It could be said their partnership resulted by default. Both Jim Ratner and John Reichenbach were just weeks away from opening their RTO stores - John in Georgia, Jim in Maine. But as if on cue, each of their partners backed out and both deals fell through. Jim and John had met at a Premier Rental-Purchase dealer convention in Miami not long before. And while there couldn't be a more unlikely pair, according to Jim, their acquaintance has turned out to be an amazing partnership.
John Reichenbach got his start in RTO in 1997 as manager of an RTO franchise in Bangor, Maine. His background in store management for a major drug store chain prepared him for that position, and he progressed to district manager. He earned Store of the Quarter status two quarters in a row and during one year achieved Store of the Month out of 16 stores for five out of six months. He stayed until 2006. A few years earlier corporate headquarters for that franchise had bought out the store he managed. Perhaps he would have stayed longer, but John started running the numbers and realized what he was missing by not being in business for himself.
"I saw how much money I was making for the corporate store and how little of it I got to keep. I was making $20,000 monthly as manager and $100,000 - $200,000 as district manager. I found myself being completely stressed out all the time because I had so many issues I was not able to control and fires to put out. Also it seemed like someone at the corporate home office was there to think up stuff for us to do rather than let us rent and collect. I didn't like that."
So John left to venture out on his own with a friend, moving his family to Jefferson, Ga., a newly developed area with some potentially great opportunities. He was hooked on the rent-to-own industry and excited at what promised to be a rewarding future in it.
"I had always wanted to own my own business. RTO seemed like a great fit for me. I like dealing with our customers. We have a unique customer base, and I like building long-term relationships with them week in, week out. I'm very big on customer service. But I saw my company grow to such a large corporate level with so many stores, it lost a little something in customer service. This isn't like a typical superstore retail operation where we won't see the customer again. We see our customers every week. And I couldn't face them if I gave poor service."
John needed a vehicle to help him take the giant leap into ownership. In looking at the RTO Online website and also magazines like Progressive Rentals, he discovered Premier Rental Purchase, which offered a simple-to-follow process and made it clear they would support Jim and his partner each step of the way.
Premier provides you with solutions for everything you haven't had to deal with as a corporate store manager or multi-unit manager," says John. "I've been very happy with Premier. They've made it easy each step of the way, right down to the manuals they provide that are easy-to-read and follow. Every angle of the business is covered."
Well almost everything.
Neither John nor Premier could have anticipated what came next. With just weeks until opening and everything from lease to business plan to financing in place, John found himself without a partner. It was time to regroup and recognize that Georgia wasn't going to pan out. But there was someone else going through a similar dilemma in Maine, and John just happened to know who he was through his Premier networking. John didn't have to agonize for long. He packed up and happily moved back home to continue his dream of being an entrepreneur.
Twenty-four years ago, Jim started his RTO career as a delivery driver for RAC in Wilmington, Del. In just three years, in 1986, he opened up his first business in Lawrence, Mass. as a Rent America franchisee. He opened up a second corporation in Portland, Maine in 1989 and, as business ownership kept things moving fast for Jim, by 1990 he had six stores in Massachusetts to sell.
Jim kept his Portland business and enjoyed the benefits of ownership, both financially and through an ability to take charge of his career and run a business the way he wanted it run. And Jim has a very specific way of running things, where the customer is at the center.
"The only way to build a business is through customer relations," says Jim. "Success is dependent on how you treat and respect and service your customer. People will come to someone who they know will take care of them. A dollar or two difference in the weekly rental price doesn't matter that much to a customer. Concern for their satisfaction and efforts to make sure that their needs are met make all the difference." Jim has proven in two locations that he's the one who cares.
In 2004, Aarons made Jim an offer for his Portland location that was too sweet to ignore, so he sold his second store to them at a large profit. He began looking for his next step. He worked for another large RTO corporation in Tampa as well as L.L. Bean last winter while putting together another deal to get back into business for himself. He would do two things differently, aside from going back to Maine. He wanted to have a partner who would actively be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, and he wanted to become a franchisee and have some help, at least initially, with starting up - yet again. He found what he felt was the perfect business partner and also the answer to his franchising needs through Premier.
"I found Premier through my accountant, Dan Whitzel who suggested I 'check these guys out.' They are his client as well. I decided to go with Premier rather than becoming totally independent like before because of Premier's plan to assist dealers in such things as bank financing and forming a business plan. Premier is an SBA approved franchise which streamlines the loan process and makes one look impressive with a well thought-out business plan makes banks comfortable. Premier has a business plan and projections all worked out so when you take it to a bank, it's easier. Bottom line, Premier helps you get your doors open. And they do that incredibly well all the way along. That's a big advantage over doing it on your own. Premier has worked through this over and over and they know what it takes."
But there was a hitch. Jim's partner fell out of the deal and Jim, as close as one gets to opening his new store with everything in place, was either going to have to go solo or find a new partner - quick. Aware of John's predicament, he touched base with him, and John was willing to move back to Maine to be his partner.
"People said to me, how can you possibly be partners? Even though we are totally opposite people, we see eye-to-eye on how an RTO business should be run. And that makes us great partners."
Open and Running
John and Jim opened their store in July and are on their way with steady customers and the promise of success in Westbrook, Maine. They are both looking to become multi-operational and possibly expand their market by adding one of Premier's related products and services. Through its four companies, Premier offers franchising opportunities in rent-to-own, home furnishings, wheel rentals and cash services.