Top 10 American Franchises

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5 Actions Leading to 1st Franchisee Success


Starting a new business is risky. Starting your franchise as one of the 1st franchisees is more complex and has unique rewards. 5 well-planned actions lead to a 1st franchisee’s success.

In this article, I’ll discuss:

  1. A summary of my experiences as the 1st ImageFIRST franchisee,
  2. The 6 benefits a 1st franchisee can earn,
  3. Examples of unique challenges 1st-time franchisees encounter,
  4. And 5 actions-to-success you control.



The following is a semi-self-indulgent overview of my experiences as the 1st ImageFIRST franchisee. I wouldn’t trade it for the world (there are many learning points, however).

ImageFIRST (spun from Nixon Uniform by Jerry and Jeff Berstein) began franchising their healthcare laundry business in February 1998. They had 25+ prior years of experience in the rental laundry industry. Their franchising vision grew their regional Philadelphia business into the largest national healthcare laundry. All accomplished in 20 years when Calera Capital purchased ImageFIRST in 2018. Calera purchased most franchisee locations at the pre-agreed value.

I worked with Jerry and Jeff for a year (in another business) when we began discussing opening their first franchise. We chose Cincinnati to be closer to family and friends, and the population was well above the minimum for ImageFIRST.

The ideal franchisee for ImageFIRST was an established laundry service with the capacity and mindset to grow. This potential franchisee has the processing equipment, personnel and other resources. AND their ideal client had a consistent revenue stream before buying an ImageFIRST franchise.

Our (Jerry was my partner) new company, Berstein-Frey, Ohio LLC, had none of that in place. We made a plan to overcome the obstacles and began operations in February 1998.

We created a 4-part plan to overcome the initial challenges:

  • Teach me operational basics from when a soiled gown, sheet or lab coat, was picked up at the customer’s location until it was delivered clean the following week. The operations manual helped but hands-on experience was crucial.
  • Financially partner with the franchisor (Jerry) for multiple purposes.
  • 6 months of sales training every other week with Mark (ImageFIRST’s Director of Sales) in Cincinnati. Sales training continued monthly for months 7-12 and as needed.
  • Establish a laundry contractor relationship.

Hindsight is a wonderful teacher. The accounting system for the first 12 years was Quickbooks. That means all invoicing, AR, AP, check writing and customer data input were done locally by me. In 2010 we merged our local system with the franchisor’s and paid a monthly fee for accounting services.

6 – 1st Franchisee Advantages

  • Franchisors rely on their 1st franchisees for early wins. Successes with 1st franchisees help the franchisor’s sales backed with data. The franchisor is hyper-motivated for you to succeed.
  • The 1st franchisee provides valuable feedback (weekly for the first year in my case) to improve the franchisor’s value for subsequent franchises. You help design the communication systems.
  • The 1st franchisee significantly contributes to the franchisor’s brand and market. At least 8 other ImageFIRST franchisees followed the “non-ideal” business model we created in Cincinnati.
  • Expansion for the 1st franchisee is easier. The franchisor’s territory map is wide open during the initial stages. Cincinnati’s original northern edge was Dayton, Ohio. In 2004 we expanded north and east to Columbus and all of the territory in between.
  • The relationship between the franchisor and 1st franchisee is unique. Mutual success is imperative. In my case, everyone was working on the one goal of Cincinnati’s success. “That’s not my job,” wasn’t even considered.
  • The franchisee-franchisor communication loop isn’t the only system a 1st franchisee creates. Location-specific systems add value to your company and give the franchisor a different view. Amendments may be needed to whole sections of the operations manual. A location-specific, “worst-case” backup system is a minimum requirement.

3 Challenges to Overcome

  • Identify and adapt for location-specific changes to the operations manual. The ImageFIRST manual was initially written for franchisees with laundry facilities. We developed the necessary relationships and systems for those franchisees using contractors.
  • The franchisor’s ancillary services may not be established (accounting, HR, legal, and more). Make sure you have defined your value to your company. Are you more valuable inputting Quickbook’s data or developing relationships on the streets? If you’re not a recruiting, interviewing, and hiring expert, who can do that for you? It’s easy to do the routine, convince yourself you’re working hard, and neglect the activities only you can do to grow your company. Ask yourself, “Is this something only I can do?” If the answer is yes, create a system so you can train others. If the answer is no, find a trusted business alliance to do it for you.
  • Experience only comes with time. However, a successful 1st franchisee determines what daily actions are beneficial and which ones need to be discarded or contracted to others. You learn to form positive habits and shed those wasting resources.



5 Actions Leading to 1st Franchisee Success

  • Create your Leader’s Dashboard. Keep it visible, review it daily and update as needed. The dashboard is your daily 1-page strategic plan and resources list.
  • Successful 1st franchisees develop, implement and document location-specific systems.
  • Communications between the emerging franchisor and 1st franchisee must be consistent, clear and actionable.
  • Expand your knowledge and network bases. It is inevitable the first few years. It takes conscious effort to continue developing your professional executive skills.
  • Hire excellent employees. Every person in a growing franchise is critical for daily success. You don’t have the resources for back-ups. In addition, every small-medium business has a few key positions affecting operations and sales more than others. In my company, the GM and salesperson were those roles.

1st Franchisees and emerging franchisors that overcome the inherent challenges earn unmatched success. You lay the foundation, help establish the culture, develop unique systems and attract more, successful franchisees.

Luke Frey improves franchise owners’ businesses where corporate support alone fails. He brings 26+ years of varied professional experiences including 20 years as a franchise owner of ImageFIRST Cincinnati, 6 years as an industrial engineer for a Fortune 250 company (3 while living in Honduras, C.A.) and 19 years as a volunteer firefighter. All of these experiences, in addition to his drive to learn, have brought him to be a positive driving force for other franchise owners’ successes. Luke is currently a member of the Center for Executive Coaching and is in the final publishing phase of his first children’s book. To learn more about Luke and how Bella Vista Executive Advisors can help, please click HERE