With 39 Years of Experience and Success in Franchising, Chase Plans to Pay it Forward as IFA Chair
Charlie Chase is grateful for his 39-year career in franchising. Like countless others who have reaped great rewards from the industry, Chase attributes his success in his life and career to franchising. Now, as the International Franchise Association’s new Chair, he plans to pay it forward.
At IFA’s 2022 Annual Convention, Chase’s inauguration was celebrated in a big way. The long-awaited event marked the first in-person IFA Convention since February 2020. It gave thousands of franchise professionals a chance to reunite after two long years of pandemic-related hurdles and celebrate the industry’s resilience. What made it even more special, however, was Chase’s interview with keynote speaker and entrepreneur Shaquille O’Neal. As he spoke with Shaq in front of thousands of IFA members, Chase realized that he and the NBA Legend have more in common than he ever imagined. Specifically, they share the same philosophy for success: Work as a team and get involved.
Like Shaq and so many others in the industry, Chase has an inspiring success story. He started his career as a franchisee with College Pro Painters and parlayed that experience into leadership positions with CertaPro Painters and eventually into his current role as CEO of FirstService Brands. Along the way, he has ushered countless people into successful business ownership and employment.
Chase has experienced franchising’s tremendous power firsthand and has lived the American dream because of it. He is thankful for the opportunities he has had and wants to let the whole world know that they can find success in franchising, too. His role as IFA Chair gives him a platform to do just that. Here, Chase shares his love for franchising and his mission to protect, enhance and promote the industry.
What does your appointment as IFA Chair mean to you?
It’s a great honor to serve the people of franchising as the 2022 International Franchise Association Chair. Franchising provided me with my first job and allowed me to create a 39-year career. The IFA gave me the early-day education, support and a network that allowed our franchise systems to flourish. I am thankful to have the opportunity to give back by helping to protect, enhance and promote the Franchise Business Model.
What do you consider the most critical issues in franchising today?
The Franchise Model is the democratization of business opportunity and the decentralization of wealth potential. No matter your starting point, you can find success in franchising. Our biggest challenge is that those ‘outside’ franchising do not understand the Franchise Model. When someone says ‘franchise’ they generally create a mental image of McDonald’s or the Dallas Cowboys. Two great, great franchises, but they only represent a small fraction of what the Franchise Model supports in our economy (QSRs represent only 25% of franchises). Our biggest challenge today is educating those not engaged in franchising to be promoters of the Franchise Business Model and of the individual businesses they represent.
Our challenge is simple: We need to demystify the Franchise Model so that it is better understood.
The Franchise Business Model is used in nearly every business category. The 792,000 U.S. franchise locations are found in every community, employ nearly 8.5 million people (a net gain of 257,000 people in 2022) and contribute $501 billion to GDP.
Franchising serves millions of customers every day. Consumers rely on franchising for services and products, but they don’t understand how the business model works. It is our job to be better educators on how our business model distributes a great business idea across vast geographies. Our business model involves independent ownership utilizing continuously improving processes, regional distribution, massive employment and career opportunities and distributed wealth. Franchising delivers products and services better, safer, and more consistently than any other business model in history. Our challenge is simple: We need to demystify the Franchise Model so that it is better understood.
In your new role as IFA Chair, what are your priorities?
My principal goal is to support the staff as they focus on our three priorities of “Protect, Enhance, and Promote the Franchise Business Model” around the world. We face a number of challenges to the business model, and our three priorities keep us grounded. The organization has an incredible culture, and the staff takes great pride in supporting what we franchisors, franchisees and suppliers do every day. Just in the past year, under the leadership of past chair Catherine Monson and IFA President and CEO Matt Haller, the organization has made big moves to return to in-person meetings, reinvigorate its education offering and member experience and launch a major reputation campaign to connect influencers and decision-makers with the value and opportunity of franchising (www.openforopportunity.com). My goal is to support the staff and continue these efforts as they benefit the entire franchising community.
What trends do you see in franchising? What does franchising look like in 5 and 10 years?
The pandemic proved the efficacy of the franchise business model. Distributed networks of locally-owned franchise businesses faired better than their independent counterparts. Local franchise owners were able to rely on their franchise system for guidance to navigate uncertainty, and franchisees provided the needed innovation and agility that their customers needed during uncertain times. The acceleration of change in the past two years shows how nimble franchise brands can be in driving change. This is very empowering as we look into the future.
Over the past two years, the IFA has been instrumental in fashioning the language that created PPP, distributing the process and path to attain PPP, and in the end making sure that the PPP was broadly forgiven. When I think about the future of franchising it involves the catalytic power of creative networks and a driving association that forges the backbone of the Franchise Model. It is clear to me, coming out of the pandemic, that franchise businesses are leading the economic recovery and I expect the next 5-10 years to be equally bright.
My journey would have been very short and messy if I didn’t have a great family and business partners.
Please share some highlights from your background and journey through franchising.
I have been blessed with the support of my family and friends as we’ve built wonderful brands. I started fairly simply with a College Pro Painters franchise in October of 1982, located in suburban Philadelphia. Many of the people I worked with during my early years at College Pro are still my business partners today. Our belief in the Golden Rule and our core values provided us with guiding principles to make good decisions along the way. We hit a number of huge challenges on our path, but our belief in ourselves, our operating systems and our people painted the path for CertaPro Painters to emerge from College Pro. Along with our partners at FirstService Corporation, we made investments that have grown our systems and our brands. My journey would have been very short and messy if I didn’t have a great family and business partners.
What is your advice to anyone who is interested in becoming a franchisor, or in franchise ownership?
First, if you want to be a franchisor know that you are taking on a massive responsibility. Becoming a franchisor is a big deal. You have people’s investments and futures in your hands, so take the decision seriously. Prove that your brand is durable, agile and scalable. Develop simple and safe practices that can be duplicated through training and technology. Ensure you have differentiated your brand so can you be well known. And finally, remember you are entering into multiple and lengthy contracts that you will need to support. Future franchisors must understand this before they franchise their concept.
If you want to become a franchisee, think hard about your personal investment — time, money and even more time and money. The What and Why really matter when considering a franchise.
I didn’t love the painting business, I loved leading people to do great painting work.
On Day One when you first have an inkling that you want to consider a franchise, think about what makes you tick. Is it serving? Is it making things? Is it leading? Is it teaching? Is it customer happiness? Great franchisees enter franchise systems that align with what provides purpose. For me, my ‘what’ at the time was leading my peers to achieve something of value — as a team captain, a crew chief, and then a franchisee. I didn’t love the painting business, I loved leading people to do great painting work.
In order to purchase a franchise, you have to think of your ‘Why.’ What’s your goal? How will you exit your business, and do so with grace? No one is in business to own businesses. People own businesses to fulfill a need. In my case, I knew that self-reliance was better than working for others. That was my ‘why’. I’d rather rely on myself to sustain my family than collect a paycheck from others, and in turn, my partners wanted the same. Knowing your personal motivation and the motivations of your team makes all the difference.
Thinking about your exit isn’t necessarily about how and when you will sell, although that’s important as well. Thinking about your exit is about truly knowing why you are going into business in the first place. If you have a clear picture of your exit, the arc of your journey will be more fulfilling.
What is your motto or favorite quote?
Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 Gold Medal U.S.A. Hockey team (The Miracle on Ice) once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
What Herb did was take a rag-tag group of average performers and created a team that thought they could do anything. They weren’t there to play hockey, they were there to win a Gold medal, together.
In my world, opportunity and achievement are a team effort.
It’s a quote that has always stuck with me because of its relevance to franchising — and business generally. We rely on people. People rely on systems. A great franchise system is scaleable through people and the systems the people use every day. In my world, opportunity and achievement are a team effort.
If you are becoming a local franchise owner for the first time, you arrived at that moment as a result of an opportunity. In my case, as I’ve become the leader of a family of brands, that moment was realized because I have had some great coaches who’ve provided me with wonderful on-ramps to opportunities.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. The 1980 U.S.A. hockey team achieved their Gold Medal moment because they worked really hard for one another, toward a common goal. It’s what we all should do in our leadership practice: create opportunities for others to thrive.
Why do you love franchising?
Franchising is a family. When I started painting houses with College Pro Painters in 1982, I never thought I would one day lead the FirstService family of brands. People invested their time in me — as family members do — and I was able to grow. I’m fulfilled every day by the respect members of the franchise community have for each other. They respect the individual, deliver what they promise, and take pride in what they do, no matter their business format.
What was it like meeting Shaquille O’Neal at IFA 2022?
It was a great opportunity to interview Shaquille O’Neal at the 2022 IFA Convention. Everyone loves Shaquille O’Neal — he has a nearly unachievable 100 net promoter score — but few know his journey and how he found success in franchising. Two learnings I took away from our conversation were: Build the team you want and make change from within.
Build the team you want: During our conversation, Shaquille shared his perspective on how he is building Shaq’s Big Chicken. He’s recruited people with complementary strengths to build an innovative and successful team. The team-based approach he learned in professional basketball applies completely to the business world.
Make change from within: It’s easy to be critical from the sidelines. During our conversation, Shaquille shared how important it is to participate in the systems if you want to change them. First, you need to know the playbook if you’re to a have substantive critique, but its equally important to put your sweat equity into something you care about. You can change the future, but first you have to get involved.