Marvin Babcock fell in love with flying while he was still in college. A friend invited him along for a ride in a small plane. "He let me hold the controls -- I just got hooked. I went home and told my wife, 'I want to be a pilot'." Three days later, he enrolled in flight training.
Since 1998, Babcock has been a pilot for United Airlines. "On a beautiful day droning on between Newark and L.A. and you're four hours into it, it's just a job," he said. On the other hand, "To this day I still enjoy the thrill of taking off and landing a big jet. That never gets old, never becomes routine."
After the decline in the airline industry following September 11, 2001, Babcock decided he needed to diversify. After doing some reading, he decided that a franchise might be the best business opportunity. "Although franchises are expensive, the odds of success in a franchise are much higher because I didn't have business experience. The franchise provides support, name recognition and a customer base," he said.
He looked at "virtually every franchise out there." A fellow pilot who owned a Fantastic Sam's franchise "sat me down and showed me the real numbers. He wasn't giving me a sales pitch -- he had nothing to gain. That was when I felt very comfortable knowing what I was getting into."
Babcock opened a franchise in Forest Lake on June 1, 2005, and a second in Chisago City on November 1, 2011. Babcock had no background in hair styling, but, he said, "I could run a business from a customer's point of view. That was an approach I took, and it's worked." His Forest Lake franchise was named one of the 10 highest earning Fantastic Sam's salons in the country at the 2012 national convention.
"Hair stylists are very creative individuals, very artistic, very free, where I'm extremely structured, black and white," he said. "It's expanded my way of thinking. It's been good."
What's it like being both an employee and an employer?
I appreciate my employer a whole lot more than I did. The average union guy tends to think that the employer has a limitless amount of money and the well will never run dry. As an employer, I know that's just not true.
What does it take to be a successful franchisee?
If you're going to buy in, buy in 100 percent. You need to believe in the franchise and follow the system, even if there are things you don't agree with. The success of the franchise is that it's uniform and consistent. A lot of people think, "I can do better, I can modify it." If you're going to do that, start Marv's Haircuts.
If uniformity is the key, how to you become a top performing franchise?
The huge variable is customer service -- hire the right people, treat them right, get them to understand that every single customer is the most important customer you will see that day. I've been fortunate enough to hire excellent stylists, retain them, and they build the business for me.
You have two franchises and you're still flying. What's your plan for the future?
I'm not going to give up the flying. It pays more than the salons do. The salons are a backstop for me. It's my B plan. I'm just going to hang on to both as long as I can make it work.