Terri, how did you get started with Creative Colors International?
Well, my parents, JoAnn and Jim, originally launched J&J’s Creative Colors as a leather and vinyl repair company in 1980 in Tinley Park, Illinois, when I was only 15 years old. I worked for the family business for a few months after I graduated high school, but living at home while working in the family business was a bit overwhelming. I wanted to pursue a different career path that would allow me to achieve the coveted work-life balance, so I decided to work towards becoming a paralegal in downtown Chicago. I did that for five years.
In 1988, I got a panicked call from my mom. One of their most valued employees had been injured in a car accident, leaving the company short of some talented manpower. I was 23 years old and had already been considering a return to Creative Colors anyway, so I seized this opportunity to step back in, and I’ve been here ever since.
Needless to say, this isn’t the same local business you joined in 1988, is it?
Well, yes and no. Creative Colors is still family owned and operated, including me, my brother-in-law, brother, sister, husband, nephews and daughter. However, today Creative Colors International is a franchised brand with 54 locations operating 125 mobile units in 24 states across America. Additionally, 50 percent of our franchise owners have been in our system for 10+ years. Another 25 percent of them have been with Creative Colors International for 20+ years. That kind of stability has played a key role in ensuring consistent quality with our product and service.
So, tell us about the process of growing from a locally owned Mom and Pop shop to a national franchise.
Well, when I rejoined the company back in 1988, my first job was soliciting business in the northwest Chicago suburbs. Plus, I was filling in for our injured technician, giving me a deeper understanding of the Creative Colors business model and what was required to execute service. In many ways, I was behaving like the business owner and began thinking that way.
In 1991, I realized that Creative Colors was a good candidate for franchising. The business was scalable and had a proven model of success that we could bring to other markets. My sister had joined the business about the same time I did, so between the two of us and my mom, we decided to go for it. Using my legal background and experience with Creative Colors, I helped the company launch as a franchise.
Is it challenging to run a franchise of this size when so many of your coworkers are also family members?
It can be, but we prepared for that years ago. My mom had retired from Creative Colors International in 2000 and then in 2007, she had decided to step down and sell the affiliate business, J&J’s Creative Colors. In order for the 2nd generation to take over, I knew that an operating manual complete with family policies and procedures that consisted of voting rights, pay structures and responsibilities of each owner would need to be done. It took us a long time and lots of difficult meetings to hammer out all of the details, but we got it done. By 2009, we felt like we were ready to take this on as the next generation of owners and bought the company from our parents.
Let’s talk about the franchisees. Why do you suppose they were drawn to Creative Colors International?
Our franchisees often reference three specific characteristics of the Creative Colors International franchise opportunity when asked why they launched their location: 1. The Creative Colors International corporate office provides thorough, hands-on support from pre-opening to the crucial first years of business and beyond. 2. The Creative Colors International franchise system truly is a tight-knit, family-focused operation that cares about the success and happiness of each franchise owner, and 3. Creative Colors International offers its customers top-of-the-line products and services that save them up to 90 percent on replacement and upholstery fees.
Plus, our franchises have a pretty low cost to launch. You can start a Creative Colors International franchise, including the initial franchise fee, van lease/set up, pre-opening travel/training, insurance, office equipment/supplies, grand opening advertising, and all other startup costs (inventory, stationery, marketing, graphics, etc.) for around $80,000.
I’m sure you get lots of opportunities to engage with people who are thinking of opening a franchise. What kind of advice do you offer?
I typically share five specific tips with aspiring franchise owners. 1. Make sure you cultivate a powerful and lasting relationship with the corporate office; franchise brands only thrive when franchisees and franchisors are committed to pursuing a common goal. 2. Work with a franchise broker to highlight your strengths, your weaknesses and your passions. There are thousands of franchises out there, and good franchise brokers know how to match your skills with a quality franchise opportunity. 3. If you are not a team player and are unwilling to follow a proven model, then franchising is not for you (period!). 4. Get involved with the franchise’s advisory board and other committees when you start so you can be more involved in the brand’s growth/strategic direction, and 5. Truly get to know your fellow franchise owners as they can help you avoid serious pitfalls that could restrict your growth and success.
Look into your crystal ball for us. What does the future hold for Creative Colors International?
Ha! Well, our growth this year has been tremendous. Our sales are up and our franchise territories have increased by 33 percent in the first six months of the year. As we move toward our future, some of our primary goals are as follows: Extend our brand’s awareness in all markets that need our services (automotive, furniture, commercial, individual customers, etc.) Increase our website traffic which will help draw local/regional and national sales for our franchise owners, and continue to sign qualified franchisees and hire more qualified technicians to continuously grow our proven business model. Our plans are to do all this, but more importantly, we do NOT want to lose sight of our existing franchise owners.