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Leadership Strategy or Leadership Opportunity?

As a multiple-territory franchisee, my wife and I have opened four separate facilities in the past six years.  Today these facilities will do more than $2 million in top-line revenue, with bottom-line net revenues that are growing each year.  I wish I could tell you this was all part of our grand leadership strategy to grow the market.  But it wasn’t

Do you need a leadership strategy?

We didn’t plan on opening any of our current facilities. Every one of them was an opportunistic play.  Even purchasing our franchise territories was opportunistic.

Here’s how it happened: in the slowdown of 2008-2009, our corporate training and consulting business took a huge hit.  At the very same time, one of my best friends had turned his B-to-C, family focused, shopping-center based retail swim school business into a franchise, and was urging us to join the growing company.

Almost because we had no other choice, we launched Aqua-Tots in Austin in 2009. It was a wild ride, but ultimately successful.  By the summer of 2010, we had more than 500 children taking swim lessons through Aqua-Tots in Austin.

Leadership strategy or opportunity?

In 2011 a landlord in San Antonio reached out to my friend about bringing his concept to their shopping center – they liked his concept and were offering some very generous financing to open in their shopping center.  Since we were the only franchisees in Texas at that time, we were asked if we wanted to do so; we said yes.

Two years later, essentially the same thing happened in the Dallas area, and we once again said yes to opening our third facility in the summer of 2013.

The only facility planning we purposefully did was with our more recent facility, back in the Austin area, when a landlord once again offered very substantial financing after we had “gone to market” looking for just the right fit.

How much of this was strategy and how much was opportunistic?  Truth be told, most of our growth has been in response to opportunities. Is this true for most new endeavors?  If so, how do leaders plan?  Indeed, what role does planning even play in the work of a leader?

An interesting concept about strategy vs. opportunity comes from the military world.  “Hard eyes” is the concept that your military strategy is pre-determined: you know what your enemy objective is, you’ve calculated troop deployments and logistical support, etc.  In other words, you have “hard eyes” on the outcome.  Additionally, the concept of “soft eyes” for a military campaign is having a big view of the overall, broad objective, and, if an opportunity presents itself (such as an overrun enemy location not in the original plans) that is consistent with the broad objective, you adjust your plans with “soft eyes.”

We intend to open several more facilities in the coming years.  We own three large territories, with multiple opportunities to expand. We know where we would like to expand, and when.  This is our strategy.  However, when this strategy runs into a tough, expensive real estate and financing market, our strategy can be difficult to execute.  So we also intend to remain opportunistic: should a location present itself that is not part of our current plan, but is within our broad strategy, we will move on it.

Leader – what’s your strategy?  How can you make sure you are also prepared to respond to opportunities as they present themselves?