Driven To Succeed: Making the most of a second chance in life
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Driven To Succeed: Making the most of a second chance in life

Driven To Succeed: Making the most of a second chance in life

Name: Jeff Burroughs

Title: Franchisee/Owner

Company: Blue Pen Management

No. of units: 27 Sport Clips Haircuts, 4 Rita’s Italian Ice

Age: 51

Family: Robyn (wife), Tyler (son), and Titan, Tango and Charlie (furry kids)

Years in franchising: 14

Jeff Burroughs made a bad mistake when he was 18. He says he contemplated what might become of his life, what others would think of him, and whether he could ever recover. Ultimately, he made another choice. Instead of hiding, he would get people to believe in him again. “I had to remarket myself, to think of myself as a brand,” he says. “It was hard. Everybody knew me and knew my past.”

After 23 years in the auto industry, Burroughs had been able to move beyond his youthful mistake. That event drove him to succeed, and that drive has not changed. When his auto industry job didn’t allow him to grow, he made another choice and turned to franchising. He’d met some people in the franchise business, and the fit seemed right: being his own boss, growing his own business, and involving it in the community were all things he wanted to do. He also wanted to have more than one brand and for them be “people businesses.”

Today, he operates 27 Sport Clips and 4 Rita’s Italian Ice locations.

“The more people I can touch with each one of those businesses, the better,” he says. His son graduated with a degree in business and is now playing a role in the business. “He’s a major part of Rita’s,” says Burroughs, “part of the next generation.” 

Another idea that’s a favorite of Burroughs is not just leasing the land for his locations, but buying it. One of his latest purchases is a bank with a drive-thru that will convert well to a franchise location. He’s now considering a third brand and expanding his geographic range.

PERSONAL

First job: Working on the farm and then at Bert’s 50’s Diner, a local ice cream shop/diner.

Formative influences/events: Over the years I can say there have been a few mentors who have helped guide me on the right path. Back when I was in my late teens, some personal trouble caused my life to take a negative turn. This trouble changed my course in life and gave me an extreme drive to succeed. There was a day that I was sitting in a one-bedroom apartment shaking a ceramic piggy bank and the noise I heard was my current reality. Because of the trouble I created for myself and my family, it was hard to ask for help. My name was tarnished locally, and my bank account was dry. I began to start my days with a drive-to-succeed attitude, which I still do today. One thing I said early on is that I would never hide from what had happened, but instead would use that as a driver to my future success—including a desire to make a difference by giving back in many ways to the communities surrounding my businesses. With my second chance, I make differences daily.

Key accomplishments: Sales Awards with Ford Motors, Team Leader of the Year (2014) Sport Clips Haircuts, Heart of the Champion Award, Franchise Update Media Noble Cause Award (2019), Certificate of Gratitude Award (2019) Calvert County, and several other business performance awards.

Biggest current challenge: Making sure that as we grow the business we can maintain the right culture for our employees. We don’t want to get so large that the employees just feel like a number. Another is doing things at a scale to provide the right support to our employees and customers.

Next big goal: I am still in growth mode with my business, so there is always a goal to grow things to another level. A goal I work toward every day now is to help my son grow more with our business and any other interests he might have. It is exciting to see him grow. We both have similar levels of drive and work ethic. 

First turning point in your career: The turning point for me was getting introduced to a franchise opportunity I could do on my own and build my own business. At that point I was in the auto industry working for another business owner with no obvious path for career advancement. Franchising has given me the chance to grow at my own pace.

Best business decision: Tso make the transition from working for someone else to working for myself. I am now more in control of my personal and business life.

Hardest lesson learned: I have had many setbacks in life, both personal and in business. Now I live by, “I may get knocked down, but I will get back up stronger.”

Work week: My work weeks can always be a little different. There are many days spent in the office working to grow the overall business and/or the performance. We do find time to visit our stores and teams on a regular basis. Because of our community involvement, there can be times we are attending local events. I also support the local fire department, going out on calls as a volunteer firefighter.

Exercise/workout: I stay very active daily.

Best advice you ever got: “You get what you give.”

What’s your passion in business? To make a positive difference for others—and myself—through my business.

How do you balance life and work? I love the brands we are involved with. Blending personal and work life together is easy when you enjoy what you do.

Guilty pleasure: Going to watch old-school dirt track racing at the local track.

Favorite books: The 10X Rule and Shut Up and Listen!

Favorite movie: “Six Pack” and “Days of Thunder.”

What do most people not know about you? I can get knocked down but I get up stronger.

Pet peeve: People who don’t show up. Just show up!

What did you want to be when you grew up? Fireman.

Last vacation: Robyn and I spent a week in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Person I’d most like to have lunch with: Grant Cardone or Tilman Fertitta.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: “You Get What You Give.”

Management method or style: We use more of a coaching management style. Many of our employees come to work for us early in their career. For many employees this is their first job with structure.

Greatest challenge: The greatest challenge I have seen recently is having the ability to pivot on a regular basis to stay in front of the needed changes of the business. I feel we have done a good job with this, but pivoting seems to be a new way to stay ahead of the curve.

How do others describe you? They would probably say I am a “go-getter” and maybe they would also use the word “driven.”

One thing I’m looking to do better: Delegating. I hope to improve delegating tasks to my area managers as a way to educate them and help them grow in their positions.

How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: We discuss ideas with our management team on a regular basis. The first step is to work though the pros and cons. Then we discuss the ideas and work to execute.

How close are you to operations? I am hands-on with my business operations. We have area and operations managers who handle many of the operational tasks. This allows me to provide guidance to them while I’m also working on the growth of our company.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Training support and operational advancements.

What I need from vendors: We are always looking for innovation.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? We have taken on more digital marketing than before Covid. Our approach is more about educating and promoting our services or products instead of discounting.

How is social media affecting your business? Social media is important to help communicate the efforts of our business. This communication could support our marketing efforts or highlight our community support projects. We like to make noise and work to keep folks engaged.

How do you hire and fire? Hiring is a major priority for our company because in both brands we are in the people business. The stability and growth of each of our locations is sometimes mostly determined by staffing. Before we fire, we try to counsel, educate, and use corrective measures before termination.

How do you train and retain? Our goal is to train up. Most people come into our business at a very entry level with limited experience. There is always a desire to train on technical and operational skills to improve the customer experience. We like to promote from within our company. Promoting from within requires management training for employees who have the desire to get to the next level.

How do you deal with problem employees? We try to counsel, educate, and use corrective measures before termination. For many of our employees this is their first job or they are still early in their career. There are many who, once hired, have to adapt to structure.

Fastest way into my doghouse: To live by excuses and not by execution.

COVID-19

How did Covid-19 affect your business? As it did to many others, Covid brought our business to a stop for a period of time. We were having good growth going into 2020, but then Covid hit. Once our stores were able to open back up after the shutdown, both brands have seen growth. Rita’s has seen regular growth but has had to deal with product supply issues. Sport Clips is seeing growth at a little slower pace because of the shortage in available licensed stylists and barbers. We now are seeing more stylists and barbers coming back to the employment market.

How have you responded? When it comes to labor, we never stop recruiting and hiring. There are times product supply has been an issue, so we also recommend other product options that might interest clients.

What changes do you think will be permanent? There are some safety items that have been put in place during the Covid experience that will stay. Moving forward, things like online check-in for Sport Clips and drive-thru availability at Rita’s will be important directions that were a real focus during Covid.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: $12 million.

2023 goals: To add locations for both brands and possibly a third option to the portfolio. My revenue goal is to continue growing client counts at all locations to increase sales.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? The most important thing to me is measuring the client count growth. It’s always been said that if you provide great service and/or products, customers will return. So focusing on client growth and added frequency will equal higher revenue growth.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Right now I have three development licenses with Sport Clips and two development licenses with Rita’s. Of course, the plan is to build these out quickly over the next 5 years and at the same time consider acquisitions. There is also a strong desire to add brands to the portfolio. In 10 years, I would like to think that we would still be in a growth mode at our current and future locations.

Do you have brands in different segments? We have Sport Clips Haircuts and Rita’s Italian Ice, a QSR/frozen treat business. 

How is the economy in your region affecting you, your employees, your customers? The economy seems to be stable in our area, even with rising inflation. When figuring out pricing, labor rate, and potential profit, we make sure all three (owner, employees, customers) are part of the consideration.

Are you experiencing economic growth in your markets? In most of my markets we are experiencing overall growth. At Sport Clips, it is all about working to hire more stylists and barbers to handle our growing client count. With Rita’s, as we add new products we pick up more customers looking to enjoy the growing product line. 

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? Inflation has affected both brands, whether increased labor cost or rising cost of goods. The main goal is to continue evaluating to make sure we are providing the right value for a service or product.

How do you forecast for your business? We use many metrics, but several are the most important for both brands. These include client count, total ticket, and client excitement/experience.

What are the best sources for capital expansion? The best method of growth for me for new locations is spending time in the market looking for potential locations. When it comes to acquisition, I have found there is nothing wrong with asking other owners if they have ever considered a sale option. There are some who will welcome the question because of changes in their personal lives and/or wondering what their future direction might be.

Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? In the early days, we used local banks we had relationships with. This was a great option to start with, but I eventually got the feeling that they wanted me to pump the brakes. At that point, I did research to find lending partners interested in helping us grow with speed. Once we found the right lender, we were given a funding line availability that allowed us to look with confidence and grow with speed.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? Even before Covid we have tried to do the best to treat our employees as family. After dealing with Covid, our company and both brands have come up with programs to help and/or educate on issues that employees might be dealing with. The goal is also for both brands to be the industry employer of choice in our local markets.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? With rising employee cost and inflation we did have to raise product and service prices. There is a heavy focus now on not continuing to raise prices at the possible cost of client count. The decision has been made to accept a lower profit margin with a plan for long-term client acquisition and profitability.

What laws and regulations are affecting your business and how are you dealing with them? There are some new labor law changes in our state, but nothing that isn’t workable. The main thing is to stay educated on the changes and to pay attention to the fine print. 

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? We do a company newsletter with Sport Clips that helps us celebrate top-performing employees and teamwork actions. Our Rita’s locations do an employee-of-the-month award to promote a top-performing team member. During the year with both brands, we run different performance contests with rewards that include gift cards or other fun prizes.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? Recently, we brought our son into the Rita’s brand in hopes that when it is time for the exit he can carry the torch into the future. With Rita’s, when we open or relocate a location, we are focusing on trying to acquire the real estate as a long-term personal investment. With Sport Clips, there could be several options if we decide to exit: getting our son involved, helping other owners grow by acquisition, or even helping top employees become business owners.

Published: May 19th, 2023

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