Ryan and Julie Simmons have seen a lot when it comes to business.
Ryan worked as a middle manager at a production facility for Steuben Glass, a subsidiary of Corning, Inc., for 27 years, manufacturing high-end luxury crystal. Meanwhile, Julie had worked as a registered nurse within hospital systems, as well as at a doctor’s practice.
The pair had also flexed their entrepreneurial muscles by establishing a small glass manufacturing company that actually put them in competition with Corning.
“At one point, I was told that due to a conflict of interest, I had to make a decision: I either stay with Corning or we had to go out on our own,” Ryan recalled. “And we chose to go out on our own.”
The Simmonses started their company from scratch but quickly learned how to build a business. Ryan knew manufacturing but had to learn the ins and outs of sales and marketing. Eventually, Corning became their best customer and business partner.
Manufacturing had been their way of life for 30 years and the time had come to do something different.
Winmark provided the perfect compromise between a corporate position and establishing a brand-new concept.
“There isn’t the level of risk and complexity of a complete startup, and there isn’t the security, headaches, and stifling structure of the corporate world,” Ryan explained. “So, it’s a great fit for us personally.”
Owners of five resale franchise concepts, the pair has learned numerous lessons along the way. Here are three that have helped them on their path to multi-unit ownership.
1. Choose the Right Time to Start a Resale Franchise
When Ryan and Julie seriously began considering opening a resale franchise with Winmark, their three children had graduated high school and were heading off to college. The timing was ideal for starting fresh with a new venture. And Julie had always dreamed of opening a retail business.
“We love risk, we love change,” Ryan said. “It felt like a great opportunity for us.”
In fact, the Simmonses packed up their belongings, sold their house and moved in order to open their first franchise location, a Plato’s Closet, in the area around Binghamton, New York.
On top of that, the partners had no retail experience, which Ryan says helped them more than hurt them. They chalk up their ability to get their store off the ground to a strong work ethic and a “failure is not an option” attitude to operating their business.
In the beginning, Julie was in the store open to close on a daily basis, while Ryan was still commuting an hour each way to work to Corning. A year into owning their Plato’s Closet, they were comfortable enough from a financial perspective for Ryan to leave his corporate position and dedicate more of his time to their new venture.
Around the same time, the Simmonses opened their second Plato’s Closet in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Eventually, they opened a third Plato’s Closet in Allentown, PA., a Style Encore and Once Upon A Child in Scranton, and ultimately an additional Style Encore in Allentown.
2. Surround Yourself with the Right People
Early on in operating their first franchise location, the Simmonses admitted they made some mistakes in hiring the wrong people for specific roles. Having come from a manufacturing and nursing background, there was a learning curve in making sure their operations and the back-office team were as strong as possible.
Ultimately, it’s sometimes the setbacks that lead to better outcomes.
“We found a really good banker who had our best interests in mind and introduced us to circles that we hadn’t been in before, as far as professional help and networking,” Ryan explained.
Between support from Winmark and their nose-to-the-grindstone approach to operating their business, they were able to overcome the learning curve pretty quickly, as evidenced by the fact that they went on to open five additional stores.
Part of their growth strategy and surrounding themselves with the right people was making sure they were never too top-heavy when it came to management.
“The whole corporate environment tends to be very top-heavy and loose with resources,” said Ryan.
That’s something they wanted to avoid by providing their managers with the tools and resources they need to be successful. At the same time, the leadership team is pretty lean – it’s just Ryan, Julie and their son, Kellen. They take care of strategic planning and financial management.
3. Apply Your People Skills to Grow Your Business
In addition to finding the best people to operate their stores, the Simmonses emphasized the importance of people management in making their business function at optimal levels.
“I think we both have pretty good people skills,” Ryan noted. “And I think, in any business, that is one of the most – if not the most – important attributes that we can bring.”
In a large corporate environment, Ryan notes, there are more opportunities to attract and provide incentives to top talent with competitive salaries, benefits and other perks. In a retail environment, there aren’t as many options, so the Simmonses are constantly thinking of ways to help keep their employees invested and grow the average tenure of their staff.
Culture is a huge area Ryan and Julie have worked to strengthen within their stores.
“We strive to create a culture of excellence and continuous improvement,” Ryan explained.
The Simmonses give their managers a lot of autonomy when it comes to running their stores, set high expectations and don’t try to micromanage their team.
The duo isn’t inclined to rest on their past successes, and instead, they work to continually find ways to improve how they manage their businesses.
Another factor that’s contributed to the Simmons’ success is the fact that they’re highly accessible to their team. They’re in their stores on a regular basis.
It’s not surprising this culture has helped them achieve recognition from Winmark on multiple occasions. Three out of the six stores they opened achieved the Fast Start Award from Winmark, and four out of the five have been in the top quartile for average annual sales volume.
At this point, the Simmonses are looking to potentially open an additional store within the Winmark family of resale franchise brands, while continuing to focus on ways to build off their culture of continuous improvement to make their existing stores as successful as possible.
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