Earlier this year, Jennifer Turliuk, CEO of Canadian franchise MakerKids, won the Grand Prize in the 2017 NextGen in Franchising Global Competition, edging out over 400 young franchisors from around the world. This was the third consecutive Grand Prize win for Canada, with John Evans of EverLine Coatings and Services winning in 2015, and Carmelo Marsala of Spray-Net winning in 2016. Canada is the only country to produce a Grand Prize winner three years in a row.
We spoke to the three NextGen winners to learn more about their award-winning concepts, and to find out why millennials are the future of franchising.
2015 Winner: John Evans, EverLine Coatings and Services
When John Evans speaks about the millennial work ethic, he speaks from first-hand experience.
As a student at the University of Calgary, Evans juggled a full course load with working a part-time job and running a College Pro Painters franchise. The quintessential multi-tasker, he even booked his first painting client by putting up a small sign promoting his services at the front desk of the video store where he worked.
As his College Pro business picked up, Evans began to receive requests to paint commercial parking lots, and noticed a lack of professionalism in the line painting industry. “It seemed fairly fractured and leaderless,” he recalls. “That got the juices flowing.”
His research led him to an Ontario-based company called The Better Line, which was licensing a durable traffic paint that lasts longer than other products on the market. He purchased the licence to use their materials and, in 2012, launched his own parking lot maintenance company, EverLine Coatings and Services. The transition from franchisee to independent entrepreneur was a challenge. “I had to develop all of the systems and processes from scratch. It was a lot of work.”
It was worth it in the end. With a superior product and a slick, professional image, EverLine was an immediate success, winning the Breakout Business of the Year Award from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce in 2012. “The industry was hungry for it,” says Evans.
Within a few years, EverLine grew to become Alberta’s largest line painting contractor, and Evans had to decide where to take his company next; he could either limit his growth to Alberta, or franchise his business and grow across Canada. Ultimately, he chose to franchise, relishing the opportunity to help other aspiring entrepreneurs by providing them with a proven concept.
As he considered franchising, he learned about the NextGen competition and decided to enter. Winning a Grand Prize gave him the confidence to launch his franchise plans, focusing first on the Prairie Provinces before expanding into larger markets like British Columbia and Ontario.
When it comes to finding franchisees, he’s looking for what he describes as “raw” entrepreneurs. “You have to be a hunter who’s out looking to make your mark on the industry.” Millennials, being adaptable and innovative, are particularly well-suited to the business, which is why Evans is actively recruiting them as franchisees and employees. “We’re proud to say we’re one of the first millennial-focused franchises.”
As for common stereotypes about millennials – for example, that they’re lazy and entitled – Evans says his experience has been the opposite. “Once millennials connect to a vision, they’re an extremely powerful force to work with,” he says. “They’re the future of business.”
2016 Winner: Carmelo Marsala, Spray-Net
Like John Evans, Spray-Net founder Carmelo Marsala also operated a College Pro Painting franchise during his summers off from Concordia University in Montreal. As he learned about the painting industry, he identified a gap in the market; certain exterior surfaces, such as siding, windows, and doors, could only be properly painted in a factory using solvent-based products that dry too quickly to be applied outdoors.
Determined to bring the factory finish directly to the homeowner, Marsala met with a chemist to develop a proprietary line of products and an application method that would enable him to paint any exterior surface on-site in just one day.
Marsala launched Spray-Net when he was 23-years-old, and decided to focus on the business full time after graduating. Over time, he couldn’t keep up with the growing demand for his services, and decided to franchise in 2014. “I was on a ladder, 30 feet in the air, taking a sales call when my phone fell to the ground and smashed into a million pieces,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘well, this is no longer sustainable.’”
As the franchise grew, Marsala began to win accolades from the business community, including a successful appearance on Dragons’ Den, an EY Young Entrepreneur Award and, most recently, the NextGen Grand Prize. Today, Spray-Net is almost completely sold out in Canada, and Marsala plans to expand into the United States.
The 30-year-old has clearly earned the respect of the international business community, a far cry from his early days as a young entrepreneur trying to get his business off the ground. “Showing up to someone’s house when you’re 19 and promising to make their house look good when it’s their most prized possession – you’ve got a bit of an uphill battle.”
Marsala credits his success to his dedicated team of head office staff and franchisees, many of whom are also under the age of 30. “You’re only as good as your team,” he says, which is why he places a lot of emphasis on selecting the right franchise partners. “We don’t sell franchises, we award them.”
Once a franchise has been awarded, franchisees receive a mix of in-class and on-site training prior to launching, and are partnered with a team of mentors who coach them throughout their first year of business and beyond. With all the training and support provided, franchisees don’t need a painting background to be successful. All they really need is the same drive and entrepreneurial spirit that helped Marsala make his business a success.
2017 Winner: Jennifer Turliuk, MakerKids
Jennifer Turliuk has always had a passion for technology. At 12 years old, she coded her first website for a school book report on Harry Potter. The website went viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of page views, and was even featured in a major children’s magazine. Experiencing that level of success at an early age was empowering, says Turliuk. “That was the moment when I realized I could do anything.”
Turliuk took that passion and continued to create. She attended business school at Queen’s University, and was selected to attend NASA’s prestigious Singularity University, where she learned about exponential technologies like robotics and 3D printing, and how to apply them to education. After this experience, Turliuk decided to start MakerKids to empower other young people to reach their potential.
Based in Toronto, MakerKids offers programs, summer camps, and birthday parties for children aged eight to 12 on topics like coding, Minecraft, and robotics. With its innovative curriculum, MakerKids has caught the attention of media like Wired, Popular Science, and CTV News, and received accolades for its programs in Toronto Life and Today’s Parent.
Thousands of students have graduated from MakerKids, and some have gone on to start their own businesses or to present their projects on national television. With such a successful track record, it’s not surprising that MakerKids is now getting hundreds of franchise requests.
Turliuk plans to select the first franchisee by the end of 2017. Her goal is to grow steadily to provide more kids with the opportunity to learn, create, and be empowered. Being named the top young franchisor in the world should help with that.
“I am so happy and grateful to have won the NextGen in Franchising Global Competition,” says Turliuk. “I am proud to have made this a ‘hat-trick’ for Canada as the third Canadian to win the competition. I look forward to using the learnings from this experience to grow our brand and expand the Canadian economy.”
By Christine Rosal