“Corporate Grind” To The Franchise Growth Model With Wes Barefoot
Nick Lopez and Wes Barefoot talk about how Wes fell into franchising by joining an up-and-coming franchise company called 101 Mobility. Wes found his path to freedom and escape from the “Corporate Grind” through franchising. After 101 Mobility, he joined ShelfGenie, where potential franchise owners fit well. Wes talks about how he and his wife Kelly have become top-performing ShelfGenie franchise owners themselves. Wes sheds light on the importance of how to build a team within the home services model. By doing so, Wes and Kelly establish the time and financial independence that franchise ownership provides. Today, Wes uses his franchise experiences to help consult with potential franchise owners by helping them understand if franchise ownership is for them, if so, what brand fits their interests, skills, and lifestyle goals. Tune into this episode to learn from one of the top franchise consultants at one of the world’s most renowned franchise consulting networks in FranChoice.
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“Corporate Grind” To The Franchise Growth Model With Wes Barefoot
Drop into this episode with Wes Barefoot as he shares his Path to Freedom through entrepreneurship
Welcome to the Level Up show with Nick Lopez, where we get the absolute pleasure of learning from thought leaders in business, franchising, and high-performance personal development. Our guest goes without exception. He’s a very successful entrepreneur, a savvy franchise operator. In fact, he’s been very instrumental in helping multiple national franchise brands grow. He also routinely hosts a podcast show himself called Path 2 Freedom. More importantly, he’s an incredible matchmaker as he’s a franchise consultant with one of the world’s best franchise networks in FranChoice. Wes Barefoot, welcome to the show.
Nick, I feel like I need to write you a check for that nice intro. How much do I owe you? I appreciate the kind words. Always a pleasure chatting with you. I really appreciate the opportunity to come onto your show. I was very excited when I heard you were starting a show, so nice work.
It’s all about helping others level up, and you’re a perfect person to have on the show. Everything I said is well deserved.
I appreciate that. I love the name of the show, though. Level Up. I think that’s a really good name and a really good mission.
That’s what life’s all about. Leveling up.
I agree. I’ll tell you a real quick story. I was going to wear a shirt that I thought would be appropriate for this. It says, “Growth until the grave,” or something like that. Unfortunately, it was a white shirt and one of my kids spilled chocolate milk on it this morning. Maybe next time.
Life of a dad. No kidding. You’ve clearly had this incredible career in franchising. I wouldn’t necessarily say that people raise their hand and say, “I’m going to be in franchising.” There’s a saying, “Franchising has a way of finding you.” I’m curious. How did franchising find you, Wes?
It’s interesting being in franchising and talking to people that have been in it for a long time. Everyone does have an interesting story of how they fell backwards into franchising. To your point, no one really seeks it out. My story is no different in that. I did fall backwards into franchising. It’s just a lucky coincidence of events and introductions. It’s opened so many doors since then.
I got out of college in 2009. For those that can remember that timeframe. Not exactly ideal timing to be a kid out of college with no real work experience and going to find a job. I was able to get a job with a large corporation called Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Most people here have probably heard of it. They have what they call a management trainee program.
They hire kids right out of college. The only requirement is that you have to have a four-year degree. I did that for about three years and moved up through the ranks and got into a management level. Through that, I did get a taste of what the corporate grind was going to be like. A year to a year and a half in, I’ve gotten my first couple of promotions with Enterprise.
At that point in time, my long-term vision was, “I want to be a group rental manager.” Whatever the titles were, I wanted to keep climbing that corporate ladder. As I did it more, and as I learned from some of the managers that I had, I got to see how much of a bottleneck you can run in Corporate America if you want to stay with the same company.
I was working for guys that had been with the company for fifteen years or more, and they’d hit a ceiling at a certain level. Even if they were going to move up, they had to be willing to uproot their family and move to wherever in the country the position was open. Through all of that, luckily, I did figure out earlier in my career than a lot of people do that I didn’t necessarily want to sign up for 20-plus years of that corporate grind.
That got my wheels turning. I got some amazing experiences in the process. I’m very thankful for the time I spent there. I got to learn how to interact with people and think on my feet. I got to learn how to hire, train, and manage people. First got experience in looking at a profit and loss statement, and understanding how all of that works.
It’s a great experience. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I’m not still doing it. I moved back to Wilmington, North Carolina, where I live now. By chance, I got introduced to a couple of guys that had founded a company called 101 Mobility. I just got introduced to them through what are now my in-laws. This was a young company at that time.
They had started franchising the business a year or two prior to me meeting them. They had a handful of franchisees. They were in growth mode. They were looking for young people that were hungry. I didn’t know the first thing about franchising. Certainly, I had no idea that franchising would play such an instrumental role in my professional development.
It seemed like a cool opportunity. It had a lot more of that startup field coming from a huge company like Enterprise did. I hit it off with the founders, so they hired me. I think my original title was Franchise Support Specialist or something like that. I was basically the person in the home office that was responsible for helping the franchisees with anything. I was the main point of contact.
Instead of franchisees having a directory of, “Here’s who we reach out to about marketing. Here’s who we reach out to about the software,” Wes is your guy. If Wes doesn’t have the answer, he’ll go get it for you or he’ll put you in touch with the right person. That was a really good experience for me because I just started learning how franchising works.
Understanding that dynamic of the relationship between the franchisor and the franchisees. It also forced me to dive into that business and learn every aspect of that business, which helped me as I grew through the ranks in that particular company. I became a jack of all trades within that business because I had to familiarize myself with so many different parts of the business in order to do that job and help those franchisees.
That was great. I developed some good relationships. I still stay in touch with a lot of those franchise owners now. I’m a business partner with one of the founders of that brand, which we can maybe touch on a little bit later. I’m really good friends with the CEO of that company. He’s gone on to be a friend and mentor. From there, as that brand started growing, they opened up some other opportunities for me, but I don’t want to get ahead if you’ve got some other specific questions. I’ll pause and see if you want to unpack any of that a little bit more.
I think something that’s interesting is, you talked about Enterprise’s training program. It’s very well-known and very high-quality. They have a great path to keep leveling up throughout your career. That corporate grind, if you will. You had said that the corporate grind really wasn’t for you. Why?
I can look back at it now and pretty confidently say I had realized that that’s not what I wanted to do for my entire career. I don’t know if it was so clear to me at that time the way it all came about without getting too into the weeds. I’m from North Carolina. I grew up and went to college in North Carolina, and met the girl that is now my wife in North Carolina, but she went to college in Louisiana at LSU. She’s a couple of years younger than me.
When I get out of college, I go to Baton Rouge to be with her while she finishes school. That’s where I started working for Enterprise and I’d gotten myself up to the branch manager level there. We decided to move back to Wilmington when she got out of college. I was able to transfer with Enterprise, but I had to go back to almost the very beginning of the management trainee program.
I wasn’t able to keep the same level of seniority that I had worked my way up to. That just put a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. If that wouldn’t have happened, maybe I’d still be working at Enterprise. I don’t think that’s the case, it’s impossible to say, but that’s what got my wheels turning in terms of looking at other opportunities.
When I did meet these guys at 101 Mobility, it just felt different. It felt like a startup. It was fast-paced. Everyone’s opinion was appreciated. It felt like I had more impact because it was a smaller organization. As I mentioned before, I had some foreshadowing with a long-term career with Enterprise, or any big corporation, because it does start to bottleneck.
If you want to keep working your way up, those positions are fewer. Further between, there’s more competition to get them. The thing with Enterprise was, I’d seen a guy that had 4 kids and 18 years with the company pick up and move to Idaho, just so he could get a promotion. I didn’t have kids or anything at the time, but I’m like, “That seems a little crazy to me.” I think it was some of that. My dad had more of a traditional career, 40 years in the pharmaceutical industry, most of that with one company. He did well and provided a great life for us, but it didn’t click with me. I couldn’t envision myself spending that much time working for one company.
Your life changed. You moved to Death Valley.
Yes, with real tigers. There are a lot of imposter tigers out there. Those were the good days. It’s not looking so hot this season, but that’s for another time.
Give it a year or two, they’ll be all right. Life is taking you one way. The bureaucracy, the red tape of a corporation is holding you back, and it seemed pretty unfair. Thankfully, you found this startup environment with 101 Mobility. You hit it off with the founder and were assigned this support specialist role, go-to for support. It’s such an important role. What was that like supporting owners?
It was good. At that time, it wasn’t too crazy because there were 6 or 7 franchisees. It wasn’t like I had to go out and develop relationships with 100-plus franchisees. That gave me a little more bandwidth to dive in and learn what I needed to learn to effectively support these franchise owners. I do remember starting a young company, so it wasn’t like I had this very clear job description.
They were like, “Here’s some basic training. Here’s the general idea of what your role is. Go get them, Tiger.” That sort of thing. I remember the first day, I’m sitting there and I had a little cubicle. I was like, “What do I do?” Finally, I was like, “If I’m going to be supporting these franchise owners, I guess I ought to reach out to them and introduce myself.” That was where I started. That was a good experience for me as the brand kept growing and developing relationships with these franchise owners. The biggest thing that came from that was understanding that dynamic in franchising that’s different from most other types of businesses. These franchise owners, at the end of the day, were my clients in that business. I was there to serve them and to add value to them.
There’s sometimes going to be friction between the franchisor and the franchise owner. It’s inevitable. Me, at a pretty young age, learning how to navigate that, where you can’t tell a franchise owner what to do necessarily because they own a business. You can give advice and make suggestions. Especially for someone in my position at that time, I couldn’t say, “This is what you need to do.”
That was valuable for me to learn how to navigate those types of relationships. Through that, I got introduced because I started helping out the guy that was doing franchise development. I got a little bit of insight into how that whole world works and the process that somebody goes through to actually evaluate a franchise business and do the due diligence.
I got introduced to the wild and exciting world of franchise consulting or franchise brokering, which I can remember piqued my interest. As soon as I figured out, there are brokers or consultants that help match people up with franchises. I remember some of them coming into the office for a discovery day, and it really piqued my interest. It’s interesting to look back, and now I’m in that world as well. There are a lot of good things that came from it. Because it was a startup, it was a lot of me taking initiative and me figuring out where can I add the most value. I think that has served me well.
Developing that art of being in business with other business owners is not that bureaucracy or that hierarchy of, “This is how things are done. Do them at this time on this day.” It’s a partnership. It’s a value-driven relationship, meaning providing value in the form of coaching. Training and supporting that owner is a lot different than telling them what to do. On the flip side of the coin, it’s a more traditional corporate setting. Clearly, learning right in the core of a franchise system, what were some of the things that you realized made you successful in coaching and helping an owner from a support standpoint?
I was liked by the franchise owners, and so I think that was a big part of what translated to success. In that type of role, there weren’t any metrics that I was being engaged by. It wasn’t like, “Wes solved X number of problems this week for franchisees, so A+, you get a raise.” It wasn’t a bar necessarily. I guess the metric was, “Did my bosses get good feedback from the franchisees that l was a resource and someone that they could count on to help?”
Part of it was me understanding that if I’m going to be supporting these people, I need to get to know them. As I developed relationships and started to understand how different franchise owners operated and different personalities and stuff like that, then I could tailor my approach. There were some franchise owners with that I could have a conversation in a very different way, but it would land.
Whereas if I had the same conversation with another owner, it would not have landed. I learned that you have to communicate with people in different ways depending on just their personality and style. I naturally figured some of that out. The other thing was, I took it very seriously that I’m your one point of contact. I don’t want you to have to make multiple phone calls to get an answer to a question or to figure something out. That’s my job.
You have to communicate with people in different ways depending on their personality and style.
You call me, let me know what the issue is, and I’ll let you know upfront. I won’t try to BS you. If I don’t know the answer, I’m not going to pretend like I do, but I’m going to go find the answer for you. It’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this until we’re talking through it. What I do as a consultant now, I think of it as connecting dots. I don’t sell anything. I connect dots.
I work with people that have an interest in business ownership. I work with a lot of great franchise companies like yours, and I connect dots and I facilitate. That’s a lot of what that role really was. Every day was a little bit different. I didn’t necessarily go in knowing, “This is what I’ve got today.” It was like, “What’s going to pop up, and how can I handle it?”
I probably didn’t realize any of this at that time, but looking back on it now, what a good experience to have. Problem-solving and relationship development, while at the same time getting exposure to a young emerging franchise company and everything that comes with that. It opened my eyes to the world of franchising. It got me thinking more entrepreneurially because I’m talking to all of these business owners. A lot of those early franchisees in that brand had other businesses, too. I’m learning from very entrepreneurial people, including the founders of the brand. It got me thinking more entrepreneurially. It got me thinking, “If these people are doing it, I could do this too, at some point.”
It starts with the relationship with that person. Every person is different. Each person is unique. Build the relationship and establish trust. That is obviously going to help you connect those dots. That’s where the magic happens. Many owners are right in the middle of it. It’s not always easy to see above the trees. Specifically relating to that person, building that relationship, establishing that trust, and connecting those dots. I love it.
I think it doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life or in business, those are things that translate. That’s a skillset that you can’t learn in a classroom. If you have that skillset, it’ll benefit you in so many ways going forward. It translates to anything.
I want to change gears here. I know with 101 Mobility, you eventually started helping on a national level, acquiring national accounts. Can you share with us what that was like and some of the successes that came from that? I can only imagine that giving franchise owners national accounts was a good thing. It probably helped with that trust and connecting dots.
It did. I think that role would’ve been a lot harder had I not been in that support role first because I was pioneering that particular position with this company. It wasn’t like there was a former national accounts guy and I took their place. It was just as the brand was growing. Probably less franchisees than LIME has now.
We were starting to get to a little more of a national footprint, but we weren’t there yet. We’re probably talking 30 to 40 franchisees, but pretty good coverage throughout the country. You know the guy that was the CEO of the company at that time, Dave Pazgan. When I got into that role, I started reporting to Dave. Dave, to this day, is the smartest individual I’ve ever met. I’ve learned a lot from him.
I can call him a really good friend. He and I own a franchise in the same brand together. Anyways, I remember being intimidated in a role reporting to Dave. He’s very smart, but he’s also the type of guy that wants you to figure it out. He’s not going to micromanage or give you a ton of detail or instructions. I can remember sitting down with him, and him talking to me about this position, and it was very vague. He’s like, “We’re getting big. There are some national relationships out there that we should go leverage in. You’ve done a really good job. The franchisees like you, so we think you’re the guy for this role. If you’re interested, we can talk more.”
It sounds great. These are the exact words he said, “Here’s an Amex. Go turn some rocks over, and see what you can come up with.” That was it. 101 Mobility is not a cell phone company. A lot of people think it is. We were doing wheelchair ramps, stair lifts, and platform lifts. It was accessibility and mobility equipment for elderly people or people with physical disabilities.
We did a lot of work with the VA hospital. There are a lot of organizations that operate out there nationally that could have some synergy with a business like 101 Mobility but we didn’t have any game plan or any direction. Because of that, I went down a lot of rabbit holes. We ended up figuring out, “What are the types of national accounts that can actually drive more revenue to the franchisees?”
That’s the whole point. How can we create some relationships at the national level? They’re going to funnel business down to the franchisees. That’s going to be business that they likely would not have been able to tap into, had it not been for the national relationship. Since we didn’t have a ton of direction when we started this program, there was some trial and error.
I had to lean pretty heavily on my relationships with the franchisees when I would come to them and say, “This is an organization that I’ve been talking to. This is where there could be some opportunity, but I need a couple of franchisees to help me pilot this for a few months to see if there’s anything there.” I needed to get the buy-in from the franchisees.
I needed them to be willing to try some different things from how they’d always done business before. There were some duds. There were some times where I asked franchisees, “Go out and meet with this person, or go out and look at this job.” It just didn’t end up being a great use of their time, but through that, we learned and figured out what did make sense for us at a national account level.
I was probably in that role for a year and a half or so. I handed it off to someone else. They’re still running national accounts and they’ve built a lot from where they were when I stepped out. In the first year, we figured out how to drive at least $1.5 million or $2 million in additional revenue throughout the system, and I think it’s built significantly since then.
There was some success, but there was some trial and error. A lot of that success was just a fact that franchisees trusted me. They knew I was out there trying to find additional opportunities for them, but they were willing to participate and help us figure it out. If you’re setting up a national account, one bad apple can ruin it for everyone.
If you got 80 franchisees doing a great job and 1 or 2 franchisees do a crappy job or ignore the lead, opportunity, request, or whatever it is, that could blow the whole program up. That was another good experience for me. Getting out there, having these types of bigger picture conversations and taking initiative on my own, a very little direction, figuring out what made sense for me to prioritize.
Again, you can’t tell a franchisee they have to do this. It’s figuring out how you navigate, “I got this relationship. It’s showing potential, but I don’t necessarily have data to prove that yet.” If you’re dealing with a franchisee that’s maybe set in their ways, how do you convince them that it’s worth their time to try this without being able to tell them that they have to try it? I think I developed a skill for navigating those types of situations.
You can't tell the franchisee they have to do this, it's figuring out how to navigate the relationship that has potential.
Any growing franchise is innovating. Anything that’s being innovated, you’re on the forefront of it. There is going to be trial and error. With that trial and error, there has to be trust and a relationship there. Otherwise, it’s not going to be a successful program.
One of the brands we own right now, to build on that a little bit, is still what I would consider an emerging franchise. They have probably well over 100 franchisees at this point, but some of those are not yet open. The brand itself is no more than two and a half years old. They’re at a point now where they’re figuring out where’s there an opportunity for us in national accounts. What works and what doesn’t? Same thing I was doing at 101.
I’ve heard franchisees complaining because they’ve rolled out a couple of relationships that at the end of the day, weren’t going to be game-changers for any franchisees or move the needle. I’ve heard franchisees are complaining, “What a waste of time. I can’t believe they want us to do this.” I’m like, “Hold up.” I’d be complaining if they weren’t out there trying to figure out this type of stuff.
I don’t care if we tried working with this one organization and it didn’t pan out. I like that they’re thinking like this, they’re trying, turning over rocks, and seeing what sticks. Since then, they’ve rolled out a relationship with Lowe’s Home Improvement, which is going to be a game-changer for us. To your point, any emerging or mature brand should always be looking for ways to innovate, but the franchisees need to be willing to participate in that.
It’s for any company that wants to remain relevant. Otherwise, you’re going to be Kodak or Blockbuster. At the core of a franchise, unlike a corporation, it’s a partnership. You can’t be a consumer as a franchise owner. If you’re a consumer, you have demands and expectations. If you’re banging your hand on the table, you have low trust, and you’re not invested in the relationship, that’s a consumer.
I’m an owner. I pay a fee. I’m full of demands. That’s one way to be a franchise partner or a franchise owner. The flip side of the coin is a franchise partner. A partner is much different. There’s an understanding that we’re in business together. If we’re at the forefront of a program, we’re innovating, there’s going to be trial and error.
As long as there is communication in that, and the franchise owner is heard in that innovation, that’s only a good thing. Maybe as a franchise owner, you’re not that interested in being at the cutting edge, but some owners are. Clearly, it’s important for franchise owners to want accountability and have high expectations, but there’s a balance there.
I would talk about this all the time in our franchise. Being a consumer versus being a franchise partner. There’s a very big difference there. That goes back to what you were talking about the relationship and trust. That’s the responsibility of the franchisor. It’s to create that community where the franchise owners are heard and involved. They’re invested in the franchise owner’s success, and that’s where it all starts.
Encouraging innovation is important. Talking about 101 Mobility, I could give you an example where one of the early franchisees started renting wheelchair ramps to people that had knee surgery. They needed it for a few months while they were rehabbing. They didn’t need to buy a wheelchair ramp because they weren’t going to need it long-term. That was new at that time.
Now, that’s a staple in that business. They’ve got individual franchisees doing millions of dollars a year in rental revenue. That’s just in addition to their core business. That came from one franchisee having an idea that the franchisor didn’t shut it down. They said, “Let us know what we can do to help you figure out if there is something to this.”
Now, it’s a staple part of that business and it’s one of the most attractive parts of that business because the margins on the rentals are insane. There are so many examples like that out there. As a franchise consultant, part of what I’m doing is I’m connecting dots and matching people up. I have these types of conversations with people because there are people that are going to do better in a franchise. They get to be more of a pioneer and innovative and think outside of the box.