ANNAPOLIS — When M.J. Eckert and Nancy Fields launched their lice removal business, they underestimated the demand for their itch niche.
The Annapolis-based Lice Happens was designed so workers could visit homes to eliminate insects and teach prevention methods. But when they began getting calls outside of their East Coast service area, they decided to franchise their mobile business.
So far, they have interest from locations in Seattle and California. Franchisees would need roughly $20,000 to start their own venture. It is being offered under two models — one that allows a franchisee to own and provide the service and another that allows them to hire staff.
“We were first contemplating expanding through hiring more employees,” Fields said. “(But) we thought that this would be rather difficult to manage additional employees that are scattered out throughout the different states we’re getting calls from. So then we decided we can offer business-oriented individuals the opportunity that M.J. and I had.”
Fields and Eckert are entering an expanding industry. The franchise sector supports 18 million workers in 825,000 businesses across the country. The International Franchise Association says the field is expected to experience modest growth this year, by adding more than 10,000 new establishments and 162,000 new jobs.
When considering whether to franchise, business owners should make sure they offer a service that can be duplicated and one consumers are demanding, experts said. Sometimes food concepts are regional and what is popular here wouldn’t necessarily have the same reaction in other regions.
“A lot of times it’s something as simple as (a customer) walking into an establishment and saying ‘Oh my goodness. I love this place; I would love to own one,’” IFA spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said. “Franchising is a business model that allows investors to participate in a system and helping you grow your business faster than you would alone.”
There are 140 franchise opportunities available in Maryland, according to Franchise.com. The cheapest venture is the $1,100 required for the Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System, which is a commercial cleaning business, on up to the $200,000 needed for the Interstate All Battery Center franchise.
The My Favorite Muffin franchise came to downtown Annapolis about six months ago, through franchisees Missy and Mark Maglin. They were regulars at the bagels and muffin purveyor in Corpus Christi, Texas, when they lived in the Lone Star State.
So when former U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Maglin retired, they moved to Annapolis and opened one of their own. Now their shop at 138 Main St. has eight employees.
“January and February were slow but they said that’s typical for downtown Annapolis this time of year,” Missy Maglin said. “Think long and hard about (becoming a franchisee). It takes a major, major commitment.”
Franchising takes more than finding willing franchisees. Once Lice Happens’ owners decided to expand, they had to file a uniform franchise disclosure document with the Federal Trade Commission. The document spells out the firm’s history, how it is set up and expectations for the franchisee and franchisor.
They are now fine-tuning their training and marketing materials.
“In the world of franchising, there’s thousands of franchisors and a lot of it is duplication,” said George Palmer, the company’s franchise consultant. “How many pizza places are there?”
Eckert and Fields are neighbors who decided to team up after discussing head lice at a party in 2008. One year later, the Annapolis residents worked in their living rooms to operate their business, which eventually grew into a staff of 20 who work in a service area stretching from Stamford, Conn., to Raleigh, N.C.
After getting a call, a Lice Happens worker is sent to a scene with a treatment kit and repellent spray. It takes them about an hour to remove the lice from a girl and a half-hour on a boy. They also spend time educating the family about recurrences.
“It’s a gift to be welcomed into somebody’s home and into the private hell they’re dealing with,” said Eckert, a former school nurse. “You’re their confidant, their hand-holder, their teacher, their therapist and educator. It’s a gift to get to be able to do that with somebody.”