When Esterina Autore attended the FranchiseCanada Show in Montreal last year, her plan was to research residential cleaning franchises. At the time, Autore was self-employed as a financial advisor following a long career in sales and marketing. “I wasn’t fulfilled so I decided to do something totally different and on my own,” she says. At the show, she met with several residential cleaning franchisors and also picked up a subscription to FranchiseCanada magazine.

It was in the magazine where she ended up finding her perfect franchise fit after reading an article about Driverseat, a franchise that offers transportation services to those who are unable to drive their vehicles, including designated driving, airport drop-off, assisted transport and special events.

“It was a totally new concept that didn’t exist anywhere,” she notes. “I decided to go with something fresh versus something in a more saturated market.” Autore got in contact with company founders Brian and Luke Bazely and while she got a good feeling from their e-mail and phone conversations, she decided to travel from Montreal to Ontario to meet them in person. “That made a big difference when it came to choosing to go into business with them.”

She says all prospective franchisees should be prepared to meet the franchisor face-to-face, whether it’s at a tradeshow or at the franchisor’s head office. “Have a list of questions to ask and things you need to know to make a well-informed decision.” More importantly, make sure you’re compatible with the franchisor before you enter into a business partnership with them. “In the end, you’re running your own business but you’re part of something bigger – it’s not just you. Make sure you have the same type of vision for your business that they have for their own.”

As part of her due diligence, Autore also did market research, met with franchise professionals including a lawyer and an accountant, and contacted existing franchisees to ask about their experiences. “I got positive feedback so that prompted me to move forward.”

For first-time FranchiseCanada Show attendees, Autore says to narrow your search so you’re not too overwhelmed. “There are so many opportunities but it comes down to budget and what suits your lifestyle,” she says. For Autore, she knew she wanted a business in the service industry. “I always knew I wanted to work with people and be a service in a time of need,” she says. “The FranchiseCanada Show allowed me to meet with franchisors and learn about their businesses and helped me evaluate starting my own business versus a franchise business.”

Her advice to new franchisees is to follow the franchisor’s proven system. “They have a tested model that works so don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” she advises. Franchisees should also take advantage of the support offered by head office, as this is one of the main benefits of joining a franchise system. “We have a team of people at Driverseat’s head office who are there for support when we’re not sure about something or need an opinion,” she says. “To know that you have a team backing you up and you’re not alone is a real benefit.”

William Lui had been working as a free-lance programmer when the economy entered a recession in 2008. Although his job was safe, he began to reconsider traditional employment. “Many of my friends got laid off at that time,” he recalls. “That’s how the idea of being my own boss came to mind.”
After doing his research and consulting with family members, he concluded that franchising was the best way to start a business. “If you start a business from scratch, it’s a huge investment and you may not survive more than a couple of years,” he explains. “Franchising is a more secure way to start a business. They already have a proven model.”

As part of his franchise search, Lui attended the FranchiseCanada Show in Toronto, where he met brothers Brian and Luke Bazely, co-founders of designated driving franchise Driverseat. Attracted to their booth’s bright orange backdrop and sharp logo, he was even more intrigued when he learned about their unique concept.

“I researched and found that the designated driving business is not very well established in Ontario, or the rest of the country, which means more room for growth and less competition,” he says.

Lui left his e-mail address with the Bazely brothers, who soon followed up with him to schedule a corporate site visit. Lui was impressed with what he saw. “Their corporate structure is relatively simple, which means franchisees can easily access the owners and can really work together as a team.”

Lui also liked that it was a home-based opportunity with low overhead costs. “Because it’s home-based, I was able to keep my job so I have extra income coming in during the early stage of my business’s growth.”

To anyone attending the FranchiseCanada Show, Lui recommends looking at all of the opportunities out there, even ones you’re unfamiliar with. “Pay attention to new brands and young franchise businesses,” he says. That is, after all, how he wound up in the driver’s seat.