Recently we sat down with Michael Debenham, CEO of American Title Loans, to talk about his franchise and its success in the financial industry.
How was American Title Loans originally conceived and started?
In 2006 most title loans were done in pawn shops and low quality stores. We wanted to create a bank type environment where a customer could get a loan in a respectable, friendly environment.
What was your original vision for your company? Has that changed over time?
American Title Loans was designed to be a franchise. Early on we established standards for almost everything including office layout, employee job functions, lending processes, collections procedures and such. By standardizing almost everything from color of the paint and tile on the floors all and the procedures we use to lend and collect, we simplify the process for franchisees, and create a replicable system. Never satisfied, we have been refining our standards and procedures for the last seven years.
What do you believe is the single most important factor when choosing a franchise?
Proven financial results. People buy a franchise for many reasons, including the desire to get out of their 9 to 5 job, but all of the factors only work if the business makes the franchisee money. Generally your satisfaction with the franchise is closely tied to your return on the franchise.
Why should someone choose American Title Loans over other similar franchises?
Exploding Industry While most title companies are privately owned, many competitors such as Title Max with over 1,000 stores had a 29% percent growth in number of stores in 2012. If you live in one of the 21 states that allow title loans, you will have seen the growth of the number stores in your city.
Proven financial returns - We have one of the strongest earning statements in the franchise business
Lower time commitment / Low number of employees - Our business model for a new store is one full-time employee and one part time employees. Compare this to most of franchises that that are labor intensive. Less employees dramatically lowers time commitment required for the franchise.
First Mover Advantage - We are the first true title loan franchise (that we can find anywhere on the internet). In almost every industry, in every market an owner will beat and manager. Owners are far more motivated than managers and generally out compete their competitors. This industry is ripe for a franchise to explode.
What makes your industry attractive?
High financial returns and a low number of employees.
What types of qualities do you look for in potential franchisees?
Someone who likes working with people and takes seriously the fact that we represent the working families of America; families who periodically experience an unexpected need for short-term funds. Successful franchisees need to care about their customer. Our customers all have short term financial needs and need someone that shows a genuine concern for their situation.
What do your franchise fees and royalties cover?
We have a 4 day Foundational Operations Training course. Additionally, we provide the lending and collections software, and ongoing training and support for accounting, reconciliation, store operations, collections, lending, etc.
How do territories work for your franchisees?
Our territories are an exclusive geographic territory of approximately 60,000 people. The territory lines are generally based on zip codes.
Why has your franchise model been successful?
We don't just rely on traditional advertising. We go out and find our customers and create "top of mind" awareness through our customer referral program, active Business to business marketing, costume wavers and visibility items.
Where do you see American Title Loan in 5 years and 10 years?
Within 5 years we expect to have at least 500 stores, with a capital source that franchises can borrow from to loan out to their customers. This will greatly reduce the cost to open new stores for franchisees. And 10 years down the line we will be #1 in the industry.
What is your favorite advice for new franchisees to help them succeed?
Trust the system. You are buying a franchise so you don't have to learn the mistakes the hard way.
What would you tell potential franchisees that may be nervous about the financial burdens of starting a franchise?
All businesses involve risk, but using a proven system greatly reduces that risk. Make sure you know what it is that differentiates you from your competition.
On average, how long does it take to start a new franchise from the franchisees point of view?
90 days is a reasonable start time
What was your background and experience before founding this franchise?
More than 10 years of franchising experience with American Title Loans, and over 7 years of experience as a Title Loan store owner / operator. Having been a franchisee for Liberty Tax for over a decade, I am a seven-time, top-gun franchisee.