"If I had to sum up my philosophy in one word," John Rotche says, "it would have to be GO!"
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the October, 2017 issue
"You've got to be ready to seize opportunities when they come," Rotche continues, "or go looking for them if they don't come to you." After twenty-five years of franchising with ten different brands, Rotche dove in headfirst when he launched his franchise management company two years ago.
"We had the name 'The Franworth Building' etched in stone--literally--and mounted on a prestigious corner building in downtown Ann Arbor before we had even one brand under management," he admits, shaking his head. "There was no turning back."
He started by gathering a handful of associates from previous franchise ventures. Together they started translating Rotche's vision into the nuts-and-bolts processes for "Meta-Franchising," a term Franworth is in the process of trademarking.
"Meta-Franchising means franchising the business model of franchising ... systematizing franchising to help franchisors be better franchisors," Rotche says.
The exposed brick walls and pipes, glass partitions, original windows, and steel staircases in the company's upper-floor offices in the former Selo/Shevel building reflect the tone of the company, says chief operating officer Mike Skitzki: "hip, trendy, yet rooted in strong, traditional business values."
Rotche's third-floor office features a curious-looking rowing machine standing upright in a corner and a collection of photographs of family, mentors, friends, and partners. He points to photographs of Bo Schembechler, Tom Monaghan, and Molly Maid's David McKinnon. "They all took a chance on me," he says. "They taught me incredible life skills." Rotche was a conditioning coach under Schembechler as a U-M student, worked for Monaghan at Domino's, and learned business skills from McKinnon, founder of Service Brands International, parent company to Molly Maid and Mr. Handyman. Both Monaghan and McKinnon had won the International Franchise Association's Worldwide Entrepreneur of the Year Award--and Rotche joined them in 2011. The newest photograph--so recent that it has yet to be framed--shows Rotche standing shoulder-to-shoulder in his office with his former U-M teammate Jim Harbaugh and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who are partners in several of Rotche's ventures.
Domino's, Rotche moved to Krispy Kreme. On the side, he purchased a small duct-cleaning business. When cleaning his own ducts helped relieve his son's severe respiratory issues, he left the doughnut maker to grow DUCTZ.
"Sometimes you just can't think about the risk," he says. "Too often people overthink things; they focus on the risk rather than the potential. I look at business as a blank slate of opportunities. Someone will find and capitalize on them, so why not me?"
Within three years, DUCTZ became the nation's largest duct cleaner. He sold it and founded HOODZ International, which cleans restaurant kitchen exhaust systems. It soon became the largest company in that industry, with more than 140 franchised locations. He sold it, too, but stayed on as president for five years.
In 2012, the founders of the Kansas City-based TITLE Boxing Club approached Rotche to serve as president and as a significant shareholder of the boutique boxing and kickboxing gym. Rotche moved the company's headquarters to a 1,000-square-foot loft in downtown Ann Arbor and opened a franchise of his own on W. Stadium. Within three years, TITLE grew from nine clubs to more than 350, and Rotche expects it to reach sales of $75-$80 million by the end of this year.
It was the first brand to tuck under the Franworth portfolio. Wei and Lisa Bee, founders of Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, met Rotche at his Ann Arbor TITLE franchise. With seven locations and interested in further expansion, they signed on as Franworth's second brand.
"We needed someone who knew what we didn't know," says Lisa, "someone to help us avoid the pitfalls as our business grew." She says she consults "almost daily" with Franworth's staff as they help Sweetwaters organize, advertise, and connect with potential franchisees.
Spavia ("a high-quality, reasonably priced spa that offers all the amenities of luxury hotel spas") was the third brand, followed by the Lash Lounge (eyelash extensions). And Franworth just signed U-M alum Helaine Knapp, founder and CEO of a New York-based luxury boutique fitness studio using streamlined, state-of-the-art rowing equipment--which accounts for the machine in Rotche's office.
Ann Arbor will get Knapp's first studio outside Manhattan. "What I appreciate is that Franworth isn't just jumping on someone's logo and offering a few services," says Knapp. "They are committed to maintaining the integrity of the brand and the vision of the founders, while they offer the resources to take us national, even international."
Franworth companies now have more than 500 locations--all tracked by pins on a large map near the desk of Rotche's executive assistant, Charlotte Salo. "We look for companies that are premium in their space, whatever the business may be," Rotche says. Franworth takes an equity position in all its brands. "We're not consultants, we're partners," he says.
The Franworth staff has grown to twenty-five, many of them veterans of the franchise industry and friends who worked with Rotche in previous businesses. At least four times a month, they host prospective franchisees at "Discovery Days" in Ann Arbor. "They stay in local hotels, eat at local restaurants, shop in local businesses," Rotche points out. "We're beginning to have an impact on the local economy--and that's important to us."
A frequent guest on FOX Business and Bloomberg television, he has written numerous articles for industry publications. But he is equally proud of his own mentoring activities--he volunteers to help U-M and NFL athletes transition into the business world after their sports careers.
Next on his to-do list? "I've begun writing my first book." Its title reflects Rotche's approach to growing businesses: Why Not?
[Originally published in October, 2017.]
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