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Looking Back On A Successful Career Journey With Rob Cambruzzi

LUNL 9 | Career Journey

On this episode, Nick Lopez sits down with the brilliant Rob Cambruzzi, an amazing entrepreneur whose journey to success is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The founder and CEO of Rep’M Group, Rob shares his incredible expertise in franchise development and commercial real estate project management, all while dedicating himself to the uplifting of young entrepreneurs.

Tune in to learn about Rob’s personal journey into the world of franchising and how he went on to become an instrumental figure at Driven Brands, a role in which he helped foster immense growth. Gain insights into the unique differences between the REPM Group and an FSO, and discover key elements that set successful businesses apart.

With a wealth of knowledge at his disposal, Rob takes listeners on a fascinating journey into the evolution of franchise brands, sharing his experiences and predictions for what the future holds for this ever-changing industry. And as for what’s next for REPM? You’ll have to tune in to find out!

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Looking Back On A Successful Career Journey With Rob Cambruzzi

Unveiling The Secrets Of Success In Franchise Development And Commercial Real Estate

Our guest has become a close and great friend but a strategic partner in supporting and an instrumental part of the growth at Lime. He started his career in franchising with Driven Brands, which, if you don’t know, is one of the premier and influential holding companies and franchising. They own brands like Meineke and Maaco. He was the VP of Franchise Development with Driven Brands.

He went on to start a company called RPM, which does real estate construction. If you’re not that familiar with it, it’s the storefronts that you see everywhere. This individual is a guru when it comes to leasing and build-out, but more particularly how I know this individual is through an organization called the REP’M Group. This is a group that helps brands much like Lime Painting grow across the country. He partnered with a couple of other founders of the REP’M Group, Nick Sheehan and Jason Ryan. I’m very humbled to have on the show, Rob Cambruzzi. Welcome.

Nick, what an intro man. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I’m happy to be part of the Lime System. I’m happy to be here. Thank you for that.

I’m glad to have you. A lot of people have conceptions about franchising that aren’t necessarily in line with what franchising is. It’s things like, “Franchising is McDonald’s or Burger King.” There isn’t a realization that a company like Maaco, Meineke, or even a home service brand like Lime Painting is a franchise company. In many cases, franchising finds you. I was curious, Rob, how did franchising find you?

Not to give you too much on my background, but I grew up in real estate construction. Franchising found me the way it finds a lot of folks, which is a big event change in their life. For me, it was the 2008 downturn. I thought I was going to be in real estate construction my whole life, and all of a sudden, the downturn occurred and forced me to find something new and a new path.

LUNL 9 | Career Journey

Luckily, I was led to franchising through some family friends. Jason Barclay was one of those guys that helped me. I met him and he was selling franchises at Meineke. I ended up being pulled into franchising like a lot of us do. It is not the intent, but I end up there and then get stuck because it’s such a great industry. I ended up at Driven Brands and had a good run there. I haven’t left the industry since.

You are the VP of Franchise Development at an organization like Driven Brands. I’m somebody that believes age is not a factor in business. You had to have been pretty young at Driven Brands as the VP of FranDev. What was that experience like? Take us through that journey. How did you get into that role?

It was a great education, to be honest with you. I was in my mid-twenties when I got into franchising at Driven. I was lucky because Driven was a culture in which if you were willing to put in the time, effort and could show results, they didn’t care how old you were or whatever the case was. For me, it opened up doors that, quite frankly, I didn’t know existed. It allowed me to blossom in this field. Also, the education I got from Driven was one that I don’t think you could pay for in any kind of school because a lot of us don’t go to school for franchising.

I was able to learn everything from the right way of franchising, the legal aspects, and all the economic side of how to look at their P&Ls and assess if a model is right. Also, to help coach people is one of the things that I found awesome, “I’m leaving corporate. Now I want to go start my own business. What are the elements I need to be thinking about?” I was very fortunate to have that opportunity and then grow a team there.

I did go through a lot of private equity transactions. It was interesting to see the different styles of management there. I witnessed three during my tenure at Driven, and each one was different. It was different initiatives and goals but different styles of management. I was able to adapt, and I think that’s why I was able to be successful there.

Oddly enough, I had Ken Walker on the show. I think he was there a little bit before your time. I’m not sure.

I overlapped with Ken for about six months. I saw the full regime change there. As I said, I was able to hang on. There are a lot of folks that weren’t able to make that pivot because you were going from more of a set-in-their-ways organization of brands that have been around for 30-plus years to some of the new folks coming in from companies like Burger King or Yum! Brands. Jonathan Fitzpatrick came in as CEO during that time, taking over for Ken. He came from more of that 3G capital background. He gets stuff done and moves the needle.

He is still the CEO and has done a great job taking it all the way through IPO. I saw a lot of the foundational work to be able to create that. When I joined Driven, it had 1,300 brands. By the time I left, it was 3,000. I got a great front-row seat at how do you take a business, expand it and get it to a good size. There were a lot of learning pains along the way that allowed me to launch into what I’m doing now.

1,300 locations to 3,000. Ken was sharing a little bit about that process of taking Driven Brands from just Meineke, his role there as the CEO and chairman, and having a $350 million organization and then turning that into almost $1 billion. Driven Brands is an amazing organization. All the lessons you learn there. I can most certainly see how it translates now.

With that being said, how I know you are with the REP’M Group. The REP’M Group has done some amazing things for Lime Painting and all the other brands that REP’M works with, helping each brand grow uniquely and, more importantly, confidently. I wanted to hear from you about why did you start the REP’M Group?

The reason why I did it was pretty simple. I was pretty much at the end of my rope with Driven. I had a couple of brands that I was running as vice president. We had sold out the territory for the United States on my main brand. I saw an opportunity that existed to help franchisors and franchisees that, quite frankly, a typical franchisor couldn’t assist with. In the brick-and-mortar business of franchising, getting them open is a very difficult segment.

With Lime, it gets them open right away because you don’t have to wait for the real estate construction. That’s a nice component of it. Some of these other brands do have that component that they have to buy a license and then wait to get that open. You’re trying to get it open on time and on budget. Seeing that opportunity, I decided to go ahead and start a business.

It’s something that I’ve told a bunch of other folks to do. It’s probably thousands at this point to leave corporate and start a business. I decided to go super entrepreneurial, where the franchise route is always a little bit easier because you have someone with a lot of arrows in their back that have done it before you that you can follow. That blossomed into RPM.

The reason why I did that was to help units get open and help the industry as a whole. There’s a gap in that assistance and understanding all the components of what goes into that help people be successful, which is setting them up for the right rent and investment and following that item seven. It snowballed into what we are now, which is more than just a real estate construction group. We’re a full-service development firm.

When we look at Lime, we don’t even look at real estate construction anymore. We look at the branding and the operations component and scale them. We also identify and handle the process of how to take someone through the due diligence process from start to finish in the right manner. To do that, you have to understand the business. You have to understand the brand. That’s why we have some of these different segments and are created a little bit differently because we do dig into different areas of the business.

It’s understanding that need to help franchisors and franchisees scale and open successfully. Taking your experience and the partners on your team, the collaborative amount of experience there comes together. I know pretty intimately those categories within REP’M, which are the Brand’M, Grow’M, Build’M, and Scale’M.

There are four different components there that are a little bit different than what is pretty traditional in franchising, where you would have a franchise sales organization. There are plenty of tremendous franchise sales organizations out there that do an incredible job of that component of Grow’M and probably some of the Brand’M. The Brand’M and Grow’M components that you were talking about there.

However, REP’M goes on to do the Brand’M and the Scale’M so that another part of the scaling happens within a franchise organization. Beyond that initial sale there, that seems genius. What was that process like coming together with the team that started the REP’M Group? That was an extension from RPM, which you had started in Charlotte. What was that process like coming together and how did you guys come to those four components of the REP’M Group?

It is funny that you said it’s genius. I don’t know if it’s genius because it’s just all the components of what makes a successful franchise work. When I look at the industry, there are a lot of consultants that focus on 1 or 2 of them. When I think of what we do at REP’M and emerging brands like Lime Painting, I think about if you don’t understand all the sides of the business, how do you take it to market? How’s a consumer going to absorb this business into their daily mix? How do you sell to them?

Also, once you have the sale, how do you make sure you understand how to operate this and scale it? When I started thinking about all that, it made perfect sense to have these four verticals. I got some great partners that I’d love to talk about because they’re aces at these certain verticals. My background was I did a lot of franchise sales in real estate and construction. I knew those pieces, but I always try to involve people who are better than me to be able to handle a certain part or aspect of the business.

If we are providing consultant services or we’re partnering with a brand, we can give the best of the best. I look back at some of the folks I knew. There are two of the partners here now. Jason Ryan was my boss at Driven Brands. He was the President of Maaco. He had been the COO. He spent fifteen-plus years in that organization dealing with franchisees, operations, and the nuances of all the SOPs that he created. All of the training and the success that he had through those systems allowed brands like Lime to tap into that resource.

Nick Sheehan is another guy who has a phenomenal eye for emerging concepts that are unique and that have something special. He also brings the franchisee perspective to the table. He’s been a franchisee. We try to pull these folks together, as many other people as I can mention on the team, but the partners, in general, have great backgrounds. They create a different offering but also a different level of service for our partners.

We invest millions of dollars into the development where a lot of FSOs, Franchise Sales Organizations aren’t spending that type of money and developing brands. The reason why we do it is simple. We want validation. Every brand is successful if it has validation. People say they would do it again. If people say someone else should do it, that creates the snowball effect I love to talk about. That is what creates successful growth.

That’s a key component there. It’s pretty dynamic to everything that you spoke about at a high level. I could spend so much time digging into a lot of those different elements. One of the things I wanted to get your perspective on is that as you look at growing with the franchise system, there are different phases of growth.

You start off with zero locations that are franchised and then 10, 20, 50, 100, 400, and with your experience there at Driven, thousands of locations. Take me through, from a high level, what that looks like. How does a brand change and evolve? What are some of those key milestones in terms of the number of locations as a milestone for growth?

The best way to do it is to use Lime as an example. Kudos to you because you’ve gone through a lot of these emerging phases already and are well toward your 100-unit mark. The way that this is typically handled is the first part is the due diligence of the partnership. We look at the brands to identify what they are and what they have to date. Maybe they have a couple of franchisees or a corporate model.

The corporate model is important because if you think about where the brand is going to go, there’s typically a growth curve and cashflow curve that goes a little bit behind that because you have to get these things open and then wait for the royalties. Having a great foundation to be able to support this financially is extremely important for the jump-off. Also, making sure all of our brands are set up with a self-supporting cashflow that allows them to then grow the franchise arm.

That’s what exactly Lime had. When we worked with you from the get-go, you had several corporate territories operating very successfully, and it was a great model. That leads me to the second part, which is you got to make money and have a good model. It’s got to be something that you can duplicate. When we looked at Lime, we knew immediately because you had locations spread out. They weren’t all just one area. We knew it wasn’t an anomaly for one market to be successful.

The next piece and I won’t say last, but certainly, one of the most important pieces, is a differentiator. Identifying a brand that’s got great unit economics, making money, and seems scalable. Let’s use yogurt for a second. A lot of those meet those requirements, but are they different? Is there anything that stands out?

For us, the painting segment, quite frankly, is a busy segment. It’s got some competitors out there, but what stood out for us in Lime as an example is that your per-ticket revenue was amazing to us. The reason why it is amazing is because you focus on the higher segment of the business. We’re working with $750,000 or $1 million-plus houses. It’s that upper tier of each market and focusing on that market allows you to drive $11,000 per job ticket.

When we looked at how that compared to the rest of the industry, we saw around $2,400 or $2,300 averages. That means you can do a lot less jobs and make a lot more money with less sales, marketing, and people to deal with. Consumers are always a good recipe. You start thinking about those elements and then you’ve got to have the right people. You’re an entrepreneur, but you can’t just be an entrepreneur. You got to be a business guy.

Kudos to you. You are doing things like podcasts, being out there with peer groups, and being a good leader. That’s what it comes down to someone that can guide the ship. When you buy a franchise, you want someone that can guide the ship. You need a system that you can follow. You’ve got to see that it works. If you have all those components, it drives a successful recipe for a good franchise. That’s what Lime is now and a lot of our partners are, but you got to do a lot of diligence before we get there.

If you could boil it down to some location milestones, maybe it’s a 10-unit mark, 20, 50, or 100 location mark, what are some of those milestones that you look at to say that there are some significant changes and the brand is evolving? What are those markers and indicators that you shoot for?

It’s always the first ten or so that are the early adopters. These franchisees are coming in and they’re coming into a system that’s still going to end up learning a bit. You also have the next segment, which is they’re not the earliest adopters but they’re not coming in with 100 units open. They’ve seen a couple of folks put their toe in the water. Depending on the AUV, the Average Unit Volume for the franchisor, also starts to change because you have a little bit of revenue coming in. Now you may start to snowball based on the value or all of the success of the first ten.

Those first ten to get them going are important to get them to be successful for the validation piece. The next piece is now you’re hitting scale. This is where you’ll end up starting to resource a little bit faster than typically the revenues coming in. Again, lean back on the corporate unit or whatever your income source is to be able to bridge that gap. You have this first wave, the second wave, and then after that, we look at royalty efficiency. It’s where the amount of royalty coming in can fund the business to then continue its growth.

That’s the next evolution in emerging brands. Are they royalty-efficient? If they are, it is a good ride to the top. I’d say in between there, a good franchisor is always learning and adopting best practices and listening to their franchisees. You get a lot of great advice from the early adopters, and then you take this louder voice and start molding it into what your franchise needs to be versus what you thought it was.

LUNL 9 | Career Journey

In the end, you’re left with a great system, hopefully, with a lot of validation. It’s how much territory is out there. That’s the evolution of growth for a lot of brands on the franchisor side. On the franchisee side, depending on where you came in, those early ones get the best territory. Sometimes they get some sweetheart deals. If you look at Orangetheory or something like that now, there’s not a lot of territory out there. There are pros and cons to both sides but it’s definitely an evolution in where you come in and has different risk factors as well.

One thing that you mentioned there that I think is worth noting is the importance of having corporate locations that can be leaned on to get you through that initial phase of growth as you’re scaling. There’s some overlap with those initial ten locations opening and starting to ramp. The beautiful thing about franchising from the franchisor standpoint and franchisees is that you’re in business with other business owners. You’re in business together.

Franchise owners, as you said, are coming in relying on the arrows that were taken in the back by the franchise company. That’s the blueprint. That’s the successful and the winning business model where if you don’t necessarily have the idea or the risk tolerance to start up something from scratch, you can get all the benefits of being in business for yourself within a franchise system, come in, and become an owner of a franchise.

LUNL 9 | Career Journey

However, as a franchise organization grows together, there’s that overlap with those early adopters. The emphasis or the importance is supporting franchise owners as a franchisor. Also, there’s that period of time when the corporate locations are supporting the financial growth. Eventually, those initial franchise owners come in. They ramp and those royalties begin to contribute towards the success of the organization. What an interesting and dynamic relationship there.

I look at it as an incredible partnership there, but you can see how that is working on the backend in business together. It isn’t too different entities. There’s so much overlap. The franchisor is only successful when the franchisees are successful. That growth continues, as you mentioned, and eventually, that franchise organization has enough franchise owners that are operating. You mentioned that you become royalty-efficient and are able to support the growth totally independent from the corporate locations. That’s a significant milestone and shift in the business. When do you generally see that within a franchise organization?

Nick, it changes because, as you can imagine, certain businesses have a $1 million average and others have a $150,000 average. It depends on what we call the AUV for the brand. I’d say it could be as low as 20 units for some brands and as high as 50 units. It’s brand specific. It’s hard to answer that one, but it’s one of those things where if you’re not prepared from the get-go and you find yourself in the middle of it, it could be a difficult situation. A lot of the stuff that we do working with brands on the front end is modeling this out and helping them understand where they cross that threshold.

I would encourage any emerging brand to do this or find someone to help them do this. Someone that’s been there and done that can say, “This is what you need to be prepared for.” It’s because there are a lot of things that you don’t know until you get into it. Being ill-prepared or ill-advised is the worst thing you can be involved with in a franchise and can lead to a lot of problems. It’s not good for the industry as a whole, and it’s not good for those involved with that franchise. We try to do a lot of work on the front end. I know you and I and the team, Rebecca and Jason had gone through that prior to even launching.

This is your specialty or your wheelhouse. I wanted to get some of your thoughts on what that looks like and if you could shed some light on what the process looks like where you insert yourself along a franchise system as they’re growing and scaling. Give the audience some context around what that partnership with the REP’M Group looks like because there’s an element of growth on the Grow’M side.

Something that’s very unique about the REP’M Group is the Scale’M side. It’s more than just awarding locations or “selling” locations. We’ve talked a lot about partnership and investment in the franchise owner and, ultimately, their success. This is the nuts and bolts of the growth and what it looks like on the backside. It’s funny that we’re talking about numbers, but at the end of the day, for a business, the scoreboard is ultimately just that. Also, it leads to sustainability for a franchise system.

From a Scale’M standpoint, what I look at as I called it genius, and you referred to it as what’s common sense. However, it’s revolutionary in the franchise space for what is traditionally known as a franchise sales organization to take that step beyond an FSO. Also, do the backend and some of that upfront due diligence, as you clarified there. There’s this dance that’s ongoing to support that franchise organization’s growth. Would you mind leaning in? What does that dance look like? Clearly, that’s what I think is probably the most revolutionary component of the REP’M Group.

We like to say we don’t identify as an FSO. The reason why is, at some point, it can be reckless. I’m not saying everyone’s reckless with it out there, but I do think that there are components of franchising that need to be looked at before you go and dump 100 units on any branch. It’s about responsible growth, and that’s what we focus on. It’s ensuring that before we ever launch, we do the right foundational work so that when we do go load 100, 200, 400, or 500 licenses on a brand, that foundation is sound.

That can be as short as 3 or 4 months of work before ever launching a brand or 9 or 10 months of work, depending on where the starting point is and what they have coming in from the corporate side. It’s identifying that foundation, looking at the standard operating procedures that they operate and their corporate units or maybe small franchise team, and the training the franchisees are going to receive.

Those are some of the items in this onion that we peel back. Also, understanding those allows us to then say, “Everything that is best in practice is in place. Now we’re ready to go sell it.” It also does another thing, which is interesting. It helps us tell the story better to the franchisees. Nothing is worse than buying a franchise and the franchise salesperson is telling you whatever you want to hear, but then you experience something different on the backside. It’s understanding those operations, what happens when a license is sold, and what happens in years 2 or 5. It is crucial to be able to do franchise sales responsibly in the right way.

Back to validation and snowball, it creates that validation and snowball effect. It’s important to then be able to sell more and continue this growth. If you think about it from a franchisor perspective, we’re adding a lot of resources to you as a franchisor or emerging brand especially. It’s because a lot of times, you would’ve had to pull in full for sales.

If you were brick and mortar, you’d have a real estate and construction arm helping folks get opened. Operationally, you may have hired someone in a C-level, but a lot of these things can be done later in the system because our company, at REP’M, we’re bridging that gap by making sure that’s all done on us, and we have to perform to be able to pay for that.

We do our diligence on the front end to make sure that when we look at a brand, we’re willing to bet on it. We’re betting a lot of money because we’re fronting a lot of human capital and resources to be able to tip up these brands. It’s an all-encompassing solution for growth and growth the right way being able to do it the confident way and creating the right foundation. That’s what we strive for. We’ve now seen some of them go to some big numbers, and we feel confident about how that’s been executed. It lets us sleep at night, so we feel good about it.

As you were talking, I was thinking about staying on a theme here and a building being built. You don’t see much happening for quite some time. It’s a hole in the ground, and a lot of that foundational work is being done. All of a sudden, it seems like overnight, the building goes up. For so long, it was a hole in the ground, and there was so much work being put into that foundational work.

From a practical standpoint, something that I enjoy is being able to meet with the leadership team at REP’M alongside our leadership team, whether it’s a new revenue stream or even something as simple as shifting up the org chart or quarterly strategies. As a leadership team, we’ve been able to lean on the experience of somebody like Jason Ryan, who was the president of Maaco. That is a day-in, day-out, and such an X-factor and something that I’ve appreciated.

Ultimately, it helped me grow confidently. I appreciate that. I think it’s something that most certainly helps our audience understand and level up their understanding of what it takes to scale an organization. You’ve spent much of your career in franchising. I’m curious, Rob, why do you love franchising so much?

It’s awesome. It’s such a cool feeling to help people break out and be their own or add to their portfolio or whatever it is. This is not the norm. A lot of us get in the rat race and hunkered down into a corporate job and see others do it. However, helping people get out of that and seeing their families and lifestyle change is super rewarding. Our goal is to make sure that we provide that path and for the franchisees to follow that path.

A good franchisor like Lime has great procedures. If they follow it, it works. We make sure that we provide that. That’s the best we can do and it’s up to the franchisee to do it. When that comes together, you see the path laid out that they’ve taken that road, and it’s led to some life-changing stuff. It’s cool to see it all blossom. That’s what I love. It’s super rewarding.

Another part of what I love is I got into this business young, and I love working with young people that want to also be in some type of similar role. This allows me to do a lot of that. When I got in, there were a lot of 50 to 60-year-old folks. There are not a lot of young people and females. When I look at our workforce now, we’re a super young group. We’re 2/3 female at our business. I think it’s a testament to the opportunity and where things are going.

I’ve always appreciated one of the things that Nick Sheehan has said. He only works with aces, that team that you were talking about. It’s been a pleasure to see that team take shape. I always enjoy my time hanging out with the REP’M Group. It’s a great group of individuals. I most certainly have leveled up on this show. Rob Cambruzzi, thanks so much.

I appreciate it, Nick. Thank you so much.

If you have also enjoyed this show, please give this video a like or subscribe to the channel. Through your subscribing, we’re able to continue to grow and do just this. To help others level up by speaking to thought leaders like Rob Cambruzzi in the franchise space, business, and high-performance personal development. Go ahead and drop a comment. Contribute to this conversation. We talked about some pretty dynamic topics. I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts. As always, level up.

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About Rob Cambruzzi

LUNL 9 | Career Journey

Rob Cambruzzi, founder and CEO of Rep’M Group, is a driven and passionate entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in the franchise development industry. Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Rob was exposed to the world of land development and construction from a young age, learning the ropes from his father. He went on to pursue a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and landed his first job at a real estate and land development company. From there, Rob made his mark at Driven Brands as Director of Franchise Sales before eventually working his way up to Vice President of Franchise Development.

It was at this point that he decided to pursue his own entrepreneurial journey, launching RPM, a commercial real estate project management company, in 2017. Joined by Jason Ryan and Nick Sheehan in subsequent years, the trio rebranded the company as Rep’M Group in February 2020, with a mission to help emerging and seasoned franchisors grow sustainably and responsibly.

Rob’s passion for mentoring young entrepreneurs in the franchise industry shines through in his approach at Rep’M. With his vast knowledge and expertise, Rob has helped many franchisors and franchise sales groups achieve successful growth and create confident brands. As Rep’M Group continues to thrive under his leadership, there’s no doubt that Rob’s entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to success will continue to propel the company forward.