Entrepreneur John Rotche says he has always had a good foundation on which to grow.
That same principle applies to growing a business, he says.
A solid foundation is the key to turning a business into a successful franchise because without a strong base, growing and expanding your brand can go very wrong very quickly, according to Rotche.
Knowing the proper steps to take to add franchisees, having the resources and proper plans in place is what took Ann Arbor-based Title Boxing Company from system-wide sales of $2.5 million in 2012 to just under $60 million last year.
“The reason we were able to do that is because we followed the right processes,” Rotche said. “By the end of next year, this brand will be $75-80 million.”
Year to date, the kickboxing and boxing gym chain is up 28 percent over last year and has been named the fastest growing franchise in the U.S.
Thanks to a new partnership with iconic boxing brand Everlast, Title will be opening one new gym a week in the U.S. and internationally. The partnership will allow Title to execute its concept in international markets under the name Everlast Fitness, where Everlast holds the naming rights for Title.
“We know the roots of boxing are really deep internationally, especially in Europe,” Rotche said.
The partnership also brought part of the Everlast brand into Rotche’s Ann Arbor-based franchise-development firm Franworth. In the year since it was created, the firm has secured five brands that it partners with to help grow the brand from smaller companies to franchised businesses.
With the partnership, Franworth provides administration, legal, franchise sales and more for the emerging company. In exchange, the business owners agree to provide support for the new franchises.
“The deal is, they have to come with the deal,” Rotche said.
So instead of the company just selling out to Rotche, the business owners bring the expertise of operating the business, and Franworth helps them grow the franchising side of it. Rotche said it works because he doesn’t know the first thing about making a latte, for example, but he knows how to grow a business.
Ann Arbor-based Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is one of the brands that has partnered with Franworth and is now working to expand its locations beyond its Washtenaw County footprint.
“It’s been great. We’ve been able to get more exposure,” said Sweetwaters owner Lisa Bee. “For a very locally-based company, it’s hard for people to see us outside of our area.”
Bee went on to say her company has been able to find numerous ways to save money in terms of marketing and development due to Franworth’s relationships in the industry.
Rotche said it’s important to him to mentor growing businesses, because of the influences in his life that helped shape him.
Originally from Chicago, Rotche came to Ann Arbor after being recruited by Bo Schembechler to play football at the University of Michigan.
However, while he was being recruited, Rotche broke his neck and in an instant his dreams of playing football in The Big House were gone.
“I wasn’t ever supposed to walk again,” Rotche said.
Despite being recruited by several schools to play college ball, those offers were no longer on the table following his injury.
Except for one.
“When you’re being recruited, you’re everything to them until you can’t play anymore,” Rotche said. “Then you don’t hear from them anymore, with the exception of Michigan. Bo Schembechler said ‘I still want you on the team,’ and that was before I even knew how to walk again.”
Schembechler’s commitment to Rotche created a loyalty to the college and the city that sticks with Rotche to this day.
Rotche joined the team, where he worked with the strength and conditioning coaches in hopes of one day training athletes. Since he was no longer able to play himself, he thought that was a great career choice, but that didn’t come to be.
Along the way he diverted his path when he began working for Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza. Working early on inside the Domino’s headquarters, Rotche spent his days running pizza from the on-site kitchen to various offices around the complex.
“My big promotion was going to a store that had a car so I could deliver pizza to people,” Rotche jokes. “When I look back, Domino’s Pizza was probably the greatest training ground that I could hope for.”
Eventually, Rotche began working with Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan, who became a mentor for the young businessman. After Domino’s was sold to Bain Capital, Rotche was recruited to work for Krispy Kreme donuts.
After helping take that company public, Rotche eventually left Krispy Kreme to focus on a business he bought in Ann Arbor called Ann Arbor Duct Cleaning. Rebranded as Ductz, the company became the largest duct cleaning service in the U.S., according to Rotche.
Rotche eventually sold Ductz and another business Hoodz – which focused on cleaning hood systems – to a Birmingham-based company, opening the door for Rotche to explore his next option.
In 2009, Jeff Dudan was in direct competition with Rotche with his business, AdvantaClean. Dudan recalls meeting Rotche at an industry conference and being blown away by his attitude.
“When we met, we both knew we were competitors and he was much further along with his business,” Dudan said. “Instead of being negative in any way, he was incredibly gracious. We talked and connected.”
During the conference, the various businesses were given 10 minutes to present their brands and concepts to a group on investors and interested parties. Dudan was shocked when Rotche spent half of his time supporting the efforts of AdvantaClean instead of promoting his own brand.
“John does business the right way. John understands the value of relationship. He brings value to the relationships,” Dudan said. “Sometimes it’s business value, sometimes it’s personal value.
“He continues to reach backward and lend a hand to people coming behind him.”
As with his plans to train athletes, another opportunity diverted Rotche’s initial focus when he got involved with Title Boxing.
“I was actually looking to be a franchisee of theirs. I was looking to open a Title Boxing Club here in Ann Arbor,” Rotche said.
Through his ties to U-M, Rotche has mentored former players in the business world for years and focused on helping companies franchise. So when he showed interest in Title, the gym chain saw an even bigger opportunity.
“I started a mentorship program to help other young business leaders, in particular in franchising,” Rotche said. “I’d been mentoring these folks when Title Boxing Company approached me and in 2012 I assumed control of the company.”
Title now has more than 175 gyms opened in the U.S. with 250 more in development in the U.S. and Mexico.
That experience led to the formation of Franworth last year and spurred the partnerships with Sweetwaters and Everlast.
For a brand trying to grow beyond just being known as an Ann Arbor coffee shop, Bee said Sweetwaters couldn’t have asked for a better partner.
“In just the initial conversations that we had, John had a lot of the same values that we have. He’s a very steady, calm, very approachable person,” Bee said. “Anytime there are questions that come up or issues that need to be resolved, it’s always a very thoughtful way of handling it. That resonated well with us.”
Another brand under Franworth control is Spavia, a Colorado-based affordable-spa service with seven locations in the U.S. and nine under development. Franworth is also working with Kalamata, a Michigan-based Greek street food restaurant with locations in Troy and Royal Oak.
Along with his efforts in Ann Arbor, Rotche is a member of an NFL bootcamp that helps football players transition into their lives after football and how to properly invest their time and money.
And while his day jobs keep his plate full, Rotche couldn’t resist when he was recruited once again by a Michigan head football coach. When Jim Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor last season, he asked Rotche to be a part of the program.
Harbaugh was a senior during Rotche’s freshman season as part of the team. Rotche is now the associate director of football operations at U-M and helps with a list of tasks, including staffing various offices, recruiting and post-football success.
“It’s a lot of fun because when I’m not growing these businesses in here, I’m working down at 1200 S. State St.,” Rotche said. “I take special pride in being able to mentor the incoming players.”
Because of his success in the business world, Rotche said he’s able to show the young players that not only are the resources at Michigan to help them succeed on the field, there are people in the program who can help players transition to the next phase in their lives once football is over for them.
“I think I was meant to help mentor other people, and that’s my world now,” Rotche said.
Staying in Ann Arbor
Growing his company and the success of the brands he partners with in Ann Arbor is important to Rotche, he said, because he feels the city embodies an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Michigan is a hot bed for franchising in general,” Rotche said. “Ann Arbor is such a vibrant community, and it breeds entrepreneurship.”
He points to companies like Little Caesars, Molly Maid, and Domino’s as examples of local companies that are growing and seeing great success. Rotche is also proud of the international recognition that Ann Arbor has received in the business community for the entrepreneurs that have come from the city.
In 1992, the International Franchise Association recognize Monaghan as the Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2002, David McKinnon of Ann Arbor-based Molly Maid won the same award and in 2012 Rotche was the recipient.
With three internationally recognized entrepreneurs building their companies in Ann Arbor, Rotche said it just make sense to keep his company in the city.
Building Franworth in Ann Arbor was part of the reason Rotche agreed to lease the entire second and third floors of the former Selo/Shevel building on the corner of Main and Liberty in Ann Arbor. When the property was remodeled by developer Reza Rahmani, Rotche decided he wanted to move his new company into the space, particularly because of what it means to Ann Arbor.
“We’re so proud of the building because it’s such an iconic part of downtown,” Rotche said.
When the building was finished, Rahmani named the building The Franworth Building.
And while having his company name on the building is an honor, Rotche said he’s just as proud of being able to help people in the city grow their businesses and realize their dreams, just as he was able to achieve his.
“Michigan has been such a part of me and making me who I am, the opportunities that it’s given me,” Rotche said. “Ann Arbor is home for me.”