Empowering Entrepreneurs: FranNet of The Heartland Provides Support System to Franchisees

The trajectory of so many entrepreneurial journeys is not often a straight line. For FranNet of the Heartland Franchise Specialist Blake Martin, the path to supporting the successes of other franchisee-entrepreneurs started with building a home care company in Michigan 20-plus years ago before home care was a common option. 

As Martin tells it in his signature podcast, “Heartland Franchise Guy,” it was “induction by fire” into the franchising industry. Ultimately, working on the development of the franchise system for Omaha-based Right at Home resulted in his foray into consulting and the Heartland. 

Martin noted two defining moments that convinced him that he needed to make a career out of franchising consulting. 

“Almost every one of the prospective ownership candidates we worked with during those early years was dealing with a sick family member or some other personal tragedy,” he said, a nod to Right at Home’s initial steps toward the development of a franchise system. “Knowing that this home health care franchise concept was designed to help people through such situations was rewarding. I really felt like this was the type of work I was supposed to be doing.” 

Martin said he may never have considered the career if not for missing the second Easter in a row with his youngest son. 

“At the time, I was traveling overseas in a country that doesn’t celebrate this holiday,” he stated. “When I realized I was missing these key moments with family, I knew I had to make a change because you can never get those moments back.”

Officially, Right at Home founder Allen Hager and then-CEO Brian Petranick played pivotal roles as mentors after he moved to the metro in 2004. 

“One of the early lessons they both taught me was how to think introspectively,” Martin said. “They had a simple rhetorical question they’d apply to franchisors who were considering a change to their franchise systems: ‘Will it both improve the bottom line of our franchisees and enhance our brand value?’ If not, you should reconsider.’”

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Martin moved forward with franchising and, in 2016, consulting with FranNet of The Heartland, and he has never looked back. In Martin’s seven years in his present role, he earned a prestigious industry award, “Top Performer,” in the franchise consulting sector. He said he is quick to link his successes with the successes of those entrepreneurs that he works with, day in and day out.

“Four of my previous clients that I helped become franchise owners were recognized as top performers or ‘Franchisees of the Year’ by their respective brands,” he said. “I think it really demonstrates how the Midlands region punches above its weight class on the national franchising scene.”

Additionally, Martin’s online and community presence carries some heft; since formally launching the “Heartland Franchise Guy” podcast in the summer of 2021, nearly 100 episodes have been produced and he has also attracted considerable momentum from the business community with a series of other outreach efforts – from meetings and webinars to seminars. 

“I helped co-found the Entrepreneur’s Education Collaborative back in 2017, and we’ve conducted roughly 70 webinars and seminars for the Midlands business community,” he explained. “These events help educate local professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs about small business startups and operations, but closing deals isn’t where my involvement ends.”

He stressed how it’s “very important for me to remain in touch so that I can help them grow, nurture, and succeed as business owners.”

But arguably the biggest achievement for Martin applies to his life outside of the office and day-to-day work with successful and aspiring entrepreneurs. 

“I’m a family man at heart and nothing is more important to me than spending quality time with my wife and two sons,” Martin summed up. “Owning my own franchise consulting practice has afforded me a work/life balance that I could never have achieved working in corporate America.”

(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

Furthermore, he has made the most of his interest in fitness and exercise, coaching his son’s little league team (his “true happy place”), participating in tennis, sand volleyball, and training for an upcoming 50 Mile March event from Lincoln to Omaha to raise funds and awareness for home veterans and vets with mental health challenges. Along these lines, both Martin and his wife are committed to volunteering and giving back. 

“We want to make a difference in our community, even if it’s only a dent,” Martin said. 

In part, he is a trustee with the Business Ethics Alliance, active with Small Business Administration coaching through Omaha SCORE, sponsors and judges the Children’s Business Fair of Omaha, represents Nebraska and Iowa’s “FranFit” program, is an advisory board member for SourceLink Nebraska (an online repository of resources for entrepreneurs), and volunteers with “Boots to Business,” the power behind the 50 Mile March and other initiatives to help military service members transition back to civilian life. 

Industry Marches Forward

The industry has made big strides, too. Notably, franchisors’ platform models allow for operational resource-sharing across brands. 

“This advancement has allowed franchisors to marshal their combined resources to combat obstacles such as labor shortages, which has been a pretty consistent problem in the Midwest,” Martin explained. “Now, brands and concepts have been designed and launched that require few, if any, staff to grow and scale territories.”

More recently, Martin described the industry’s response to the pandemic as “commendable.” 

“The majority of franchisors swung into action quickly, devising new operating procedures that allowed their franchisees to adapt and weather the storm,” he said. “Many paused royalty payments but increased their spend on marketing and advertising. As for the after-effects, franchise brands have increasingly invested in innovative digital platforms and online services designed to streamline operations and build closer networks among their franchisees.”

Bankers have taken notice. 

“I’ve seen many lenders who now look more favorably on funding for prospective owners, even in an atmosphere where we’re dealing with considerably higher interest rates,” Martin added.

He also said it’s safe to say that franchising has “leveled the playing field,” promoting opportunities across a wide swath of formerly underrepresented groups.

“Entrepreneurs come from all age groups, income levels and demographics, and the industry has responded by developing even more concepts that appeal to semi-absentee or semi-passive owners,” Martin said. “This aspect has generated a lot of attention and capital from a new class of investor-owners who see franchise ownership as a means to diversify their business portfolios.”

(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

In fact, Martin said the first franchise system ever was female-owned: Harper Method Shops. Reportedly, the Buffalo, New York-born salons were started in 1891 by a former servant, Martha Matilda Harper. 

In his firsthand experience over 20 years as a franchise consultant, Martin said he has found a certain mindset is well-equipped to succeed as an entrepreneurial business owner. 

“There are three distinct qualities you should nurture and develop if you’re considering an entrepreneurial future; these include resilience, optimism and curiosity, or ‘ROC’ for short,” he remarked. “If you can set your mind to developing these qualities and you live by these ideals, I believe you have a much better-than-average chance of success in achieving your goals.”