Sara Waskow has done it all, employment-wise.

She used to work for AT&T, where she spent more than 10 years in the corporate world.

That stint came to an end when she began a period of stay-at-home mothering. A few part-time jobs afterward were followed by a six-year run at a startup.

Finally, in early 2015, she made the leap into entrepreneurship. And nothing in her career has worked out better than owning her own small business.

"I know for myself that I wouldn't be employable now," Waskow said. "I'm so spoiled. Basically, I draw my own schedule and make the decisions. It would be really hard for me to work for somebody else at this point in my career."

Based out of an office in North Richland Hills, Waskow operates a franchise that connects potential franchisees to franchisors.

Waskow is the market president and owner of Frannet in Dallas-Fort Worth, which serves Texas and Oklahoma.

With more than 16 years of consultation and sales experience and now running her own business, Waskow knows the small-business landscape inside-out.

She said the Fort Worth market has experienced a boom in small businesses and it does not seem to be stopping anytime soon.

With the strong local economy, a considerable influx of large corporations has somewhat trickled down more growth in small businesses in Fort Worth.

"What's happening is a lot of these big companies are moving here, and that ends up bringing a lot of people here," Waskow said. "The people that are now moving here for these jobs, for example, are needing a lot of different types of services.

“So they need pet care, they need their hair cut, they need their house cleaned, they need dry cleaning. A lot of the businesses that serve the needs of just the average homeowner, the average family – there's more growth in that," Waskow said.

Wallet Hub, a personal finance website, ranked Fort Worth 11th on a list of best large cities to start a business in the country. Wallet Hub published the list in early May after conducting research and comparing opportunities at 100 U.S. cities.

In Texas, only Austin got better scores than Fort Worth in the study. Dallas ranked 15th, ahead of San Antonio at number 16 and Irving at number 17, rounding out the top five places in Texas to start a business.

The study also cited Fort Worth as the third best business environment in the country. Office-space affordability, the average growth of business revenues, industry variety and job growth, among other things, contributed to Fort Worth's desirability.

"I feel that culture in Fort Worth, [where] people want to work together – it's very relationship-oriented, it's very friendly, it just is a fun business environment," Waskow said. "It's a little more laid-back than some other bigger cities. It may be a little more casual."

Cost of doing business

For yourself, not by yourself

Consistently since 2006, small businesses make up over 90% of all businesses in Fort Worth, according to data from the city.

There are more than 30,000 businesses in the city. Most are franchises.

The franchising business model is where the owner of an organization licenses its intellectual property, brand and rights to sell its products and services to an outside company.

An example of a successful franchise business is McDonald's, which has become one of the largest companies in the world. The first McDonald's in Fort Worth opened in 1961 on Lancaster Avenue. Currently, the restaurant giant has more than 25 restaurants just in Fort Worth.

Compared to starting a business from scratch, entrepreneurs may find franchising involves lower risks as most franchisors provide the necessary training and well-researched real estate before the business opens.

Franchises also have a relatively higher, five-year survival rate, Waskow said.

"The processes and systems are already in place," Waskow said about franchising. "You have the opportunity to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself. You can benefit from somebody else's skinned knee or stubbed toe and some of the mistakes they've made."

More than 4,000 franchise systems are available in the U.S. market.

Of those, Frannet only works with a few hundred, but it makes up a sizable portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth market, which has seen a surge in franchise investment in recent years, Waskow said.

“D-FW is a market that most of our franchisors really want to be in," Waskow said, "because there's a lot of discretionary income here. It is an easier place to do business in."

Burger brand expansion

Mooyah Brugers, Fries and Shakes

Plano-based Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes has 25 locations in Texas, but only one in Fort Worth proper, in AllianceTexas.

However, that's about to change soon.

President and COO Tony Darden told the Fort Worth Business Press that the company now wants to aggressively grow the brand, and it is starting from the Fort Worth area.

"We've got strong plans in place," Darden said. "We are actively searching and engaging potential new franchisees to bring aboard within our organization."

Mooyah has plans to open about a dozen new restaurants in the next 12 months. Agreements are already in place to open 20 more restaurants in the following 18 months.

"We've got some great traction with the restaurants on the Tarrant County side," Darden said. "In Fort Worth, specifically, we're actively looking for new franchisees to join. We feel very strongly about Tarrant County and Fort Worth."

Mooyah is seeking franchisees with some experience in the restaurant industry.

Restaurants in Texas made an estimated $66 billion in sales last year, according to the National Restaurant Association. More than 1.3 million Texans are employed in the food service industry.

The industry may be competitive, requiring more effort, but the profit margins are more lucrative, the Mooyah executive said.

"We are a franchise organization and, truthfully, our thought process and mindset is, franchisees are the lifeblood of our organization," Darden said. "We're going to make the right decisions for our franchisees in terms of directional strategy for the organization, or initiatives that we roll out across the organization. We're going to run those through a series of filters to make sure we're doing the right thing."

Opening a restaurant with Mooyah will cost a potential franchisee an initial franchise fee of $40,000. Then, an average investment of over $350,000 is required, based on the site and occupancy.

Muscling into the market

Workout Anytime, a gym company from Georgia, entered Texas about two years ago with a location in Princeton, about 10 miles east of McKinney.

The company now has at least 9 stores – all owned by local entrepreneurs – across the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Six more Workout Anytime locations are scheduled to open this year. A few more locations in the area are in the works, while a lease agreement for a new Arlington location is already signed.

A dozen more Workout Anytime gyms are expected to open in 2020.

Franchising is a type of growth-oriented business where an owner can have a lifestyle of the semi-absentee partner or run it as a side business, said Randy Trotter, senior vice president of development at Workout Anytime.

"We also do have people that buy these and they retire, and they use Workout Anytime as their retirement income," Trotter said. "So what we do is, we find people that want to open the clubs and we help them locate the right real estate."

Most Workout Anytime gyms span 7,000 square feet and are located in a development anchored by a shopping center.

A gym membership typically costs $10 a month.

Workout Anytime owners do not need to spend much on inventories or staffing, Trotter said. "We call it structural entrepreneurialism," he said. "We give you the structure, we give the operations manual and you just follow the recipe for success. You're more likely to succeed with a franchise than you would be if you opened your own business."

Pet care moving west

Michael Gould was one of the first officers in the New York Police Department's canine unit. He later was deployed to Italy, where he worked on the Military Working Dog program.

With more than three decades of dog training experience, Gould opened a private pet care business in New York called Hounds Town USA. He’s the company’s CEO.

After many years, several additional locations and success in New York and New Jersey, Hounds Town USA is now expanding westward. The company is looking to open about five locations in Dallas-Fort Worth.

But, Gould said, the business of franchising is not for everyone.

His company is not just looking for anyone who loves dogs.

"Too much experience is a deal-breaker,” he said. "Frankly, we turn away more prospective franchisees than we award territories to. We are very strategic with who we want to be associated with."

Since its inception, the company has taken care of more than 1.5 million dogs. It has two corporate locations. All other current and future locations are franchisee-owned.

"Our business model is to take very good care of our franchisees, knowing that we will be in business with them for the next 10 years," Gould said.

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