Franchisee stumbles into a million-dollar opportunity

BLIND JUSTICE <br>After getting comfortable with the Budget Blinds business model, Tim Long put some twists on his Chico and Paradise franchises.

After getting comfortable with the Budget Blinds business model, Tim Long put some twists on his Chico and Paradise franchises.

Photo By Alexis Harmon

Window to the world:Blinds, Inc., based in Orange, Calif., was founded in 1992 and has franchisees covering more than 900 territories in 48 states.

Tim Long didn’t find a franchise opportunity so much as one found him.

Now he’s really glad he didn’t miss the chance. In three years, Long has turned his Budget Blinds franchise into a million-dollar company.

Before Long had ever thought of owning his own business, he worked for Pepsi Bottling Group. Then, a friend with a Budget Blinds franchise in Redding suggested Long start one in the Chico area.

“He realized it was a good fit for me, because I have experience in sales and a construction background,” Long said. “A few months went by and I got a little bit more serious about it, learned more about it. I realized it was a good fit and decided to do it.”

He was just in time. Budget Blinds works territorially, by ZIP code. Once a franchisee has established a branch in an area, it’s off limits to other Budget Blinds purveyors. The company has expanded so quickly in the last few years that most of the rights to California franchises have already been purchased.

Chico and Paradise “belong” exclusively to Tim Long. He bought into the franchise three years ago at $49,950 per territory, with a price break for taking more than one. Now, each territory with Budget Blinds goes for around $100,000.

“I wish I heard about it sooner,” Long said in his new office in Chico. “I was fortunate I did it when I did, because after I purchased my two territories, I had offers on them immediately. So I knew I made a good move. I made it just in the nick of time.”

Long ran Budget Blinds out of his house for two and one-half years before setting up an office (reachable at 343-3400). Though he started out—naively, he says—thinking that he could run a one-man business, he quickly learned he’d be far too busy for that. He now employs seven people, including two installers, sales people and an office assistant.

Long didn’t know anything about window coverings when he started out, but Budget Blinds actually prefers that its franchisees don’t. That way they can train them in the proven ways of the company. Of the two weeks of the initial mandatory training, Budget Blinds stresses a successful business model as much as the actual installation and window coverings expertise.

“Really, they thought it best if you didn’t have any experience in the industry. They wanted to be able to bring you in, train you their way, because all they’ve done is window coverings forever. They realized you didn’t really need any special skills, there was just a basic blueprint. If you followed that blueprint, you’ll pretty much guarantee success.”

One unusual aspect of Budget Blinds is that while the company provides franchisees with plenty of support and a strong business model, it doesn’t limit franchise owners to standard procedures. Once Long felt confident running his business, he decided to venture from the standard Budget Blinds model.

“As I got a feel for the community and the needs of the community and the competition, I just started to just sort of personalize my business plan a little bit, so I don’t follow the corporate plant to a T anymore,” he said.

Given Budget Blinds’ flexibility within each franchise, Long said he can’t find any drawbacks to not having starting his own business from scratch. In fact, he lists only the franchise’s benefits.

“I only see pluses,” Long said. “Basically the risk is gone. If you are in a position where you can purchase the business and you follow their guidelines, it’s gonna work.”

While he admits franchising may not work for everyone, for him, he said, it was a perfect fit.

“I’m just thrilled. I couldn’t be happier with it.”