Express Employment Professionals
1851 Franchise spoke to Gunderson about the story behind Express Employment, what makes it stand out and where it's headed.
1851 Franchise: Tell us about the history and founding of Express Employment Professionals.
Dan Gunderson, Senior Franchising Director: Express was founded in 1983, and this is our 40th year in business. The two founders who started Express, Bob Funk and Bill Stoller, were part of a previous employment agency back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s called Acme Personnel Services, which was based out of Seattle and Portland. Acme got hit hard in the recession in the early ‘80s, and one of the officers of that company also passed away, so it went under. Funk and Stoller formed Express in 1983 when that company went under and decided to base it in Oklahoma City. The pair then contacted Acme franchise owner Jim Gray and asked him to join them due to his experience in back office operations. The three men came together to become the founders of Express Temporary Services, with eight offices in Oklahoma, Oregon and Colorado. Though the brand came to be during a national economic downturn, Express managed to generate gross revenues of $2 million. The founders determined that the best way to keep growing was through franchising — and the rest is history.
Today, we are 100% franchised. Forty years later, it’s been an incredible run. The brand has grown exponentially since its beginnings, changing its name to Express in 2008. We really caught the momentum of the temporary contract side of staffing in the early ‘80s. It was great timing for us in the industry, and that’s where we really primarily focused our service lines. We also do direct hire, permanent placement and executive search. We’re a full service staffing company that works with job seekers to help them find the right job for their skills and experience, whether that’s a full-time, part-time or temporary position.
1851: What void does Express fill? What was missing in this space before?
Gunderson: We have really filled a void in the temporary contract space. A lot of the companies you see now in the staffing space, especially the temporary contract side, weren't there in the ‘80s. So with us being a franchise, that has made us unique. The other large competitors in the staffing industry are mainly corporate brands, and so that has made us stand out. We're owner driven. Our franchise owner’s livelihoods depend on the relationships they have with their client companies. They're not a branch manager of a corporate staffing service—and that makes a big difference when they build those relationships.
1851: What are you doing well right now? What are your brand differentiators?
Gunderson: Something we are doing well right now is adapting to what's going on in the world and economy and as far as hiring goes. For the past couple of years since COVID, we really had had to make a shift in how we operate. We've always been in a face-to-face relationship with our clients, so we really had to adapt to a more virtual approach. We’ve added more face-to-face interaction back in, but the virtual aspects of what we do still come into play.
Recruiting has been tough the past couple of years, but we're seeing record numbers. Our franchise owners are adapting and finding the right people. We've also provided extra support and resources to help our franchise owners recruit applicants because, as you know, there's been a recruiting crunch the past couple of years. We allow our franchise owners to primarily focus on sales and recruiting by providing them all the support that they need on a daily basis to operate and pay potentially hundreds of temporary employees every week. For example, we handle payroll funding. Express processes invoices and other important paperwork for clients, allowing franchise owners to spend their time building relationships with local businesses in their community.
1851: What are your growth goals?
Gunderson: It's been a long term goal to have 900 franchise locations, and we’re already at 865. We have just over 100 available new territories in North America, so we're gonna hit that goal in the near future—and we're certainly going to celebrate. We also have a goal of $5.5 billion in sales by 2025.
1851: What were some learning opportunities that Express has leveraged over the years to get to where it is now?
Gunderson: We've really learned how to adapt to our client's needs and how to tailor our service to them. We’ve also learned to make sure that we're keeping up with the workforce and adapting the technical side of things to recruit more efficiently for our franchise owners. Our client companies really look to us as an extension of their HR department and they value that relationship, so it's been crucial for us to be at the forefront of the industry in terms of adapting to what's going on.
We've seen many changes over the years and in hiring. For the most part, we’ve always seen an increase in demand for the staffing industry itself, and also Express has seen demand increase consecutively year over year. There was a bit of a downturn in the late 2000s, but we recovered pretty quickly after that and, starting in 2009, had consecutive record years. The biggest part of that has been adapting to the changing workforce and identifying the biggest pain points in HR.
1851: What are three or more of the brand’s important milestones over the past five years?
Gunderson: One big milestone was reaching a total of 800 franchise locations. Breaking a record of a half million Express associates paid annually was also huge for us. Additionally, we came through COVID with an all time sales high of $4.1 billion in 2021. Launching in Australia and New Zealand about two years ago was a big one, as well.
1851: What does your ideal franchise owner look like in terms of how they run their business, what personal traits they have, what prior business experience they can claim, etc.?
Gunderson: We're a very sales driven business. And the expectation is that the franchise owner will initially take the sales role in the business when they first start. That means actually going out and calling companies directly. Express franchise owners do not need a background in staffing. About 95% of our owners have no previous staffing experience. Franchise owners can be successful if they are ready to lead a team, willing to make sales calls and have a strong passion for helping others find success. Whether that’s a small business owner who doesn’t know how to move forward with finding employees, or it's someone who just got laid off and doesn’t know where to turn, Express franchise owners must be there to serve. Franchise owners should also have strong leadership skills, clear communication, motivation, extroverted personalities and be comfortable making cold calls and building relationships.
We’re also looking for people who want to make a difference in their community. We want to help people find jobs and help companies find people. That is the spirit of Express—helping people find jobs and making a difference. And so that's what we're looking for, as well.
1851: What does an ideal franchise owner look like? Are they semi-absentees? A passive investor or an active owner-operator?
Gunderson: We're looking for owners who are going to be involved and not be distracted by other businesses that they own or other jobs they have. We're looking for a fully involved owner, not a semi-absentee.
1851: How does Express support franchise owners?
Gunderson: The staffing world is really all about sales and recruiting. And that's what our franchise owners, as well as their teams. should be focusing their energy on—we don't want them worried about the back office operations. So we really allow them to focus on that by taking everything else off their plate. For example, we fund their payroll for contract employees. It's a weekly payroll process Monday–Sunday on the temporary contract side. They don't have to go to a bank, they don't have to go to a factoring company to pay those weekly temporary associates. We fund that for them every week—no matter how big they get. We take care of all the W2s, payroll tax reporting and unemployment administration. Because, even though they're working with their Express associates, we are still the employer of record for the temporary employees because we handle all the liability.
We also provide owners with all the sales and marketing tools they will need, such as help with campaigns, materials and collateral, digital marketing and social media, all of which we refer to as a neighborhood marketing approach.
Franchise owners can expect a great deal of training prior to opening. Most of our franchise owners do not have any staffing or HR background when they enter our system, so they have to learn everything. It's three weeks training for new owners, which we do once a month. Two of those weeks are virtual, and then we fly them out to our headquarters in Oklahoma City on the third week. We pay for airfare and accommodation and help the franchise owners hire their first recruiter, which we cover the cost of, as well.
Franchise owners also have a local support person in their area called a developer who is a regionally-based coach and mentor. It’s someone they can lean on that is not their boss. They’re just a trusted adviser who really knows the staffing industry and knows the Express system that they can rely on to help them in the business.
1851: What growth plans does Express have in the coming years?
Gunderson: We want to hit that $5.5 billion in sales by 2025. We're also focusing on growing the professional side of the business. We have a division within Express called the specialized recruiting group, which we see as an opportunity to grow in the future and expand on the professional side of staffing.
Internationally, we're still striving to grow. We have 46 franchise locations in Canada, 20 in South Africa and we're going to grow in Australia and New Zealand, as well. So there may be future international plans in the future. Overall, we're continuing to be the largest staffing franchise company globally.
1851: Why is now the time to buy into Express?
Gunderson: No matter the state of the economy, people need to work. Express is a full service staffing company and can staff businesses in a variety of industries from front to back, from receptionists to warehouse workers to executives. And with a goal of putting a million people to work each year, Express is looking to partner with franchise owners in markets around the world and has strong territories that are available.