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McClatchy-Tribune  08/02/2014 10:45 AM ET
Profit potential: Is a franchise the right business model for you? [Billings Gazette, Mont. :: ]

Aug. 02--"Ribbit!" It's the first sound one hears after opening the front door at Big Frog, a new business specializing in custom T-shirts, apparel and gifts. Big Frog's amphibian-inspired doorbell and a décor that's designed around a rain forest, aims to be fun.

Teens who cruise the Shiloh Crossing neighborhood on bikes or scooters sometimes give the front door a nudge just to hear the frog. Days after the store officially opened, walk-in business was picking up.

"So far we've done shirts for six or seven family reunions, and we also did one for a judge who was riding in a parade. She needed it right away, and she loved it," said Brett Maas, owner of the Billings Big Frog store. The Billings store is the 60th outlet for Big Frog Custom T-shirts and More, a Florida-based franchise company.

Maas was looking for a new career after his job was eliminated by Charter Communications last year. He had opportunities to remain in the telecommunications business, but that would have meant moving his family out of Billings. After taking advantage of a placement service provided after he left Charter, Maas began exploring the possibility of opening a business, and investing in a franchise was one option.

During the process, Maas met with a Denver-based franchise consultant, who helped him explore what types of businesses would suit his strengths and business background.

"She put me through a series of tests, almost like a Myers Briggs assessment that's supposed to help match your personality, how much money you want to make and your lifestyle," Maas said.

Test results showed that consulting businesses, web design firms, business coaching and even a sign company were potentially good matches for his skills. Independently, he had heard about Big Frog, and before long he began taking a serious look at the company.

One important step is discovery day, where prospective franchisees learn about the nuts and bolts of running the business, as well as rules, guidelines and expectations from the franchisor.

Maas was impressed by what he saw. "They were amazingly entrepreneurial, and it gave me the feeling this is something the whole family could do. I felt a sense of being in common with the guys who run the business," he said, and the company's training was thorough and professional.

Big Frog relies on direct-to-garment printing, a technology that allows designers to take a digital image and print it directly to a shirt or another object at an affordable price. To get an idea of how the DTG process works, it uses technology that's similar to how an ink-jet printer works on paper, Maas said.

"We can print on a lot of things, like aprons or even mouse pads," Maas said.

Big Frog's designers can create a single T-shirt or dozens of garments from a customer's photograph or a hand-drawn image.

Big Frog requires franchisees to be involved in their communities, and that represented a big plus when he was looking at the company, Maas said. Big Frog helps schools or other non-profit organizations raise money by providing rebates for merchandise that's sold.

So far, Maas is excited about being involved in a franchise, a business model with a storied history that was made famous by McDonald's, Holiday Inn and other multinational companies.

Franchising continues to help the economy grow, experts say. FRANdata, a company that analyzes franchising activity, estimates that demand for franchise units will grow by 12 percent this year, the largest increase since 2009. IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting company, estimates that franchises will account for 220,000 new jobs this year.

Investing in a franchise is commonly seen as a lower risk strategy for developing a profitable business. But experts advise potential franchisees to do their homework before plunking down money.


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