Lindsey Gentry, an Army veteran who recently obtained the rights to open new Erbert and Gerbert’s sandwich shops in Texas, explains how her time in the military prepared her for becoming a business leader, and tackling the many challenges in her chosen business venture.
Below are excerpts from the article, “Veteran Business Profile: Erbert and Gerbert’s” written by Stephen Bajza for Military.com. (You can read the full article here.)
Did your entrepreneurial goals and the fact that Erbert and Gerbert was your favorite sandwich shop in college influence you?
Lindsey:, Actually I did my undergrad at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, which is the city that the company’s headquartered out of. My friends and I would be there every week hitting up the Erbert and Gerbert’s sandwich shop downtown and loved it. At the time I didn’t think, “Someday I want to own one of these.” I’ve always known that I wanted to be a business person in some respect. Even when I was in law school, I always felt that I would combine my legal knowledge with business pursuits. So I kept brands in the back of my mind that I really liked. When it came down to me picking a brand to buy into, when I met the team running [Erbert and Gerbert’s] and directing its future, I was sold.
What else about Erbert and Gerberts attracted your attention?
Lindsey: I love the product – the product is definitely, in terms of the flavor profiles in my opinion, superior to a lot of brands out there. So I’ll be selling a great, great product. The team, from the CEO to his supporting staff, is very user-friendly; they’re involved, caring people. They really get involved in every aspect and some of the support I’ve received from the highest level of this company in terms of helping me through my site selection process, just the coaching and mentoring, is unique. You probably wouldn’t get that kind of attention from another company. It’s unique when a CEO just calls up and says, “Hey we just wanted to check in and see how things are going.” That kind of team mentality is something that I learned in the military, I know how it works. When I saw that spark with these guys, I knew that was going to work for me.
What were some of the challenges in starting the business?
Lindsey: There are a lot. You know the reality is when I started looking into a franchise, it was a time when the economy wasn’t doing very well. Banks were closing their doors, they were not saying, “Yeah we’ll give you loans.” I had done things to invest and save, but I was still looking to finance this project through a bank because I’d prefer not to forward 100 percent of my cash into it, of course. So I was knocking on the doors of banks and at that time a lot of banks weren’t even interested in looking at the financials or the business plan if you said “restaurant concept.” It was an automatic no because the failure rate in the restaurant industry is pretty substantial. Of course that’s decreased when you buy into a franchise, there’s a much higher rate of success in franchises which are proven systems. The financing piece was frustrating. We got there, we got it done, but with doors being slammed in your face a lot, you have to be real good at being told no, shrugging it off, and moving on. That’s a skill you have to acquire, you have to say “Okay, next?” If you can’t take no, you won’t make it.
Did you approach Erbert and Gerbert’s first, or did you look for financing first and approach the company with a plan?
Lindsey: The way it works with most franchises, and the way it worked with Erbert and Gerbert’s, is that you present your personal financials. You show a certain amount of net worth, and from that point they’re able to do business with you if you meet their personal threshold. Once I had gotten approved by them and met all their criteria, we were able to go through the contract phase. I was able to buy my piece of the business, buy my piece of the pie, and become an official franchisee. At that point, once I owned my right to open a location in this area, I started to approach banks for my personal financing.
As for other challenges? What I’m going through right now in terms of place selection process is a tough one. Texas didn’t suffer quite as much as other states when it came to the economic downturn in the last couple of years. Texas has stayed somewhat competitive in terms of the commercial real estate market. A lot of cranes are still out there, and you don’t see that in a lot of other cities. Texas has continued to build and continued to grow and attract a lot of attention nationally. You see that all the time: Texas’s numbers are looking better, unemployment lines, all of that. Getting a great site, that home run site, is competitive; that’s been challenging. Of course, when you’re the newbie and you’re bringing a new brand to the state, you’ve got a little bit of a hill to climb. Definitely not impossible, but you have to be willing to go the distance because there’s a process that goes with the whole beginning phase.
There are still businesses that are opening here, not closing. There are a lot of brands penetrating this market. That’s a great thing, but it also means I have to fight for my piece.
What did you have to learn “on the fly?”
Lindsey: Truthfully, it’s a constant learning process, a very humbling process. You’re always around subject matter experts whether it be accountants, franchise attorneys, commercial brokers, or just whoever: a whole variety of people on your team who know more than you do. And that’s why you have them on your team, but it’s very humbling because there’s a whole new jargon and a whole new set of things that you have to learn. So, it’s constant learning for me, and I expect it to be that way for a long time. Prior to having the ability to take this leap in life, I had been studying and reading anything that I could about business and about franchising for a long time, anything I could to learn what I could about it. But still, there’s that idea of getting in and doing it that teaches you the most.
Can you take us through a typical day of running your business?
Lindsey: Right now it’s kind of all over the place. When you ask me question later in the year when I have everything up and running I’ll have a different answer for you. For example I’m currently on the road to look at a location in Austin. Locations come up, great opportunities present themselves, my broker gets on the phone with me, and within twenty-four hours I make sure to go see whatever kind of locations we think might have potential. There are a lot of conference calls, a lot of talking to subject matter experts when I’m looking through deals and I need to understand different points of construction terms and all those kinds of things. Right now I’m jam-packed looking at locations and getting on the phone talking out deals and trying to figure out how to make everybody happy in a deal so we can get construction rolling. Some days I’m truly at the mercy of finding out what some of these developers will do. In the army, we have a lot more certainty with what will happen, not so much in this process.
You can read the full article here.