It was conceived as a grand adventure. Live in the United States for a few years and concentrate on what I had enjoyed doing most in my twenty-year advertising career. I would work as a copywriter with an advertising agency, while my wife furthered her legal career. Weekends would be spent drafting my novel, travelling across the country, and writing postcards home to the envy of family and friends.
That was the plan.
But the reality became working as an office temp, commuting from the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, where I shared an apartment with Catherine and her partner Deborah. Catherine was from Wisconsin. She was pleasant, friendly, and worked as a teaching assistant. Deborah was from Brazil, she spoke broken English, and threw a decent left hook.
By that time, I was divorced, and it was my ex-wife who alerted me to the Harry’s Landscaping and Lawn Care franchise opportunity. She was working in the franchise department of a New York law firm, and dealing with a group of consultants who were in the process of establishing a platform for Harry’s Group in the US.
I had heard of the business but knew nothing about it, until I was introduced to a fellow called Brian Dixon. Brian was the head of Hogan Franchising, and he explained that Harry’s needed someone to launch its business concept in the US.
I thought it sounded like an exciting opportunity, and we arranged to meet the following week in the foyer of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Times Square. He drove in from Long Island. I took the dreaded 7 train, with its usual delays, and miraculously made it to the meeting on time.
We decided to go to a nearby coffee shop, and walked a few blocks past the hotel.
Brian opened his laptop and proceeded to explain the structure of the Harry’s franchise model - a concept that had started with landscaping and lawn care and had since spawned nearly twenty different divisions. He focused very much on its middle tier investment opportunity. Or at least I did. I could become what he called a regional franchisor, a role that would allow me to secure exclusive rights to various Harry’s divisions of my choice, within a specific geographic area. Thereafter, I would be free to operate my own franchise, while selling individual franchises to other people throughout my region.
Lawn care and to a lesser extent dog wash appealed to me, and it certainly made sense to operate my own franchise. Doing so would provide me with an income and generate a degree of awareness. It might also establish a measure of credibility, as I figured if I could do it, anyone could.
I had absolutely no interest in gardening, had barely mowed a handful of lawns in my life, and I couldn’t tell a weed from a wisteria. But hey, how hard could it be?
By the time my subway ride reached Queensboro Plaza, I had thoroughly mapped out my new business venture.
There was no point staying in New York. What I needed to do was live and work, in an upscale suburb where stockbrokers and CEOs made their cozy dwellings - in other words, Connecticut.
The next day I drove a car rental and headed north, making my way to New England. An hour later, I stumbled on the affluent commuter town of Greenwich. It had a quaint, almost English feel about it and was clearly an expensive place to live, given it had several high-end boutiques, countless hair salons, and a Rolls Royce dealership.
The town had no shortage of real estate agents, and over the next couple of weeks, I caught the train from Grand Central station a few times to do the rounds. I only wanted an apartment but would need a garage to store all of my equipment. The first agent I visited was Halstead, where “rentals are handled upstairs.” I introduced myself to an impeccably dressed agent - a man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. I explained what I was looking for, my time frame, and other requirements.
“How much are you looking to spend?” he asked.
‘Oh, I don’t know. About seven, eight hundred a month.’
He looked at me as if I had just suggested he should marry his own sister.
“No good?” I asked meekly.
“We don’t normally handle properties of that nature” he said.
Clearly not. Apparently, a decent apartment in Greenwich would set me back at least fifteen hundred dollars a month. Needless to say, I didn’t stay long.
It seemed that agents such as Halstead concentrated more on the investment banker end of the market, with some even going so far as to adopt a “no rentals” policy - a kind of real estate apartheid.
I did, however, manage to find a more suitable agent. Cavendish Realty described itself as a rentals specialist. Their office was located just off Greenwich Avenue. “The Avenue” as the locals called it, was the town’s “Main Street” and lined with designer shops, restaurants and art galleries.
My visit to Cavendish Realty was more productive, and I left with a copy of their listings for November.
I scanned the listings document on the train ride back to New York and once I got home, I booked a round-trip flight to Melbourne, to attend the regional franchisor training that was being held at the Harry’s Group headquarters in Mornington.