Signarama Downtown Louisville, KY owner Maggie Harlow is featured in Entrepreneur’s latest Franchise Players column, a Q&A interview that puts the spotlight on franchisees around the world:

Signarama Downtown Louisville, KY Maggie HarlowMaggie Harlow has been involved in franchising as long as she can remember. Her family ran an automotive franchise when she was growing up, and she worked at the franchise until she was in her early 30s. However, when she had the chance to take over the business from her parents, she decided that she wanted to find her own kind of franchise. That was when she found Signarama. Here’s what Harlow has learned in the course of her franchise-filled life.

Name: Maggie Harlow

Franchise owned: Signarama Downtown in Louisville, Ky.

How long have you owned a franchise?

It has been 11 years with my husband as a partner, but my family was in franchising my entire life.

Why franchising?

I grew up in an automotive franchise and learned the business from the inside out. I was very comfortable with the business model. I understand that it isn’t “perfect,” no matter how good the franchisor is, and that sometimes you have to give and sometimes you have to take. I also love the collaborative nature of franchising. I have developed deep friendships with other franchise owners to whom I turn when I need advice, help, or just a shoulder to lean on.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I grew up working for my family in our dealership, starting with answering phones as a teenager to becoming general manager in my early 30s. My parents encouraged me to assume ownership of the business, but I could see the business model was not an easy one. Not only was the industry was moving away from the “mom and pop” dealerships, but I never found tremendous joy in the business. I loved my customers and employees, but the culture of the franchise model in this case was not something I found compelling or motivating. So, I encouraged my parents to sell the business, which they did, and I forged out on my own.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted when I started looking, but I did have a list of what I did NOT want… I didn’t want a luxury product, I didn’t want retail hours, and I didn’t want minimum wage employees, among many other things. I started online, perusing franchise sites and requesting information. My husband helped me – he was the devil’s advocate, questioning each one I looked at. Signarama was the first franchise he couldn’t see a reason to talk me out of, and the list of things I didn’t want were nowhere in sight.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

Between cash and financing, we spent about $170,000. We used our home equity and savings to make it work. Our franchise fee was $40,000, the equipment was around $150, and we had build-out costs built into our rent payments. We kept about $30,000 of operating capital, but we ended up needing more in order to finance some large clients we landed.

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