in their business like opening new locations, hiring and training managers and marketing. I learned then that the coaching part was my sweet spot, helping other people be successful with their businesses. It was just stars aligning. The FranNet organization was largely a West Coast company in the late ’90s. They were looking for strong a East Coast presence and to grow. They got introduced to me and my father and here I am many years later.

It sounds like you and your father were in business together.

Yes. We started our FranNet business together in late 1999 in time for the dot-com bust and 9/11, shortly after. We enjoyed a great ride together as a family business. He did retire a few years ago and I took it over. Working with family is great. Every day is not great. Some challenging points were working with family but by and large, we had balanced skillsets. I was good at some things. He was good at other things and we figured out how to divide our responsibilities so that I had my areas of authority and he had his areas of authority. We figured it out all along the way.

I have aspirations for my kiddos to get into business. I would love it if they follow suit in franchising but you never know. I have four so higher odds, you could say.

Those are good at odds.

You mentioned something unique. You said that you had taken over a location with Mail Boxes Etc. that was underperforming. I would like to know what gave you a sense of comfort and confidence in taking over a location. I’m thinking about being in your shoes and that to me seems concerning or at least has some red flags. I’m thinking, “If that’s a struggling location, why wouldn’t it continue to be a struggling location?” What were some of your thoughts? How did you process and become confident in taking over a location that was struggling?

To give you some context for that, I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t have anything to lose. I was like, “Sure. I’ll do this.” If you think about it, was that naive? Yes. I didn’t come into it with all these preconceived notions and baggage. I went to franchise training as anybody else would. They taught me how to run the business. There was someone available to help me every day and I called them every single day for help.

It points to the strength of a strong franchise system where they not only taught me how to run that business and how to turn around a struggling location, they taught me how to run my own business. I don’t know that I knew it at the time but I was learning lessons from their systems that would benefit me moving forward in any other business venture that I would go into. I don’t know that I intentionally knew that at the time but it worked out well because of the power of a strong franchise system and all that goes along with it.

I was learning lessons from their systems that benefited me moving forward in any other business venture I would go into from the power of a strong franchise system.

Fast forward, when I know a lot more and when I’m helping people explore different opportunities in franchising, sometimes we’re looking at a franchise resale. Those questions naturally do come up. There are different ways to look at it but it would be short-sighted to think, “It’s a struggling business. There’s got to be something wrong with it or some skeleton in the closet.”

Things happen in people’s lives. They get sick, divorced and burned out. That can pose a real opportunity for somebody else to come in and take a business where there may already be customers. Marketing has already been done to some degree in the marketplace that you can capitalize on. You need to ask your questions and understand what you’re going to need to fix and invest to grow that going concern. I wouldn’t automatically think it’s a problem. I would see it as an opportunity.

What a unique way to look at that. Thanks for sharing that. There is something powerful about being naive. I often reflect on my story. I grew up as a gym rat and played sports. My parents had to put me in three sports to keep me from tearing the house apart. For me, that approach of just-do-it has paid off. I haven’t necessarily led with needing to be methodical, master, understand and overthink but rather focus on the behavior that’s paid off dividends.

There’s something incredibly special about that business with being able to dictate the outcome and create something from nothing and create your vision. As you’re talking, I can see a sense of vision that you had and that vision was driving you. A strong model and a strong business with Mail Boxes Etc. ultimately gave you that playbook to do just that, execute on.

That naive approach kept maybe fear from stealing an opportunity from you. You were able to eventually start coaching the business. Not only turn that location around but start coaching others in the business. I commend you for that. I love hearing that entrepreneurialism, the American dream, it’s all-encompassing of franchising. Why do you love franchising so much?

I’m still as enthusiastic about it as I was when I was in my early twenties. It’s such a powerful vehicle for someone to become an entrepreneur when they otherwise might not. A lot of people who are drawn to franchising are first-time business owners. They’ve got a good head on their shoulders like I had a good head on my shoulders.

First of all, I don’t have any idea. I’m a good executor but I’m not like the super creative risk-taker who’s going to go out creating my widget and growing that business. It’s this great opportunity that provides some structure like what we talked about before, the playbook and the ability to do some due diligence. You’ve got a good feeling for what you can expect if you execute ABC behaviors.

There’s no real crystal ball in this but franchising is the closest thing that I’ve encountered in my entrepreneurial journey to having a pretty reasonably clear expectation of what your outcome will be if you execute 1, 2 and 3 according to the playbook that you buy with franchises. It creates accessibility and a level of predictability for people to realize their dream of having more freedom, more control and more wealth for their family that they otherwise might not have without franchising as an entrepreneurial pathway.

I would assume that alternative is working for somebody else or maybe a corporate job. I can’t relate but having that want to take their destiny and future into their hands and truly create an asset and have all the benefits of entrepreneurialism without what I call the startup entrepreneur without that crazy entrepreneur risk, which I can relate to.

With that naive, that’s where I look back on my career, creating that widget from scratch, taking a lot of those arrows in the back and proving out the business model. That was painful and it took resources, losing to competitors, not living up to par with customers and having gaps in the model that ultimately costs real dollars.

As you’re talking around this system or playbook, franchising allows the upside of entrepreneurialism without that incredible amount of risk of creating something from scratch which requires a tremendous amount of more time, resources and unknown when you’re starting as a startup. Before I even started franchising for about 12 years, 10 of those years were very intentional with designing systems and processes, rolling out new services, trial and error, training and framework.

You’ve had the opportunity to see that with different brands, Mail Boxes Etc. I was curious if you wouldn’t mind sharing a little bit about being a multi-brand franchise owner, considering franchise ownership. You not only joined a franchise but turned it around, became a coach, successfully exited and joined another franchise business. What has it been like being a multi-brand franchise owner?

I want to say something more that is important about what you were sharing about your entrepreneurial journey and taking several years of building your business out. It’s important to think about the value of money but it’s equally maybe even more important to think about the value of time in entrepreneurship. What I’m hearing from you is you spent ten years making mistakes and building that into what you offer to your franchisees.

It’s important to think about the value of money, but it’s almost equally if not more important to think about the value of time in entrepreneurship. 

Knowing what not to do is equally valuable as knowing what to do. Being able to transfer that knowledge of, “You don’t need to go out and do this. You don’t need to go out and spend money here. We’ve already done that across our business history so we refined this as the best way to grow your business.” There’s enormous value and the ability to shortcut the learning curve whereas your franchisees are going to be able to shrink their success curve enormously because you’ve packaged what to do and what not to do. That’s powerful. Congratulations on that.

I often will hear a question like, “Is there a struggle in the business? What’s the pain point? Where are the shortcomings? Where do you notice franchise owners not doing so well?” It always goes back to a little bit too much entrepreneurialism and getting away from what makes the model great. “This piece, I will execute on them but this piece, I’ll change a little bit.”

There are so many aspects of a franchise model that come together and make for a competitive business in the market because that’s what you’re doing, you’re competing. Those nuanced details matter. It’s starting with truly executing and being disciplined about the model and getting good at the rhythms of the business and then innovation comes from that mastery.

I always advise and coach anybody that is considering franchise ownership to sell out to the model and have that faith and trust in the support training and the playbook. That’s not easy because you are capturing your entrepreneurial spirit but that is the muscle that grows as a great franchise owner. It’s balancing everything that you get from a business like independence and freedom but also committing to the system.

We’ve talked about Corporate America and leaving what might have been a previous life or something that you don’t enjoy about your current career path for entrepreneurialism seems like so much freedom but the real art of franchising is committing to that business model that has been exercised and those shortcomings have been brought out and that playbook is clear. You were going to share a little bit about your experience of going from not just one brand but another brand. I appreciate that. I’m thinking about considering one, let alone successfully exiting one and getting into another business.

Going back to the Mail Boxes Etc. being my first experience as a business owner. I was naive and was done with college. I didn’t want to go work in the corporate world like all my friends were. I’d been exposed to entrepreneurship and my dad helped me find that opportunity. It’s just there. There wasn’t a whole lot of intentionality on my part. It worked out well, fortunately, but I learned a lot about myself in that first business. I learned a lot more about my strengths and weaknesses and what I naturally enjoy doing. It helped me to see that was not a long-term good fit for me.

It was a retail environment and the same people came in every day to get their mail. Frankly, for me, it was a good business but it was a boring business. I’m a mover and a shaker. I like to get out in the community and meet new people all the time. It helped me to crystallize what I did and didn’t want in my next venture but it taught me how to run a business.

What I learned from the first business has carried me. I still utilize things that I learned about marketing in my Mail Boxes Etc. training in 1997. The knowledge continues. It’s not like it’s this one franchise and it’s its own separate thing and now you’re starting all over with your next business. It’s not like that. You carry forward what you learn and it helps you become even more successful faster in your next venture. You see that. People who get a taste of entrepreneurship through franchising and they like it and understand the value, do tend to do more than one type of business.

People who get a taste of entrepreneurship through franchising and like it and understand it tend to do more than just one type of business.  

How long were you with Mail Boxes Etc.?

It was about five years between building my business and then coaching other franchisees.

That’s a long stint. I can see executing and mastering the business and then being able to coach it. How long have you been with FranNet?

It’ll be 24 years in 2023. I was kind of phasing FranNet in as I was wrapping up my Mail Boxes days back in the late ’90s.

That’s incredible. That’s almost 30 years of entrepreneurial experience.

Don’t remind me. I’m proud of it though.

I started my career in 2008 in the middle of the Great Recession. We had seven locations in August 2020. 2020 was the year to expand. In January, we were lining up to do that and the world shut down in March 2020 due to this global pandemic. Shortly after that was social unrest and there’s so much going on with the world and so much change. In between the Great Recession and the pandemic, we ended up growing in both. I’ve experienced incredible growth during those economic changes and in between was a boom. For you, you’ve been through some economic changes, whether it’s booms or recessions. Can you share with our readers and help them level up around some of your experiences from economic changes?

This is an important topic for entrepreneurs, future entrepreneurs and aspiring franchisees to question their mindset about this topic. We started our business right on the cusp of the dot-com bust which was followed not long after 9/11 when the world shut down. There was a strong ride and then the Great Recession and then a strong ride and then COVID and then the Great Resignation that we’re experiencing. Who knows what’s going to happen next?

At the very beginning, we were starting our business. We’ve burned the bridge and we’re all in. We have committed to this so we’re not going to pull back. Our business is very marketing-driven. We made the decision that we’re going to go full bore here, even though, things are going crazy around us. We’ve made this commitment, expect we will be successful and pursue our plan to heavily market and get our business off the ground.

I was young at this so I didn’t know at the time a lot of our competitors who had been in the business longer had been comfortable and pulled back. When things started to turn, I’m the one that was out there marketing and it benefited me. That’s a pretty important lesson but then you do get comfortable and get used to business coming to you freely, get used to a certain rhythm and then that snapped away from you with the Great Recession as an example.

I admit there were times that I had gotten comfortable, pulled back and regret that. In hindsight, the beautiful thing is that was a foolish and missed opportunity. There have been times when I charged ahead. There have been times when I pulled back. The times that I charged ahead, hiring more staff, at one time, I had multiple salespeople and whole office staff and that was a great decision. Even though the world seems to be crumbling around us, I always benefited from making those investments though others around me may not have been.

Even though the world seems to be crumbling around us, I always benefited from making those investments, even though others around me may not have been.

I was talking with Meg Roberts, the CEO of another franchise brand and she’s been around the horn a long time. I love what she said and this is the heart of it, “Times of economic change and challenge is the opportunity to assert yourself as the leader.” That rings so true for me. Anyone who is thinking about being an entrepreneur, whether it’s in franchising or not, if you see yourself being an entrepreneur for ten-plus years, you should expect there’s going to be something.

There’s going to be a pandemic or a housing crash. It’s going to happen. Have a plan for that and have the mindset that new needs and opportunities are going to come forth. “I should have my rainy-day fund for my business.” We’re all told to have that for ourselves. We should all have a rainy-day fund for our business when those immediate shocks to the system happen but have the mindset of, “Change opens up windows of opportunity.” That mindset versus the one of, “Change is happening so I’m going to pull back,” makes the difference in success or not in entrepreneurship and certainly in franchising too.

From your experience, you pulled back and saw competitors pull back but also people considering business ownership are pulling back. That creates an opportunity if you execute and double down on the behavior. That can be challenging when there are peers, family members, the news and social media echoing the sky is falling or maybe some stats positioned a certain way to highlight and emphasize a certain point. The more you search for something, the more you compound that one thought because search engines are so great at giving us what we’re looking for. I always talk about protecting your mind.

When the pandemic hit, we had new owners in their first year. That was a year where we had our legacy owners or our first handful of owners. The first thing that we did was appreciate the fact that we weren’t in business by ourselves. We had a lot of empathy and compassion for mom-and-pops that were by themselves. We leaned into one another and our family. We committed to the behavior and encouraged each other. Everybody had a very successful year. There wasn’t anybody that didn’t.

Looking back on that, there’s real power in the franchise model, the family and the community that is franchising. I’ve seen that ring true. I didn’t even mention the Great Resignation but all these different names, titles and themes that the world was shut down. We had owners that committed everything to become an owner.

A little bit of that naive piece but also there is a component of, “I need to do this. I have no other option.” You mentioned burning the boats and that commitment to the only thing that matters, which is behavior. The noise and everything else are only going to distract you from that behavior. There is something very powerful about behavior. The art of being a great business owner, which is no matter what is going on, whatever your personality is, whatever your makeup is and whatever’s going on in the world have that self-awareness to be able to put yourself in a position where you can consistently execute.

Protecting your mindset. I love how you said that. That’s a great way to put it.

You mentioned naive. I’ve had so many stints of naive but that’s exactly what it is. No noise is going to take you away from creating and making your vision come to life. You can say it’s naive but in those moments where you can’t be naive, the sky’s falling and the art of protecting your mind are so important. I turned off the news. I didn’t watch the news at all. I didn’t go on social media. I’m committed to the franchise community at the line and the behavior.

The proof is in the pudding of that behavior decision.

We’re talking about all these different components of entrepreneurialism, franchising and specifically your career but I would like to hear from you, what makes a successful franchise owner?

It’s a unique combination of qualities. It is your business. The franchise doesn’t run the business for you. It gives you the toolbox. I’m an example of you don’t have to have a lot of necessary business acumen behind you already. It can help but it can also hurt you because you bring your biases into your new business as to how things can be done. You are taking a risk at the end of the day. You’ve got to feel good about that and feel it’s a calculated risk. What goes along with that is your confidence in your ability to figure it out.

Nobody is good at everything. Nobody has all skillsets. You want to choose a business where the key skills of the owner are skills that you feel confident that you have and learn the other things fairly quickly. You want to learn and round out your skillsets as a business owner. The franchise and your fellow franchisees help you to do that. It’s this mix of confidence in oneself that they can figure it out and surround themselves with people who can help them but also humbleness.

Nobody is good at everything. Nobody has all skill sets. You need to choose a business where some of the key skills of the owner are skills that you already have, and you need to be confident that you can learn the other things fairly quickly.

Don’t screw up your first year in business by rejecting the franchise business model that you bought. Don’t waste that compounding effect of having a good first year by following the system, especially the very successful people. Some people can let their egos get in the way of their success. It does take consciously eating some humble pie, even though you’ve been successful before, to trust this system, even if you don’t fully understand it or even if there are parts of it that are uncomfortable for you.

There’s this mix of confidence, humbleness and a little bit of grit as well. Running a business is exciting and fun but not every day is sunshine. There are going to be days when people quit, don’t show up or lose that client to a competitor but you’ve got to quickly put it behind you and move forward with what you can control and what you can have an impact on. That does take a little bit of grit. It’s that unique combination of confidence, grit and humility that is the special sauce for a franchise. 

You’re talking about losing a deal to a competitor or a bad day. I always talk about the simplicity of a good night’s sleep. There is a new day.

The world is a different place if you are well-rested and are taking care of yourself.

It’s such a simple concept but there’s always a new day. That is so well said. I was wanting to hear from you a little bit about the Atlanta Small Business Network. Could you share with us what is that? What do you do with the Atlanta Small Business Network?

I’m very excited about this. This is a fairly newish project for me but it goes back to my college education in Communication Studies, which had a very clear media bent that would’ve gone down the road of some media news, journalism or broadcasting career but I’m very happy that I went the entrepreneurship and franchising route instead. I’m coming full circle.

The Atlanta Small Business Network is a very special content platform focused on small businesses. Many of us in cities like Atlanta have the Atlanta Business Chronicle. There’s the Nashville Business Chronicle. Those news sources cater to larger businesses. It’s all about large commercial real estate deals and the big corporations that employ people in the city. It is not a voice for the unique needs of small business owners.

The Atlanta Small Business Network was born a couple of years ago. I am a TV show host on it. My show is called Atlanta Franchise Today but I’m one of several small business-focused shows. Bridget Fitzpatrick hosts The Female Founder where she interviews female-led companies started by women. We have Launched & Legal. We have several general small business profiles, small business news and resources.

It is this wonderful wealth of news, resources and information for any small business owner, franchises included. I’m proud to be one of the show hosts and a part of the project. People can subscribe monthly or annually but it’s pennies for the value that an aspiring entrepreneur or anybody looking at franchising can get their hands on the knowledge that they need to be successful.

You’re a host and I did not know that. That’s awesome. Can you give an example of one of the shows or something that you would cover that you’ve talked about?

I largely interview franchisees and people who many times had never been business owners before. I interviewed a fellow who owns a window cleaning franchise very successfully. His interview on my show was his fifteenth anniversary of owning his window cleaning franchise. He shares his story about leaving Corporate America, what drove him to look to business ownership and franchising, some of his successes and challenges in the early years of his business and how he grew it to where he’s a semi-active owner.

He helps with franchise recruitment for the franchise brand. His lessons along the way, that’s what people need and want to hear, from people who’ve done it and to hear about what’s good but also what the challenges are and what they need to be aware of if they’re going to step into franchise business ownership. My goal as the show host is to give people access to the knowledge that they need to make good decisions for themselves before and along their franchise ownership journey.

I can see your heart for franchising and entrepreneurship. I am a huge fan. Thank you for everything you do, for being on the show and for giving this knowledge to our readers.

Thank you, Nick. Thank you for developing and growing this show. You’re doing such a wonderful job of providing people in your brand and other brands, people looking at entrepreneurship with access to people who’ve done it and the information they need to be successful. It takes a lot of work to have a show so I applaud you for doing it.

You helped me level up. If others want to level up with you, Leslie, how can they get in touch with you?

I am on LinkedIn all day every day for my business. I’m the only Leslie Kuban out there. That’s my main hub of how I interact and find people online. Look me up on LinkedIn and connect with me there.

The only Leslie Kuban so google it. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of great content on Leslie. Check out the Atlanta Small Business Network. You’re going to find helpful information from other franchise owners. What an amazing platform there that you’re giving to franchise owners. If you have benefited from this show, please like but more importantly, comment and contribute to the conversation. Let us know some of your thoughts about what makes a successful franchise owner, Leslie’s journey as an entrepreneur and the Atlanta Small Business Network. Please subscribe to the show. As always, level up.

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About Leslie Kuban

After a rewarding chapter with Mail Boxes Etc. (now The UPS Store), my father and I launched our franchise consulting business in 1999; we’re well-versed in growing a family business during strong economic times and in recessions. We’ve proudly helped over 500 individuals and families choose the best franchise brand for their needs and goals. How do you determine if business ownership through franchising is right for you? With 4000+ franchise opportunities in the market today, how do you choose? I consult with corporate professionals, investors, and aspiring entrepreneurs to answer these questions.

Work feels quite different when your talent and time is invested in a business that’s your own. As a successful multi-brand franchise owner myself, I am uniquely qualified to guide you through the franchise buying process. I’ll teach you how to choose the best franchise brands in proven, growing industries.