Franchises offer independence
By Vicki Vaughan, Staff Writer
Mike Krumel looks over his notes while inspecting the kitchen of a home in Helotes. Krumel, who had a long career as a manufacturers representative for homebuilding products before retiring, now owns a Pillar to Post franchise that specialize in home inspections.
Photo: Robin Jerstad
Michael Krumel had a satisfying 25-year career as a manufacturer's representative, selling products to home builders and subcontractors in a vast territory: the southwestern United States.
Krumel, who was self-employed, was successful enough to bring on two partners before he sold his business a few years ago.
He enjoyed retirement for a time, but boredom soon set in.
He decided to attend the International Builders Show in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2012, mostly because he was looking for something to do.
Krumel wasn't thinking of buying a franchise, but at the builders show, he learned about Pillar To Post, a home inspection franchise. The more he thought about it, the more he thought it would be a good business opportunity.
Krumel bought a Pillar To Post franchise a year ago, and he was at work the next month.
“What really attracted me to Pillar To Post was the fact that I don't have inventory and accounts receivable.” He knew he didn't want to own a restaurant franchise.
“What I really like about Pillar To Post is that I can set my own schedule,” he said. “And there's always a need for home inspections.”
Krumel, 50, figures he can be as busy as he wants to be, and he may hire employees eventually. When he's ready to slow down, he'll be able to do that. “It's something I can do into my 80s,” he said.
Krumel took a path that many have taken or considered. But it's not a decision to be taken lightly.
The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates franchises, provides resources and advice on its website. And UTSA's Small Business Development Center offers free consultations to those who own a business or are thinking of buying one.
“The benefit of buying a franchise is that hopefully you're buying a proven and successful business model that you can emulate,” said Richard Sifuentes, assistant director at the Small Business Development Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
But there's no guarantee of success, said Sifuentes, who has a long list of do's and don'ts when he meets with clients who are considering it.
“There's not a whole lot of difference between starting a business and looking into a franchise,” Sifuentes said. “You still have to do your research. We always preach that you have to have knowledge of the industry and the business.
“It's not enough to say you want to go into the restaurant business just because you can make a mean brisket.”
The successful business owner will need to understand the business as well as know how to manage people and money, he said.
Sifuentes also suggests that the prospective purchaser of a franchise make a personal visit to the franchisor's headquarters.
“Are they just a post office box? Or is there a real headquarters? And what is the business experience of the franchisor's officers, directors and owners?”
Also, it's important to call existing franchisees and those who have gotten out of the business, he said, a step that Krumel took.
Obviously, it's important to ask what the franchise fees and royalties are, Sifuentes said.
While some franchises can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — or much more if it's a chain like McDonald's — the cost of a Pillar To Post franchise is much less, $14,900, said Brian Wieters, Pillar To Post's vice president of franchise sales. The total investment ranges from $25,000 to $30,000.
Krumel said he spent between $25,000 and $27,000, which included tools and equipment.
Pillar To Post's franchise fee includes travel to Toronto for training. Franchisees also get support in the field from nine regional directors who are scattered across the country, Wieters said.
Pillar To Post, founded in 1994, is attracting buyers from “fairly diverse backgrounds,” Wieters said, but most have been in construction or are do-it-yourself home remodelers.
For now, Krumel is handling one or two home inspections a day and he's pleased with that level of work.
“I'm as excited now,” he said, “as I was when I started.”