Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you’re a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Knobelock entered franchising in 1992, as Church’s Chicken’s first franchisee in Houston. Today, he operates almost 50 Church’s Chicken locations – and that’s only the beginning of his involvement in the restaurant business. Here’s what Knobelock has learned about building a multi-unit restaurant empire over the last 23 years.
Name: Michael Knobelock
Franchise owned: 46 Church’s Chicken locations, 21 Little Caesars units, three Sears Appliance and Hardware stores, two Captain D’s. I operate locations in seven states: Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas
How long have you owned a franchise?
I acquired my first Church’s Chicken restaurant in 1992.
When I was a kid I always wanted to own a McDonald’s. I don’t know why, but something about that stuck with me as I grew up. When I first started looking into restaurant ownership, I had business ownership experience, but not in the food segment. Franchising gave me a system that I could use as a guide to build my business.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
When I was 22 I had the opportunity to re-open a closed down convenience store which I ran for six years. I didn’t want to expand with this business, so I looked into franchising.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I chose to add Captain D’s to my portfolio because it is a high quality product with a great value associated with it. It’s something that I grew up with, so I knew it well. I saw pictures of Captain D’s new image and their new prototype, and I knew they were an innovative brand heading in the right direction.
When I first got into franchising I started exploring concepts in the Houston area and applied to be a franchisee with every major restaurant chain. The only brands that got back to me were McDonald’s, Subway and Church’s Chicken. At the time, Church’s Chicken was closing an $8,000 a week store because they didn’t own the real estate and a KFC had just opened across the street. It was a good store that I thought I could turn around so I purchased it. Before the first year was up I raised it to $12,000 a week.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
When I first got into franchising I sold everything I owned to buy my first unit, including my car and house. The first location was purchased with $25,000 for the franchise fee and an all-in cost of $40,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I have a really close friend of mine in franchising where I get a lot of my advice. He is also a franchisee with Captain D’s. Another person I use for feedback is the COO of my holding group. In addition, the Internet is a great tool for learning more about a brand—I found out about Captain D’s new model and menu and loved it. The internet can also help you see what other people are saying about the brand, which is important for long-term growth.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Construction is the greatest challenge. To offset this we have a construction arm to our business. The second greatest challenge is getting permits and going through the process of complying with all of the regulations. It’s so much tougher than when I started.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
You have to do your homework. Go experience the product firsthand and believe in your heart that it’s the right brand for you. Also look at what other people are saying about the brand.
My other advice would be to look at a brand that has been around for a long time so that you know if they went through a rough period and got through it. Every brand goes through rough patches but not every brand recovers. That’s important if you’re in it for the long haul.
What’s next for you and your business?
Right now we are looking to open locations for Captain D’s in Houston. The territory is wide open and I’m excited for the opportunity.