Elementary school teacher turned entrepreneur Michael Falgares got his first taste of the entertainment industry when he started DJing at age 14. By college, he’d saved up enough money to buy a preschool, which he later sold to finance his next venture: a mobile entertainment theater called Gamin’ Ride.
In May, Falgares launched Glamour Ride, Gamin’ Ride’s sister venture, offering a mobile birthday party experience for girls. He’s now franchised the concept to 14 locations in nine states. The Intuit Small Business Blog picked his brain about dealing with fuel costs, finding the right franchisees, and other business challenges.
ISBB: What inspired Gamin’ Ride and Glamour Ride?
Falgares: I was a teacher for five years before I decided to start this. I loved kids but I didn’t love the paycheck at the end of the day. I owned a preschool that I bought while I was in college as an investment. Realizing there was more money in the preschool than in the classroom, I gave up the teaching job and sold the school in 2008.
During that time that I said, “I need to be able to combine my love of working with children and entertainment.” Gamin’ Ride was started as a way to bring the party to people’s houses, so kids didn’t have to share their birthday with five other groups of kids at Chuck E Cheese. It would be completely personalized to whomever’s birthday it was.
Doing all these boy’s parties, people were saying “do something for little girls.” We began to develop Glamour Ride and made this big trailer that pulls up to the house. Emerging from the trailer are girls who are called the Glamettes. It’s like backstage to a show. The guests work in stations participating in activities like karaoke. They get their hair and their makeup done. They can do a virtual makeover on an iPad. To end the party they a perform a dance they’ve learned and do a little picture slide show of the pictures that they took during the party.
What were your biggest business challenges and how did you overcome them?
Financing is always a big part of getting anything started. Luckily for Gamin’ Ride, I was able to utilize financing from the sale of the school. We later opted for an SBA loan in 2009 from a local bank and that was for $100,000. That’s really the only loan I have. The rest of it has been self-funded.
The other one is maintaining an organization that has 14 different views about how things should be done. I have 14 people who’ve invested their life savings into this concept and they all want to be heard. It’s challenging to balance all the voices that make up our organization. We have standards when it comes to how they should conduct themselves from what they wear and how they talk to children and being CPR certified. Those are things we don’t sway from. But if someone has a new product they want to introduce, I support them in trying something different and seeing if it works.
How do you know if a prospective franchisee will be a good fit?
People think when they buy a franchise that they make 100 percent of the decisions, when in reality, I’m looking at it as an interview. We’re certainly in the business to make money and sell franchises but if I sell it to one wrong individual, that could be a failure. I’ve had to turn people away. In this economy it’s so hard to say “I don’t want your money,” but in reality it’s a better decision in the long run.
I look for people who can follow our process. If someone promises to attend a meeting at 4 o’clock and they miss the meeting completely, it’s a red flag. If they’re doing it with me, they might be doing it with their clients in the future. Every franchisee has to attend a “join the team” day. They go out at an event, and we observe them, how they interact with kids or parents. We’re saying yes or no to them as much as they say yes or no to us.
Have high gas prices impacted your business?
The generators that are on-board take very little gas. It actually takes a little under $6 to run a two-hour party. Where the gas is a problem is when traveling long distances, so it has hindered us in growing beyond our territories; but within the territories there’s a lot of growth. The franchisees do charge a traveling fee over a certain number of miles because of the price of gas. Some customers say they understand, but we had someone on the phone this morning who did not get it.
Where do you get that entrepreneurial spark? Did you grow up around entrepreneurs?
The gentleman who inspired me is my father. He ran his businesses when we were growing up, so I was able to observe that. He was not home a lot, but now, he has actually taken a role within the company. He builds all the units out on the road and oversees that operation. I have a mix of my mother in my personality in terms of being a fun and energetic person that’s creative along with my father’s good sense of business.
Any tips for business owners considering franchising?
My first tip would be to get with someone who has done it before and take them out to lunch. There are a lot of hurdles a business must overcome. Every state has its own rules and regulations when it comes to franchising. It’ a lot of money to spend every year just to be a franchise if you’re not selling anything.
Then the other big hurdle is, “Is your organization ready for franchising? Do you have everything documented and organized or is it all in your head?” You need to be able to put it all together in a package. I paid a company called Francorp to help me. There are companies out there that consult and prepare a potential business for franchising, but you need to be careful and do your homework.