Monster Mini Golf’s Rich and Alice Rathjen on Becoming Mini Franchise Moguls

Rich and Alice Rathjen wanted to be franchise owners of Monster Mini Golf so much that they packed up their belongings and relocated from New York to Pennsylvania. Their dream came true in 2009 , when they opened a putt-putt course near Pittsburgh.

The Rathjens had to negotiate a few bumps, traps, and obstacles to become franchisees, especially since they were building their business in unfamiliar territory. But they proved that it can be done successfully, as evidenced by the Readers’ Choice Award (Gold in Family Entertainment) they earned from the readers of the Trib Total Media group .

Monster Mini Golf is a ghoul-themed, glow-in-the-dark 18-hole miniature golf course, with horror-laden hazards, spooky animatronics, fog machines, and 3-D props. It has 26 locations nationwide, with more scheduled to open soon — at a start-up cost per franchise of $381,000 to $461,500.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked the Rathjens why they wanted to open a Monster Mini Golf course, what challenges they faced, and what tips they’d offer to would-be franchisees.

ISBB: What made you want to become franchise owners of a glow-in-the-dark themed miniature golf?

Rich and Alice Rathjen: We were on vacation in Hawaii and went to a very tiny glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course on one of the islands. Shortly after, while on the internet looking for franchise opportunities, we saw Monster Mini Golf. And the rest is history.

What challenges did you experience and overcome in becoming franchise owners of Monster Mini Golf?

Four years ago, we purchased the franchise to open on Long Island. We signed a lease, received town approval, and were two weeks away from starting construction. We then got the news that the landlord could not complete his part of the buildout. At that time, the Monroeville, Pa., location became available, so we packed up and moved to Pennsylvania to become owners.

Since we did not open a franchise in the area where we lived previously, much less in the same state, it was difficult to determine which publications and areas to target. Although we could conduct a Google search of newspapers, publications, radio stations, etc., that didn’t tell us what the local people felt about them. We also knew nothing about the nearby towns, schools, or businesses. During our first week here, we didn’t even know where to buy food, so we relied on our employees to explain to us what Giant Eagle was. To overcome these obstacles, we joined the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce and other networking groups, attended all of their events, and became involved in many community events.

How do you market Monster Mini Golf?

Our advertising and marketing includes coupons, both on the web and in local publications, along with the use of social media. Much of our marketing has been called “grassroots” since we work closely with the local Chambers of Commerce, schools, and nonprofits. You’ll even see us in parades!

What do you love most about your running Monster Mini Golf?

Foremost, what we love about running a Monster Mini Golf are the people that we meet when they come to our store to golf. We have many regular golfers who have become like family.

Any words of wisdom for others who may be interested in purchasing a franchise or who have just purchased a franchise?

We would certainly recommend to anyone thinking about buying a franchise to do their homework. Visit as many locations as possible, so you can speak to owners and look at their operations. There were many weekends where we drove to different states to interview the owners and see how each location varied. It is also important to make sure that the corporate office has a dedicated team to support you, even after you open your doors.

About Liz Magill

Elizabeth Magill is a professional writer who holds an MBA. She spent over 10 years working in management in an investment firm in corporate America. Liz focuses her writing on small business, career and work, personal finance, and health. Her clients include The Motley Fool, American News Report, Profitably, WorldStart.com, LIVESTRONG.com, Healthline, and many others. She's author of multimedia App and Vook Conduct a Job Interview: The Video Guide, blogger for IFXMedical.com, and contributing writer for Intuit Small Business Blog.
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