Gary Findley, best-known for building the Curves fitness empire, shared his story of overcoming bankruptcy and flourishing in franchising to begin the Titus Center for Franchising Advisory Board meeting on Tuesday.
The self-described “redneck CEO,” wearing jeans and cowboy boots with a button down shirt, spoke to about 120 students and business leaders prior to a student panel and formal meeting.
Before Findley got into business for himself, the native Texan ranched, farmed and worked on a railroad.
“It was this workstyle that made me a non-typical CEO,” Findley said.
His strategy is to hire people he trusts who know what they’re doing and leave them alone, no matter what kind of franchise he’s growing. He builds franchises by building teams, he said.
Findley has performed menial tasks at fitness clubs and owned them. He’s experienced bankruptcy and financial comfort. He’s run a carpet-cleaning truck for a franchise of The Dwyer Group and worked as Dwyer’s vice president of franchise sales. (It has since changed its name to Neighborly.)
The Dwyer Group staff worked odd hours. Even at 9 or 10 p.m., founder Don Dwyer would take Findley into his office and coach him on the business. Findley vowed to pay the mentoring forward whenever he succeeded.
He left a steady paycheck at Dwyer when he made a handshake deal to work on commission selling women’s-only fitness club franchises. Curves targeted small towns, and there was no competition. The company grew to 8,000 units in eight years, Findley said.
“Right place. Right time. Right opportunity,” Findley said of the experience.
Findley is now CEO of Restoration 1 Water Damage Experts and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain. His new goal is to build a conglomerate of service brands. Although there’s nothing “sexy” about plumbing, it meets his criteria for choosing business ventures: It requires a low investment, low overhead and no brick and mortar properties. It’s recession-resistant with high profit margins.
Findley concluded with praise for the opportunities that Palm Beach Atlantic University students have to learn from the best professors.
After the lecture, a panel of students shared with Titus Center Advisory Board members how valuable their internships, jobs and career exploration opportunities have been.
Marketing and accounting major Eva Bracciale ’20 said she was particularly inspired by a previous visiting speaker, Aziz Hashim, a quick-service restaurant franchisee turned franchisor.
“When he was talking about franchising, it just started to make sense. I used to be very intimidated by what the future would look like,” Bracciale said. “Ever since adding the franchising concentration, not having the five-year plan is more exciting than intimidating. There are so many options now.”
Megan Widdig ’21, a management major, learned she has an interest in the corporate aspect of franchising. She interned at United Franchise Group and works as a catering manager at Ben & Jerry’s in Delray Beach.
Of her PBA education, she said, “It’s given me plenty of opportunities I never would have had in southern Ohio.”
Aaron Rose ’19, a management major, questioned if he was underutilizing his opportunities at PBA. When the franchising concentration became available, he was the first to enroll. In addition to growing online sales for his family’s auto parts business, Rose has interned with United Franchise Group and Chick-fil-A, where he strategized to help franchises implement a corporate initiative to increase customer utilization of their app.
Bobby Cano ’20 was a transfer student who switched his major from economics to management and signed up for the franchising concentration. He interned at one local Chick-fil-A and has since risen to director of operations for the drive-thru at another.
He also is a franchise support coordinator for TBC Corporation. He is working with the company to launch their Discovery Days program, during which people who are serious candidates to own franchises come to a company’s headquarters to see their operations, marketing and support. It is the last discussion before the purchase of a franchise.
President William M. B. Fleming, Jr. thanked the advisory board members for their mentoring of students and advising of the franchising program.
“PBA from its founding was anchored in the free enterprise system,” Fleming said. “I’m so thankful that each of you is a free-enterprise champion.”
Photo (top): Gary Findley, 2019
Photo (bottom): A panel of students speaking with Titus Center Advisory Board members, 2019