Q&A with Franchise FastLane CEO Ryan Zink and President Carey Gille
Franchise FastLane executive duo Ryan Zink and Carey Gille detail why they founded the company and their vision for the future.
What inspired you to start Franchise FastLane?
Zink: I have a fairly long history in franchising that started back in 2002. I was the chief operating officer of 15 GNC franchise locations, five of which were among the top-performing in the country. In 2005, I co-founded a company called Complete Nutrition. We opened five corporate stores in Nebraska then took on franchising in 2007. We grew slow and opened four franchised locations. In 2009, we started building out our team, which is when Carey came on board.
Our goal was to award 18 locations in the next two years. Instead of awarding 18, we awarded 240. Eventually, we decided to freeze franchise development to perfect our support systems, supply chain, marketing and more. In December of 2015, we sold Complete Nutrition to private equity firm Dominus Capital.
After that, I thought, what’s next? I know nutrition—but had signed a non-compete—and franchising. I was exploring the idea of founding a franchise development company and ran it by Carey, who said she had been considering becoming a franchise consultant. We joined forces, and in January 2017, we founded FranchiseFastLane with one client: Complete Nutrition. Today, we represent 12 franchisors, doing everything from recruiting candidates to managing the development process to handling the signing of the franchise agreement.
Gille: As the daughter of a pastor, I was raised in a home where work wasn't just nine-to-five; you spent your career building something. As a result, I was entrepreneurial in nature from the very beginning.
In my early career, I was building websites right when the internet was taking off. For one of those sites, I helped develop accounting software that valuated what you donated to charity for tax purposes; it was eventually acquired by Intuit in 2004. It was whiplash—all I’d known was startups and now I was in corporate America. I actually stayed for a couple of years, and they still use our tool! I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience corporate America because I feel more well-rounded.
I knew that I belonged in an entrepreneurial setting and kept asking myself what I was going to build next. At about that time, Ryan reached out to me when he was at Complete Nutrition. I loved health and fitness and the opportunity to build something from the ground up, but I didn’t know franchising, just knew development and fitness. We learned together. I fell in love with franchising during that time and even became a franchisee myself. It’s the sweet spot between the two extremes of startups and corporate America, where you’re building your own business but not on your own! The support was the key, as were the resources.
A year and a half after I left Complete Nutrition—I had worked myself out of a job because we had to stop selling—and I called Ryan because I wanted to get back into franchising, specifically to consult other women to help them get into the industry. We met, he showed me his plan for a franchise development company and the rest is history.
What about Franchise Fast Lane makes it unique within its industry?
Zink: First and foremost, I was a franchisor myself. We also dedicate an individual director to every brand we have. Typically, competitors’ development directors focus on multiple brands; it’s one-to-one for us. We sometimes even have as many as four on one brand. If leads fall off, that development director is directly affected, so they’re personally committed to their brand’s lead flow.
Emerging brand statistics show 60 percent of people who inquire never get any communication back. We guarantee franchisors that 100 percent of those who inquire are reached out to. The process is managed the right way, which is why we're seeing such huge results. We are really a gas pedal for franchisors.
Why is Franchise FastLane a good investment for brands?
Zink: Our strong track record, for one. The franchisor has much less risk hiring us. They don’t have to have an internal franchise development team and they’re not putting organic marketing out into the world, as the majority of leads are coming from our broker network. That money they save can then be applied to PR and telling their stories.
Working with us not only allows franchisors to avoid hiring a development team, but offsets a lot of costs they incur when managing leads, the FDD process, or coordinating Discovery Days in-house. Our support is far-reaching and covers a lot of those housekeeping tasks.
We also don’t require royalties. We work off of a retainer and earn success fees.
Gille: With our business model, we come in and franchisors pay us when we deliver. That allows them to feel like that’s a way to grow on a smaller budget yet get to have that guarantee you don’t have with an internal development team
What are some milestones in Franchise FastLane’s history that have led to success?
Zink: In September 2017, we signed our first two external franchisors: Frenchies Modern Nail Care and Monster Tree Service. We’ve been representing them ever since. Frenchies had three units when we started working with them; in the last 18 months, we’ve awarded over 100 units. Monster Tree was at 20 units and added 115 with us. Reaching that 100-unit mark with these brands last year was great.
Now, we’re working with emerging and mature franchisors where before it was just emerging brands. We’re starting to win awards across broker networks. Based off of our original budgets, I thought we’d be representing six brands at this point but we’re at 12.
What does success look like to you?
Zink: For me, success equals onboarding a franchisor and achieving a minimum of 25 new units, seeing those franchisees open their locations and then become strong validators for future franchisees.
Gille: Because Ryan and I had success with Complete Nutrition, we want to bring brands from emerging to thriving. The key is for brands to get to a place where they’re royalty-sufficient and covering expenses with their royalties. Research says that takes growing to 101 open locations. Bringing us on as a partner helps brands accelerate their growth through our consultant and broker networks and helping them to get to that point where they are royalty-sufficient, faster.