How this Vietnam Era Veteran Applies his Experience to Opening Successful FranchisesAuthor: Smoothie King
As a captain in the U.S. Army between 1969 and 1972, Bill Colaianni was responsible for a variety of duties. Captains are mid-level officers who command, support and disseminate orders to companies of hundreds of soldiers, among other responsibilities.
This experience was the catalyst for Bill’s achievements in corporate America and led to his success as a multi-unit Smoothie King franchisee, while also owning several other franchise concepts.
“Here’s what the army and my experience as a small business owner has taught me,” he said. “You do whatever it takes to win. That’s what entrepreneurs do. Smoothie King gives you the tools, but you have to use them to make results happen.”
Deployed to Corporate America
Bill served overseas during his time in the Army, but did not get called up to serve in Vietnam. Bill knew he was fortunate, and believes his good fortune extended to the opportunities he found upon returning to the United States.
A national bank was recruiting military veterans and Bill was hired almost immediately. He entered the company’s training program, where he spent two years before ultimately becoming the head of the company’s asset-based lending team. He then moved on to a prominent sports company, where he rose to the ranks of chief operating officer and chief financial officer before joining a private equity firm, where he works as a portfolio advisor.
Advancing on New Territory
Bill turned his attention toward investment opportunities closer to home, in Arizona. Seeing that Americans were focusing on healthy lifestyles, he sought to invest in a business that aligned with that demand. Because of the hot climate and growth of the state, along with the population’s drive toward a more active lifestyle, he and his business partner approached Smoothie King about opening franchise locations in Arizona. They purchased development rights to the Tucson territory in 2015 and began aggressively signing deals and opening Smoothie King stores.
The brand was new to the Tucson market, but it gained traction quickly. People showed up at the first store before it even opened for business.
“People were waiting for the door to open, but we weren’t going to open for a few weeks,” Bill said. “People wanted a quality product, and we made money the first day we opened. We opened across the street from a gym.”
Bill and his partner committed to opening five stores in five years, and they have already opened two locations. One store is currently being built and another site is being negotiated. Bill anticipates they will both open in 2019. He and his partner are also exploring bringing Smoothie King to the Phoenix market, which is more than 110 miles north of Tucson.
“There’s a lot of opportunities in southern Arizona because the weather is great all year round and there’s a lot of money coming in and a lot of development happening in the marketplace,” Bill said. “So, we’re very aggressive.”
Applying Military Experience to Franchising
As a military officer, you learn who has the right stuff to accomplish a mission and how to delegate. Since Bill owns so many franchise locations for three brands, he says he can’t possibly manage them all himself. To solve that, he hires driven, people-oriented managers.
“The day-to-day manager is critical,” he said. “They should be committed, have pride and work well with people. You have a team of people that need to be motivated and managed, and you have to show them you will work as hard, if not harder, than them.”
The military also taught Bill the value of leading by example. When franchisees and their managers roll up their sleeves to get the job done, their employees are more likely to do the same for them.
“You don’t let people see you doing less than what you’re asking them to do,” he said. “If you’re asking them to be there at 8 a.m., you better be there at 7:30 a.m. If you’re asking them to sweep the floor, you have to be prepared to sweep the floor.”
As with an army captain overseeing a team, he says a multi-unit franchisee must often allow his managers to do their jobs, and provides support when needed.
“I partner with people because I can’t do all of it,” Bill said. “Understand your people, give them the freedom to do what they do well, and help them where they need help. Don’t micro-manage unless you have to. And, if you have to, you’ve got the wrong people working for you.”
Grateful for the Opportunities
Looking back 46 years, Bill feels fortunate to have been recruited by the national bank during a tumultuous time in the U.S. He also appreciates the increased number of opportunities available to veterans, in particular at Smoothie King.
Smoothie King offers qualified veterans a 20 percent discount off the initial franchise fee and is a member of Vet Fran, a network of member companies that offer discounts, mentorship and training to aspiring veteran franchisees.
“I appreciate that Smoothie King gives veterans a discount and encourages aspiring franchisees to apply to join the system,” Bill said.