We talk with Michael Debenham, CEO of American Title Loan, about the finance (specifically title loans) industry and why his company has been so successful.
Provide an overview/ description of your industry. Include reasons why it's a great industry to start a business in today.
Title lending has seen an explosive growth in the last few years. If you live in one of the 21 states that allow title loans, you will have seen this just in the number of new stores opening in your city. Competitors such as Title Max with over 1,000 stores had a 29% percent growth in number of stores in 2012.
How has your industry changed in the last 10 years? 20 years?
20 years ago, the first car title loans were being done. In the last 10 years the car title loan industry has gone from being a secondary product offered in pawn shops, payday loan stores, etc, into a product with dedicated stores.
What trends do you see in your industry over the next 5 years? Next 10 years?
This industry is ripe for franchise to explode. In almost every industry, in almost every market an owner will beat and manager. Owners are far more motivated than managers and generally out compete their competitors.
What is the biggest concern about your industry that a franchisee candidate should be aware of and investigate?
Our biggest risk is also are our greatest asset. In some states, state legislators have changed the laws effectively eliminating consumer finance lending (an industry that contains payday and car title loans). Having the state legislature change the laws is our greatest risk. The risk of legislative uncertainty keeps many major companies out of the industry. As such this creates a lower level of competition dramatically increasing profitability.
Why do you think your company stands out in the industry?
We secure high visibility, high traffic, high profile locations right in the heart of our demographic. We do not fear our "competitors", in fact we prefer to open stores right smack dab in the middle of our competition. We go in big and bold. We spend more on the building, signage, visibility marketing and it pays huge dividends.
When we are open, we don't just wait for customers to walk in our stores. We actively get customers into our store through our customer referral program, business to business marketing, costume wavers and visibility items.
What makes your franchise/ business opportunity more attractive than your competitor's?
While there are some payday loan franchises that offer title loans as part of their product offerings, after an extensive search of the internet, we appear to be the only true title loan franchise (at the very least if there is another we are the only one actively promoting our franchise in such a way that consumers can find them). This puts us at a first mover advantage for the industry.
Describe the ideal candidate. Do you think your requirements are any different than your competitor's?
We need a candidate that 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 are results driven ,can manage people and sincerely care about their customers. Franchise owners should have the motivation to excel in a fast-paced but fun environment.
What's the strongest skill you require in a candidate?
Commitment to following the system.
Describe the working environment of your franchisees (indoors, home office, mobile, etc). Is your environment typical of other companies in your industry?
We strive to create a bank type environment for our customers to get a loan with teller stands and loan desks.
Why has you're your company been successful?
The days when a small business owner could hang an "open" sign in the window and wait for customers are gone. We get profitable faster and continue to grow in our marketplace by keeping our brand and message top of mind through our bold locations, customer referral program, business to business marketing, costume wavers, mass media and visibility items.
What advice would you give someone interested in buying a franchise in your industry?
Make sure you have a comfort with the management team. Franchises are long term relationships and you need to feel comfortable that it is a match for you.
How much experience in this industry should a franchisee candidate have should they consider buying a franchise in your industry?
The beauty of a franchise system such as American Title Loans is that you do not need to have experience in the industry to be successful. We will teach you what you need to know to be successful.