By the time most folks reach their late 50s, they’ve begun to shift their thinking towards the next chapter. In the book, Halftime, Bob Buford described this as “a time of revitalization and for catching a new vision for living the second half, the half where life can be lived at its most rewarding.”
For many, living a rewarding life means kicking back, exploring a new hobby, traveling, or volunteering. All are noble pursuits, but if you’re Eric and Pam Knauss, you’re finding lots of reasons NOT to retire. In their mid-50s they became owners of CertaPro Painters – Greenville East, a residential and commercial painting franchise they launched together in February 2012.
How did an engineer, who climbed to the top of his field in mammoth companies like Milliken, end up owning and running a successful franchise at this stage in life?
In Eric’s own words…”I love our business”.
Eric is now in his mid-60s and showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, he says matter of factly, “I’m not looking to retire any time soon”. He has grown his one territory to 6 managers who oversee 8 painting crews. We caught up with Eric recently for his thoughts on the last 9 years of franchise ownership.
What do you like most about owning your own business?
“After climbing the corporate ladder for 35 years and reaching the top rung at the senior management level, I did not like the view. I was either in a meeting or overseas. I was making a lot of money yet felt disconnected from the engineering and customer contact I loved. In our business, we can connect one on one with our customers. We hire our own people and set our policies. There is a high degree of personal freedom. Gone are the endless meetings and travel. We live 3 miles from the office and the only time we have a meeting is when it is absolutely necessary, and they last a maximum of 15 minutes.”
Looking back over your career, was business ownership something you thought you would always do or was there a different motivator along the way?
“It was really more about finding the right fit at the right place at the right time. With the help of Leslie Kuban and FranNet, we looked at different opportunities.”
“With a franchise roadmap, you can scale quickly vs starting from scratch.”
“Financially we were in pretty good shape, but still we wanted a business with low capital requirements, McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A didn’t meet that requirement. Plus, Pam has a well-developed design and marketing sense, so we figured we could put her skills to work without risking too much.”
65 is considered by many to be a “pivot point”, yet you have no desire to hang up your cleats. What is your viewpoint of “retirement”?
“I guess it’s like one of those bank commercials in trying to figure out how not to retire. Next year, we are elevating one of our team members to GM, which will allow me to take a different role more focused on growth. Our goal is to double our business in 4 years (grow 20% year on year). We are investing like we will be here forever.”
What motivates you?
“I think that we feel very personally close to all of our associates and want to create an environment where they can grow and thrive. We know the families of our painters and employees and feel like we are not only building an entity for professional and personal opportunities but are building a family. The keyword is ‘respect’. We are a value-based organization and it feels really good. We run a very high customer service rating. Being involved in something and sitting back to see it come to fruition is great motivation.”
How has being aligned with a franchise, CertaPro, been in terms of supporting your goals/needs as a business owner?
“The reasons that we decided on CertaPro are the values, the support resources, and their approach to continuous improvement – all the values held when working in the corporate environment were there…and then some. Our annual franchisee in January averages at least 1,000 attendees. We bring our whole staff. Everyone comes back excited. I have CertaPro on every piece of clothing I have! It’s a very strong brand culture.”
Looking back on your journey, what advice would you give to others in their late fifties and sixties wondering if they should have a stab at owning their own business?
“In making that transition, you have to have adequate funding for the first few years. If you are coming out of corporate, plan NOT to take the salary you had before. Inadequate funding is often the #1 reason for failure. Funding is also important in hiring the people so you can grow to a point where, if you have to take some money out, it is safe to do.”
“You cannot be afraid of hard work. Part of building a team is, if there is a problem, we will be there. Our staff knows we have their backs, so there is virtually zero turnover.”
“Husband and wife teams are not for everyone. Pam works full-time handling financials, marketing, human resources, and all color consultations. She has immense strengths and we complement each other. We’re lucky that we get along really well.”
Eric is quick to credit much of his success with being aligned with a strong brand. When we asked him if he would do it all again knowing what he knows now. He said in no uncertain terms,
“I wish I had done it years earlier.”
Eric Knauss is one of those guys you hope will never retire because he’s so much fun to work with.
Leslie Kuban is a nationally recognized franchise industry expert, CFE (Certified Franchise Executive) and Market President of FranNet; a locally owned and operated franchise consulting firm. Leslie and her team have helped more than 500 individuals achieve their dreams of business ownership through a no-cost, educational, and coaching process.
Leslie is a guest lecturer for the MBA and EMBA programs at Emory University and Kennesaw State and a founding member of the Georgia State University Franchise Entrepreneurship Advisory Board. She is one of 15 franchise industry thought leaders who contributed to the Amazon bestseller, More Than Just French Fries, a collaborative work on successful business ownership through franchising.