Small Business Center
When you start your own business, you retain complete control over your business’ direction. Franchise owners, by contrast, operate within predefined guidelines and standards set by the franchisor to ensure uniformity across the brand. For Coreen Cammarano, the franchise owner of 11 The Joint Chiropractic locations, the choice was an easy one. “I know myself,” she said. “It’s my personality. I love structure. I love school. I admire people who can start from the ground up, but personally, I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel.” And Cammarano believed it would be easier to get financing for a known franchise’s proven concept and brand than to convince lenders or investors to back an untested business idea.
Cammarano talked to ICSC Small Business Center contributing editor Rebecca Meiser about her reasons for starting a business in her 40s, lessons she’s learned along the way and things to think about before deciding to commit to a franchise.
The Joint Chiropractic franchisee Coreen Cammarano. Photo credit for image at top, in Bloomingdale, Illinois: Jesus A. Gonzalez
I was 39 years old when I found a lump in my breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. It changed my whole perspective of life and how I was living it. I had been a stay-at-home mom before then. I love being a mom — I have four kids — but [after my diagnosis] I met a bunch of women that were in a group called the Young Survival Coalition, and it was all women under 40. They all had careers, and I started to be like: “Did I miss something?” I got married right out of college and started having kids. [After those meetings], I looked at my husband and I said: “You know what? I really feel like I want to try something. I want to have my own business.”
I majored in history in college, and actually, a lot of people with history degrees go into business. It’s because we recognize that history always repeats itself, and business is very much that way. But because I did not have a business background — that was another reason I wanted to go into a franchise.
I was actually going to open a juice bar franchise called Juice Bar. I am very into juicing and natural living. I went through a lot of the discovery phase, which lasted about six months, but [then] the juice bar franchise looked at me and said: “Do you have any background in foodservice?” I said: “I worked at Little Caesars when I was 15.” They were very honest. They said: “This probably isn’t for you. If you’re going to get involved in foodservice, you really need to have a foodservice background.” I came home very dejected. I didn’t know what to do. But my husband is a chiropractor. He has his own practice, and I’ve been married to him every day he’s been a chiropractor. [One day], I looked at him and said: “I want to open a chiropractic franchise.” My husband said: “That’s literally the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
I started Googling chiropractic franchises, and I found The Joint Chiropractic. I love that it was a membership model. [Instead of pay-per-visit and copays, families pay a membership fee for a set number of monthly visits.] By that point, my husband was on board. He liked the model because he believes that the future of the profession is that type of payment-delivery system.
I didn’t, but I bought two franchise licenses to begin with because that was their suggestion. They said: “It’s like children. Once you have one, you might as well have more.” And it turns out that’s very true. Now, I would not ever want to have only one location. Honestly, it’s no more work to manage three or four than it is one.
I had two in Illinois. One was in Aurora, where I’m from, and the other one in Bloomingdale. Then I decided wanted to go to another state. I asked [the franchisor team]: “What’s open?” They said Oklahoma. I was like: Where’s Oklahoma? I’ve never been there. So I went to Oklahoma. I was there for about 48 hours, and I came home and I bought all the licenses for the state.
When you buy a franchise license, you’re buying the ability to open a business and be part of that team. You’re buying all the franchise’s systems. You’re buying access to any proprietary information they might have. You’re also buying into their system and network. I have people, for instance, at corporate I can go to and say: “Hey, I really need advice on this,” and they help me. I’ve talked with everyone from Peter Holt, who is the CEO, down to the administrative people. To me, that’s well worth the price of admission. Most franchise licenses, no matter what concept you’re in, are probably going to be between $30,000 and $60,000 just for one unit. I was right in between that.
The other important thing to know is you’re going to be able to get bank financing that you would never be able to get as an individual because they know an Orangetheory, for example, is going to do better than somebody just opening up a workout gym because people know the model.
Tulsa is a self-contained area where I own all the licenses. With a new potential location [there], the [Joint Chiropractic franchise team] gives you a map and they say: “This is where we think you should go, on this general street.” Then you get a top-notch realtor to help. These realtors work with you because you’re a franchisee of a major company. Most of these realtors are not going to work with a mom and pop shop.
Then you put a site selection ticket in and you say: “This is why I think this is a good location to go to.” Of my 11 units, one of them, which is very successful — they told me not to go into. They said: “That’s not a good unit. You don’t want to go there.” They ultimately let me because it was in my town. It’s where I lived. I said: “Trust me, that’s a good spot. It doesn’t look good on paper, but I know that area,” and they said OK. And I was right.
I would never have done that if I didn’t know the area because they do have a full-time genius on staff. His name is Richard Matthews, and Richard just knows markets and he’s got great contacts. I had a question about a site, and he called somebody at PetSmart corporate because there was a PetSmart near the site and asked them how the sales on that unit were. They have contacts that I would never have had.
Every one of my units in Oklahoma do above average of The Joint system.
I’m very fortunate that I can email anyone at corporate, including the CEO, and believe me I’ve emailed him. I’ve even emailed him long Cori rants. He will call me back and has even given me his cellphone number. He once told me if I was going to yell at anyone, I had to yell at him first because I was known for calling and yelling at people at corporate. But that, to me, is a loving and cooperative relationship where I’m trying to do the best I can to make them look good and they’re trying to help me look good.
The unexpected power of franchising is the franchise community itself. Everything I learned, I learned from other franchisees. They are like older brothers and sisters. I can go to them and say: “Hey, I’m having trouble hiring. What am I doing wrong?” or “Am I not doing a good job screening my front desk candidates? Why are they leaving after four months?” or “What did you do when this piece of equipment broke?” That community was a real, added benefit. I think that’s why a lot of small businesses fail: Everyone is a competitor versus a co-worker. There are 900 Joints open right now and I have made over 100 friends that I can text, call or email, and it has made all the difference.
My youngest son now is in college, so I am in Florida every month, I’m in Oklahoma every month and of course I’m at home in Illinois every month. I go to all of the [locations]. I have a great operations manager who helps me, and she’s based out of Tulsa, which is my hardest market to manage. The hardest thing is your work-life-family balance. There’s always something that’s going to get shortchanged. It’s just a matter of making sure that what gets shortchanged is a constantly rotating wheel. Maybe this month, I forget to text some of my friends as much, but maybe next month, I don’t get to my emails as fast. Maybe the month after that I go on a bunch of date nights with my husband. As long as you don’t get stuck in the same groove of shafting the same part of your life, it’s all going to be OK. There’s never a perfect balance.
Ask current franchisees about their experience — and not just one franchisee. Go and see their business. I asked to hang out in their lobbies. And ask for help once you get into it. Lean on your peers because they will help. In my seven years, I’ve had one person not return my phone call, and I think that person just didn’t do it because they either didn’t get my message or they’re just really busy.
In five years, I’ll probably just be opening my last couple of Joints. I’ll let them mature for a couple of years and then I’m probably going to end up selling my holdings. I’m 55 years old and my husband is 61. I’ll be honest: I wish I’d started this when I was 35.
By Rebecca Meiser
Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today and Small Business Center