Matthew Horne-Choose Your Own Adventure

Alberta Venture Reports on:
Founder and CEO, Deco Windshield Repair

Most people involved in the business of franchising tend to be pretty happy with the business model that they’ve chosen. A third-party report commissioned by the law firm of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP showed that 95 per cent of surveyed franchisees were either satisfied or very satisfied with their decision to purchase a franchise, and the growing interest in franchising mentorships among startups indicates similar enthusiasm on the franchisor side. That said, franchising is not the only business expansion model out there, and it’s not suitable for every business.

Deco Windshield Repair is one business that is considering whether getting into the franchising business is the right corporate move. Founded in 2005, incorporated in 2007 and based in Calgary, Deco has since expanded to 92 locations stretching from Winnipeg to Vancouver Island, but thanks to the company’s low overhead that’s made possible by seasonal student staffing and an emphasis on campus recruiting, it has been able to expand without needing the kind of outside capital that franchising could provide.

“There are a lot of other business models besides franchising,” says founder and CEO Matthew Horne. “I’ve had a lot of inquiries from would-be franchisees from the get-go, but we’ve resisted.” For Horne, a former national snowboarder who began his business with a pair of kiosks in Airdrie and Red Deer, his major concern is ensuring that his still-young company’s close-knit business culture is maintained. “It would definitely be a relinquishment of control,” says Horne about the possibility of franchising. “I still sit in on interviews much of the time, and I wouldn’t be able to do that. If there’s a possibility for a disconnect in business culture, that’s a hesitation.”

Deco’s emphasis on campus recruitment and fostering staff loyalty has allowed Horne to develop a team of capable kiosk managers who have been with the company for numerous seasons and oversee multiple outlets, thereby facilitating expansion. “Because the whole model is based on revenue sharing, we give people the opportunity to come back and run a bigger business, with more locations,” explains Horne. “It’s the fifth season for some of these people, and we have a great team.”

While Horne expresses reservations about the franchising model, he concedes that franchising is a future option. “We’re expanding almost 100 per cent per year, and we want more kiosks,” he says, adding that the company plans to expand into Ontario in the spring of 2011 and has its sights set beyond that. “We’ve developed a strong brand and a strong model.” Horne adds that 2010 marked the company’s first down year in its history as a result of poor weather conditions that cost the company six weeks of business, a substantial loss for a business that operates primarily between May and September with shoulder seasons in April and October. Nevertheless, he believes that the future looks bright for his company. “We’re still running lean, just deferring gain. The economic downturn has actually helped with recruiting, and we’re at a very convenient price point. Also, we’re not hidden away in industrial neighbourhoods, but front and centre in shopping areas where people frequent daily. This really helps.”

Horne concedes that his hands-on approach, while rewarding, is enormously challenging. “It’s an incredible effort,” he says. “At the beginning, I was doing everything and I quickly became my own bottleneck. And I’m still involved in all levels of the company. As a franchisor, I’m going to have to be a better leader than I am now, but I have gained a lot of knowledge. We’ve grown the hard way and that’s been a tremendous learning experience.”

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