Doing the research and finding the right franchise were the keys to success for Arif Taj.
Arif Taj came to Los Angeles from Karachi, almost on a lark, more than 30 years ago. A recent university graduate, he figured he’d stay for a while, hang out with friends and continue his world tour. He ended up finding a job with a company in the area and staying there for almost thirty years.
Eventually, however, he decided to leave, and his next step was to become a franchisee in a fairly new company called Sport Clips Haircuts. Now he owns three salons and has plans to open four more over the next three years. His revenues have increased every year since he started up in 2008.
“I saw there was a lot of opportunity here for someone who wanted to do something with his life”
An Unexpected Turn of Events
After graduating from Karachi University with a mathematics degree in 1977, Taj decided he wanted to see the world. He spent the next two years traveling around the Middle East and Europe. Then he switched gears and came to Los Angeles, where some friends were going to university. After touring the United States, he set his sights on the Far East. But funds were low, so before he could do that, he needed to make some money. He got a job at a computer company called Burroughs—it later became Unisys—and stayed there for 27 years. “I saw there was a lot of opportunity here for someone who wanted to do something with his life,” he says.
Eventually, after Taj had risen to a director level, his employer sold the division to a company in San Diego, and asked Taj to relocate there. In his 50s, Taj didn’t want to move his family. Plus, he and his wife had bought three Baskin-Robbins franchises in the area several years before—she and his father, who had moved from Karachi to live near him, ran the stores—planning to turn them into a full-time occupation after he retired. Taj decided to leave the company.
You can take your values and mix them with things you find here, and come up with something better.
Choosing a Franchise, Getting in on the Ground Floor
Taj was given a generous severance package and attended workshops held by an outplacement company for people interested in becoming entrepreneurs. There he realized he might want to pursue a different type of franchise. He started with 3,000 possibilities, narrowed that that to 300 and then to 10. Included in that last cut was an intriguing new franchise named Sport Clips that ran hair salons for men. Taj liked the idea of getting in on the ground floor of a promising concept. “You have more input that way,” he says. At the same time, the company had enough of a track record to prove to him that it had legs.
Taj paid a visit to central headquarters in Georgetown, Texas, and decided he liked the business model. In particular, he was looking for a franchise that wouldn’t require too much hands-on management on his part and was easy to set up and start quickly. And, as he suspected, he found that the folks at the corporate level really listened to what he and other franchisees had to say. Plus, he liked the attitude towards company expansion. “They told me, ‘We’ll grow when it’s time to grow,’” he says. To Taj, that meant the company was focused on helping franchisees to be successful rather than on undisciplined expansion.
“This franchise is a great fit for me.”
Taj decided to buy three locations. He mostly financed it through a bank loan. For the rest, he used some of his severance package and tapped his 401(k). He also sold one of his Baskin-Robbins locations. Working with support staff from central headquarters, he opened his first salon in a busy shopping center in nearby Glendora. Two years later he bought an existing store about 10 miles away in Ontario. And recently he opened a new salon in Upland, just 10 minutes from his home.
Initially, his biggest challenge was finding the right managers to run day-to-day operations. To that end, about five months before opening his first store, he attended a meeting of other franchisees in the area. Through them he found out about some assistant managers interested in a promotion and hired one of them to take over.
Supporting the local community
Also helpful were Taj’s community activities. He joined the board of two chambers of commerce and became advisor to a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness of kidney disease. At the recent opening of his Upland salon, he put together an effort to raise money for Steven’s Hope for Children, a local charity. He offered free haircuts to anyone who donated $5 or more. By the end of the weekend, they raised over $2,500 for the charity and broke the opening weekend client count record for Sport Clips in the state of California.
“It’s helped us, the community is with us.”
He also experimented with new marketing tactics. At the grand opening of his first location, for example, he partnered with other stores in the shopping center and ran a block party, with free giveaways and an appearance by the Laker girls. At his Ontario location he has run promotions with the Ontario Reign, a local hockey team, for the past two years; the team films commercials at the store and shows them at games. And, before the grand opening at his Upland location, he ran a series of 60- to 90-second videos on YouTube, showing the build-out of the store.
Revenues at his salons have grown every quarter since opening up, “even in these hard economic times,” he says. And he recently won a company award for franchisees who have experienced more than $400,000 a year in revenues at each of their stores. The Glendora location is profitable; Ontario is breaking even. Says Taj: “This franchise is a great fit for me.”
Advice from Arif Taj
Taj moved from Pakistan to the U.S. in 1979, eventually buying several Sport Clips franchises. He talked to Immpreneur about how to evaluate a franchise opportunity and other matters.
How did being an immigrant help you?
“I’ve never thought of myself as being any different from any other person in America. And I’ve always found that if you work hard and try to think outside the box, things tend to work out well.”
“At the same time, I bring with me certain cultural values and perspectives that have helped me to look at things differently. You can take your values and mix them with things you find here, and come up with something better.”
How did franchising help you realize your goals?
“I was able to find a business I felt comfortable doing long-term that makes the most of my skills.”
How did Sport Clips help?
“All their training and support was very important. And they allow us to come up with our own ideas and help us to make them work.”
What advice would you give immigrants who want to be franchise owners?
“In some cases you might need take into account certain considerations. For example, I have a friend who is a vegetarian for religious reasons and looked for franchises where he didn’t have to handle meat. But otherwise I think the issues are the same for immigrants and non-immigrants. You have to get know your community and the kind of business it will support. Talk to franchisees in your community. They can give you ideas about just what you should be looking for.”
What’s the best way to evaluate a franchise opportunity?
“Talk to current franchise owners. And go to franchising shows. Visit the company website. You’re looking for several things. Find out about the support system, their internal structures, and their plans for growth. And pinpoint the kind of financials you need to buy a franchise and to break even. Also, you need to figure out what you’re looking for: just one franchise or a growth plan for several locations? When you have that information, it should give you a good idea if the business is for you or not.”
A Day in the Life
- 6:30 a.m.: Wake up, go to gym
- 8 a.m.: Return home, have breakfast, read and respond to e-mails and text messages
- 10 a.m.: Go to Glendora store, meet with manager
- 11 a.m.: Attend meeting at Chamber of Commerce to work with legislative action committee
- 12:15 p.m.: Lunch
- 1 p.m.: Go to Upland store to discuss promotional opportunities with potential partner
- 3:30 p.m.: Attend event at Ontario Convention Center and dinner
- 8:30 p.m.: Drive home, get back on computer to check e-mail and Facebook page
- 11 p.m.: Go to sleep