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Last Update: Saturday September 18, 2021

Key Idea: Seek Out Mentors

Don DeBolt is President of the International Franchise Association and as a member Gary can depend upon sold support and advise from Don.

Key Question:


Surround yourself with people who know more than you do.  One way to do that is to join your trade association.

For this program we invited Don DeBolt to come to FASTSIGNS as we wanted to hear from the chief franchise expert. As the executive director of the International Franchise Association, Don works to provide a constant flow of training and mentoring to all of his members.

Q: Who did Gary meet at one of the regular meetings of the IFA?

A: Some of his heros! He met men he had admired from afar. He sought them out and asked them if they would answer some of his questions about growing FASTSIGNS. It turned out that they were very helpful and at that one meeting Gary established a connection he could depend upon for years to come.

Most business owners do too much alone. We do it because we think we have to or that no one has ever faced this particular problem before or because we are embarrassed to admit what we don't know. The founder of The CEO Clubs, Joseph Mancuso, says that strong business owners seek advice from attorneys, cpas, other professionals and other business owners. This makes sense. It is the weak or insecure owner who doesn't seek help while the strong get stronger by seeking advice.

Think about it

Who do you admire? Have you sought them out and asked them for advice? If not, why not? Do you think that arrogance is a problem for you?

Clip from: FastSigns: A study of Franchisor & Franchisee

Carrollton, Texas: This business began on the back of a paper napkin around a discussion over breakfast. That was 1985 .  Gary Salomon saw how a computer could make high-quality signs in hours instead of days. He jumped at the opportunity to build a business offering this service internationally. Today his company, FastSigns, is America’s leading sign company with over 500 locations worldwide.

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Gary Salomon, Founder, CEO

2550 Midway Road
Carrollton, TX 75006

Visit our web site:

Office: 9724470777

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1985

Seek Out Mentors

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Franchising is responsible for 50 percent of retail sales--almost $1 trillion.

GARY: On this entire end of the facility, you've got everything from operations...

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Don DeBolt is the president of the International Franchise Association. He came in from Washington to see FASTSIGN in action.

DON DeBOLT (President, International Franchise Association): The International Franchise Association is the world's oldest association representing the franchising community, and what's unique about it, we represent the franchisors, the franchisees and the suppliers. And we all come together with a unified voice to speak on behalf of franchising whenever there's a regulatory or a legislative issue, or any other issue that affects the franchising community. We're there to protect.

HATTIE: Gary, all the the FASTSIGNS people, are members of IFA. What is their greatest benefit? Why do people join the IFA?

DON DeBOLT: I think Gary would say networking is one of the major things that he gains from IFA; the networking with other franchisors to learn how to operate our business better. This was a very young company. Just 13 years ago it started to franchise. So, I mean, it's been pretty exciting for them, and where did they go? They went to other people in franchising they hooked up with through the International Franchising Association to learn how to do it better.

HATTIE: Why are franchisees so successful?

DON DeBOLT: First of all, they're in business for themselves, but not by themselves. They have their franchisors, their peer group of franchisees to help them along the path. All of the obstacles that any small business faces are still going to be faced by the franchisee, but they're going to have a lot of support and help. When you acquire a franchise, you acquire a recognized trademark or brand name, a proved operating system that's perfected year after year. And, of course, the marketing and advertising support that makes that brand more recognized in the marketplace. But most important, continued training and support by the franchisor and the other franchisees in the system.

HATTIE: All right. So the odds are greater that a franchisee will succeed over a start-from-scratch guy.

DON DeBOLT: I think just look at the record. There are over 500,000 franchisees in this country today who figured out it was better to open up under a brand name that was recognized in the marketplace than Joe's Hamburger Stand.

HATTIE: All right. How many franchise concepts do we have to choose from?

DON DeBOLT: Well, there's a varying number, from 2,000 to 3,000 franchise concepts out there that you can select from. We know there are at least 2,000 very serious concepts that are major players in the franchise field today. So you have a lot of choice, and most importantly, 70--70 different industries.

HATTIE: What have you learned about the ones that do it right?

DON DeBOLT: The ones that do it right are in partnership with their franchisees. FASTSIGNS is a terrific example of that. They have over 400 franchise--and this is after 10 years of franchising--they have 400 franchisees out there. My suspicion is, if you went to the annual convention of the FASTSIGNS operation, you'd see a bunch of happy people that are really bonding and very proud of the affiliation they have with this company, and I think if you'd go to many other franchise conventions, you'd experience the same uplifting, rewarding--and see a lot of passionate people.

GARY: I had been operating as a franchisee of another system, of a direct mail dealership. So I had some idea as to when a franchise is run properly, what you get and when it's not, what the frustrations are of a franchisee. So I brought that to the party.

But probably the biggest `ah-hah,' for lack of a better term, was when I went to meet other franchisors at some seminars, one of them that was put on by the IFA and another one that was just a separate--I guess an offshoot for doing franchising. And I sat down and bought a couple of beers for some fairly well-established franchisors--one of whom was Tony Martino of AAMCO, and then--now MAACO; another one was Fred DeLuca, of Subway Sandwiches--and just asked them a whole bunch of questions. And you can't just take whatever these individuals say as that's the way you have to go. You have to assimilate it, and you have to extrapolate what works for your particular concept, and also how you want to create the culture of your own business. And I picked up some pearls that have definitely helped form the way this business is run today.

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