Four franchising families showcase how family and business truly can mix
by Georgie Binks
If you’ve ever considered opening a franchise with a family member, it’s important to take a number of factors into consideration—everything from strengths and weaknesses to methods of managing disputes takes on added significance when dealing with family members. These franchisees who work with family share their secrets.
Heather and Ken Martin, Comfort Keepers
When Heather Martin, a franchisee with Comfort Keepers in British Columbia, returned to Canada after working in the U.S. for 18 years, she wanted a job that involved helping people.
“When the Comfort Keepers opportunity became available, I felt this would be the best of all worlds—help people, while getting paid for doing so. The added incentive was it was part of a franchise. Since I was venturing into a different field, I had an entire system to help and support me in this journey.”
Martin started franchising in 2009, with her brother-in-law, Ken Martin, joining her in 2014. Her sons—Roger and Ethan Martin—have now entered the business, which has grown to cover B.C.’s lower coast from Abbotsford to Vancouver and the city of Victoria, leaving the family with seven territories in total. Heather loves the franchise’s great support. “You’re supported all along your journey by people who know and understand the industry and business.”
In the beginning, friends advised Heather against mixing family and business. “When we started in 2014, several well-meaning friends said doing business with family members can only lead to disharmony and, very often, breakdowns in family relationships. I am happy and confident to say this is not the case with us.”
She says the key to harmony is playing to each other’s strengths. “At the start of the relationship, we had clearly defined roles and stuck to that. We defer to the person who handles a particular role for any decisions required on that aspect of the business. That helps us maintain a harmonious business and personal relationship.”
She says diversity in franchising is great, especially for those new to Canada who may not understand the cultural differences, which is something a franchisor can help with.
As far as success with family members goes, Heather notes that “it’s amazing if you can support your family members in their path to success, rather than just any business partner. You need to be cognizant of their and your strengths and leverage that to make the business a success. Don’t let personal family issues cloud your business decisions. You’re in this as a team.”
Jessica and Ben Voo, Minuteman Press International
“I love seeing Ben all the time,” Jessica Voo says of her brother. “Growing up, we’ve always been there for each other. With our adult lives, we had our separate things and didn’t really see each other.”
The siblings, now in their 30s, are franchise partners of two Minuteman Press locations in British Columbia and see each other every day.
Ben Voo, who previously owned several Chevron gas stations, purchased his first Minuteman Press franchise in 2016 in Vancouver. Jessica, who previously worked at Starbucks, joined him in 2019, and the pair purchased their second location in December 2022 in New Westminster. “It’s nice to be with family achieving the same type of goals,” explains Jessica.
Minuteman Press is a printing franchise with nearly 1,000 locations worldwide. “The support from head office has always been tremendous,” says Ben. “The software allows us to bring in customers, track what they’re ordering, quote, invoice, then be able to train our people with the same system. We can also reach out to other owners in the system.”
Jessica says the franchisor has a mindset of continuously improving the system. “That’s in line with where our franchise wants to go.”
Ben says that although he and his sibling work well together, they don’t always agree. “There are definitely days of shouting matches but we both have solution-focused mindsets. Franchising with a family member, the trust comes a little bit easier, rather than with a complete stranger. With Jess, I know what she wants to do with her life.”
The two, who were born in Malaysia, say diversity in franchising is vital. Jessica says growing up as an immigrant “puts the world into perspective. I think you approach things differently. You see what’s important, what really matters at the end of the day.”
To prospective franchisees thinking of franchising with a family member, Jessica says, “There has to be a level of trust between family members. If your viewpoint is to be working together, it can’t come from a selfish place.”
As Ben says: “You win together, and you lose together.”
Gautam and Aditi Shourie, Pet Valu
It’s one thing to have canine customers barking, but shouting matches aren’t something Gautam Shourie and his wife Aditi have to worry about as partners. “There is always someone to hold your back,” says Gautam. “So the support factor is there, physically, mentally, and emotionally.” The two arrived in Canada from India in 2005. Both had experience in the banking world but needed something with better hours that was more lucrative. Gautam discovered Pet Valu through a friend.
The in-store experience, and the fact that both were also pet lovers, sold them on franchising. “We shopped at various pet stores and experienced their customer service, employees’ dedication towards others’ pets, and personalized service and products,” says Gautam.
The two acquired their first Pet Valu franchise in 2011, and now have five stores, with aspirations to purchase a sixth. The only short-term goal is to retain employees, a major hurdle due to the impact of the pandemic.
Gautam says he likes the continuing support he receives from the franchisor and from their marketing teams. “Owning your own business is exciting and rewarding, and franchising helps you minimize the risk and maximize the opportunity. I have more control over my success.”
As for diversity in franchising, he says diverse workplaces tend to bring a variety of perspectives, enabling businesses to get a clearer picture of their customers.
“People of all races, ages, and backgrounds can breathe new life into the franchise industry,” says Gautam. “An inclusive and diverse environment allows for wider perspectives to be integrated when brainstorming, problem solving, and developing new ideas in business.”
As for the couple working together, Gautam says, “She works with me, and I work with her. This way, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Whenever we need an extra pair of hands, my boys stand with us and work at the store.”
Still there are challenges. “Some days are filled with arguments and disagreements. But things can get cleared with discussion. The most important factors to take into consideration are trust in each other, freedom of decision and discussion, as well as respect for each other.”
Ijeamaka and Joyce Ojeifo, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Canada
In addition to managing TWO MEN AND A TRUCK locations across Saskatchewan, this husband-and-wife team has three kids—which makes for a pretty busy life. But Ijeamaka and Joyce Ojeifo, who run the franchise out of their Saskatoon location, with another location in Regina, say it’s all good.
Joyce, with a human resources background, and her husband Ijeamaka, with an IT background, love working together. “It’s been a great experience,” notes Joyce. “I know his vision and passion. We put our strengths together to make this a success.”
The two acquired the territory in 2019 and love the support system. Having started their own businesses in the past, the franchise model has an extra appeal.
“The reason I moved into franchising is I’ve started some businesses prior—some failed, some succeeded,” says Ijeamaka. “The success rate of franchising is higher than starting your own business.”
Ijeamaka says the benefit of working with his wife is “the ability to share our knowledge. We encourage each other.”
But having both parents working long hours in a thriving franchise can create strain on the family. “That posed challenges in running around to take them to their games,” says Ijemaka. “That’s a challenge, especially for young families.”
Originally from Nigeria, Ijeamaka says diversity is important in franchising. “You are able to pull the richness of the culture of different peoples working with you together. It’s their contribution, their line of thought, there’s richness to be had when you have a diverse work force.”
“I think my way of doing things is rubbing off and I’ve learned so much from the Canadians,” Joyce agrees.
For people thinking of working with a family member, Joyce offers a piece of advice: “You need someone who has drive like you, someone you know you can work with very well, someone with the passion to try the vision you have.”
“There’s a saying,” she adds. “The enemy you know is better than the enemy you don’t know. It has to do with trust and patience. It’s more rewarding and interesting for family members to come together.”
Family Business Impact in Canada
Family-owned businesses are an integral part of the Canadian franchise marketplace:
- Statistics Canada’s most recent data on family-owned enterprises shows that family businesses employ 6.9 million people across the country.
- Family businesses account for 63 per cent of all private sector firms in Canada
- According to PwC’s Family Business Survey 2021 advancing digital capabilities is key to the growth of family businesses in the coming years.
- 45 per cent of respondents say increasing next-gen involvement in decision-making is key in the next two years.
- 95 per cent of under-45s think it’s important for a family member to take over, while only 65 per cent of older family members consider this important.
With succession planning comes a focus on sustainability as business owners seek to create an enduring asset for their families:
- 44 per cent of Canadian family businesses believe they have a responsibility to fight climate change.
- 50 per cent say there’s an opportunity for younger generations to lead the way in sustainable business practices.
- Family-owned businesses can have more longevity as well: 70 per cent of family-owned enterprises in operation in 2007 were still in operation in 2013, compared with 65 per cent for non-family businesses.
(Sources: The Economic Impact of Family-Owned Enterprises in Canada, The Conference Board of Canada; Family Business Survey 2021—Canadian insights, PwC; Family businesses might be in better hands with the next generation than we think, Canadian Family Offices)