Tom Scarda is a firm believer in experience trumping all. And to that end, he has experienced all that the small business and franchise ecosystem could offer him.
He’s had wins. He’s had losses. And the know-how that came with experiencing those (and everything in between!) first-hand has made him one of the best people to approach if you’re looking to grow a successful franchise business.
Looking back at his journey. We see him landing a respectable job as a civil servant in the New York Subway System. He worked there for 13 years, content but not quite satisfied with what life offered to him. He woke up in the mornings with an itch to do something else — to do something more. And unlike what most people would have done… He actually did it!
After deciding he’s had enough. He quit his job and left the security of a pension behind to try his hand at being a business owner — despite what all the ‘naysayers’ around him said.
It was in 2000 that he purchased his first franchise. A smoothie franchise that he built in two locations before, soon thereafter, selling it to buy another in 2006. His second foray with the Super Suppers franchise failed miserably, as he is unashamed to say. But he picked himself right back up and did all that he could to become an expert in the field.
Now, of course, Tom is a nationally recognized small business and Certified Franchise Expert (CFE), a motivator, and a dynamic speaker. He’s written three books that are equally acclaimed called: Franchise Savvy, The Road to Franchise Freedom and The Magic of Choosing Uncertainty: How to Manage Change, and Embrace Fear and Live a Fulfilled Life.
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Learn more about Tom Scarda and how to be Franchise Savvy in the interview below:
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Let’s start with an easy one! Please tell us when your story began. What experience brought you to where you are today?
Tom Scarda: I used to be a Subway conductor in New York City. My story began there. Or, well, more specifically, after talking to an old-timer, who came up to me and said something like: “Hey kid, this is a great job because you’ll always have a shirt on your back.” That was undoubtedly true. And the next thing he told me rang true as well. Because he continued with: “It’ll never be a silk shirt. But at least you’ll have a shirt!”
That was the beginning of my story. That’s when I realized. Hey… I want a silk shirt. It sounds kind of silly thinking back to it now. How this seemingly innocuous experience changed so much that I ended up quitting my job in transit authority and buying a franchise that I built into three locations! And now… Well, here I am.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on these days? (Have you hit any milestones recently that you’re particularly excited about and want to share with our readers? Don’t hold back on the details!)
Tom Scarda: After selling my first franchise for a very handsome price, I bought a second franchise soon thereafter. That failed — and ultimately led me to almost losing my entire life savings within two years. But I’d argue that that experience is what has made me a franchise expert. Enough that I even wrote a book about it, called Franchise Savvy — which, at one point, was the number one, best-seller on Amazon business books. Something I was very happy and proud about.
This experience is also what led me to release an online master course for those wanting to invest in a franchise. It includes everything you need to know as a beginner — complete with 45 video modules and a 106-page workbook (plus a bunch of other bonuses!) I hosted that on my website, which is just my name: TomScarda.com.
I invite your readers to go and check it out if it’s something they’re interested in. I have everything from books, videos, podcasts, and my online courses there.
Was there any point in your journey where you felt close to giving up? (What brought you out of that mentality?)
Tom Scarda: I was a civil servant government worker and I come from a long line of Civil Service, Blue Collar folks. So, when I told everybody that I was leaving a great job (with a pension!) to start a smoothie franchise… People thought I was insane. Many people tried to talk me out of it, and I think one of the biggest lessons that I learned back then was that you can’t listen to the naysayers — as your success only serves to remind them of their failure.
To bring me out of it… Well, I read a lot of books. I went to seminars and I just kind of submerged myself in positive motivation and I learned as much as I could about business so that I wouldn’t fail. There’s a lot of free information out there. And my advice to anybody who’s thinking about making a change — whether it’s in business or anything in their life, you have to do what’s in your heart! Don’t listen to the naysayers and just educate yourself. Feed your own mind. And hold out against all the nonsense that people throw at you.
What is a beginner mistake that you see entrepreneurs make? And how would you suggest they combat this mistake?
Tom Scarda: I regularly coach people who want to make a change in their careers. I work with folks that are frustrated and frequently cringe at the thought of going to work in the morning. I work also with folks who want to diversify their investments. And what I see a lot of these people do is they make one of—well, more than one of 21 mistakes in picking a business to go into, franchise or not.
They think that they have to get involved with something that has to do with their hobbies or their passion. And that’s a misnomer, you know? Everyone says that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life and that’s true if you’re working a job. But a business is not a job, a business is a lifestyle and you’re trying to build equity, time, and money. So that you can spend time doing your passions and your hobbies to your heart’s content.
So, my advice, don’t become infatuated with a concept and feel like, oh, I love, you know, smoothies, so I should buy a smoothie franchise. Or I love Dunkin Donuts, so I should buy a donut franchise. That’s not the way to approach this.
You have to put your goals first. That way you know where you want to end up. Begin with the end in mind and work backward from there. That’s exactly what I did. And it’s what I teach the people that I coach through their entrepreneurial journey.
How would you define resilience? (And why is resilience important to you?)
Tom Scarda: I think resilience is about tenacity and your ability to deal with failures — no matter what life throws at you. I think you need that kind of attitude to be a business owner or an entrepreneur. It’s really important to not subscribe to all the nonsense that’s out there. Instead, fill your brain with what is important to you, which I think is what Ziggler meant when he said that motivation is like taking a bath, you have to do it every day.
This is true in business — since every day, you really have to submerge yourself in something really positive and that’s what will help you be resilient. Because bad times will happen. It’s a cycle that always does. And not every day is going to be great. And when the bad days happen, you need to be able to get up again and make things happen. That’s resilience.
What makes your company stand out from the rest of its competitors?
Tom Scarda: So, my company, the Franchise Academy matches people with franchise opportunities based on skills, personality, and goals. It’s kind of like e-Harmony, but for business — that’s what I like to call it anyway. And I think that we stand out because I embody what the company itself stands for. I did it myself after all: I quit a job, bought a franchise, built it, sold it, bought another one that failed, and on and on.
For 16 years, I’ve been helping people find the right franchise for them — because I’ve been around the block enough times to do so. There’s an old quote that says something to the effect of — if you’re in a foxhole in a war who do you want next to you? Someone that’s been in a war or someone that’s been at West Point teaching about war, of course!
To that end, I’ve been in that metaphorical Foxhole, I got the scars, I got the battle wounds, I’ve been there. And, because of that, I don’t think there’s a better person than you can learn from.
What are the three main characteristics that you believe have been instrumental to your success?
Tom Scarda: Empathy, resilience, and leadership are the three characteristics that really helped me be successful in my business.
Empathy, of course, is just understanding — putting yourself in the shoes of your customers or all of your staff members to try and understand where they’re coming from. Having the empathy to navigate through all that, will better enable you to help your people through whatever issue has arisen.
As for resilience. Well, resiliency is everything. Because all businesses get hit one way or another — in all sorts of different types of situations. In the past year or so, as an example, we have had to deal with the pandemic. That caused a lot of shifts in the business ecosystem and it forced everyone to learn how to do things differently.
As for the last. Leadership is an obvious one, I think. A leader is someone who leads from the front. Someone who is not afraid to get their hands dirty, and someone more capable of doing the things that they ask others to do. I guess my point here is, that if you lead by example, that’s a good measure of your leadership and the potential successes that can come from it.
Do you reflect the values of your company as a person?
Tom Scarda: I do think that I reflect my company’s values. To me, a brand is more than, you know, a logo. It’s an extension of the personality of your employees. It’s an extension of how willing you are to take risks, to getting out of your comfort zone, or breaking barriers. And for me, everything that I value as a person naturally seeps into my company — as well as the people that I work with.
What is a great leader like? (And why do you think this?)
Tom Scarda: For me, a great leader is someone that knows how to drop his or her ego. Someone willing to go down with the rank and file to make things happen.
There’s this old story from back when I still worked in the subway. There had been a major water main break in New York City, and it flooded out of the subway station. The Senior Vice President at the time laid out what we had to do. He told us that the station had to be open by rush hour Monday morning (it was Friday afternoon at the time).
Anyway, suffice to say, it involved a lot of work. They had to pump out the water and everything — which seemed impossible given the time constraints. But they made it work. And the Vice President that gave out those orders? Well, he was on the subway platform with everyone else, sweeping off the last of the muck. That experience showed me what a leader should be: someone that is willing to roll up their sleeves and work as hard as everyone else.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who is struggling with the decision of whether or not to start their own business?
Tom Scarda: My forte is teaching people. I love passing advice down to the younger generation. And for this instance. All I can say is that you need to know that there is no such thing as a “good time.” Now is the only time. So just do.
There are folks out there that try and analyze and calculate the best time, the best economic standing, etc. But, to that, I point to all the great businesses in history that were founded in a down economy. Even now, in the midst of the pandemic, there’s no reason not to start a business. In fact, I’d argue that there’s never been a better time.
After all, because of the state of the economy, there’s a lot of pent-up demand. A lot of money to be spent. The government is practically throwing money at people right now, to be fair. So yeah, the opportunity is right for the taking.
Do you have a favorite business-related quote? What is it?
Tom Scarda: I have millions of quotes that I love. But the one that I use all the time is: “Your actions are so loud that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” That goes a long way, I think. There are so many people that make promises but never follow through. It ties well into my own quote: “Don’t be addicted to HOPING.” Which is basically just to remind people that hoping is all well and good. But hoping is not going to make things happen. You have to stop just merely ‘hoping’ and actually get things done.
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