Relocation inspires franchise opportunity

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Carol Sorgen

When Jody Youll and her husband moved to Joppa last summer as part of the (BRAC)  Base Realignment and Closure effort (Youll’s husband is a civilian military employee), she was afraid she wouldn’t experience the same sense of community she had enjoyed in her New Jersey neighborhood.

But a franchise opportunity has put Youll in the very midst of her new hometown, and she couldn’t be happier.

Youll is now publisher of Coffee News Harford, a community newspaper serving Bel Air and its surrounding neighborhoods. Youll, 54, purchased the franchise in April and has just distributed her first issue.

Coffee News is an offshoot of a community newspaper that was initially founded in Canada as a vehicle for local businesses to advertise at reasonable rates.

In 1995, Bill Buckley became the first American franchisee of Coffee News, producing free weekly newspapers that were distributed to local restaurants.

In 2008 Buckley bought the company, which is now based in Bangor, Maine. There are currently close to 400 Coffee News franchisees throughout the U.S., five in the greater Baltimore area.

Being their own bosses

Buckley calls his franchisees “bosses,” and every eight weeks offers a new three-day training session. Each franchisee is assigned a mentor and provided with a free website, software package and an online chat group.

According to Youll, the content of Coffee News — which she first became aware of while still living in New Jersey — is made up of ads from local businesses and snippets of light reading, such as horoscopes, quotable quotes, jokes and trivia.

“It’s just one piece of paper,” said Youll, “and it’s fun, clean stuff that will put a smile on your face, in addition to being an effective advertising outlet for the business community.”

Coffee News was originally designed to be placed in restaurants so diners could have something quick to read to pass the time while waiting for their meal. But Youll has expanded her sites and has been approaching doctors’ offices, barbershops, car dealerships and other places people might have a few spare minutes.

“The paper gives people something to occupy their time and leaves them with a smile on their face,” said Youll. She adds that the response from prospective distributors has been enthusiastic, which pleases her both professionally and personally.

“I love it here,” said Youll, her concerns about her new home now laid to rest. “People have welcomed me with open arms.”

Becoming a franchisee

Youll had a background in advertising, but not all franchisees do. Buckley, for example, had spent 25 years in the banking industry before becoming a Coffee News franchisee. 

What you do need to start any business, Youll advised, is enough money to tide you over — “there are always hidden fees when you’re starting up” — and a well-researched and executed business and marketing plan.

“Do your research and have enough money to last for at least a year,” said Youll. She invested about $20,000 in the business from an inheritance she received from her father, also an entrepreneur.

“You don’t make money right away.” Still, she said, it has been money well spent, and she wouldn’t have done it any other way.

“I knew I needed a job when we moved to Maryland, and I didn’t want to work for corporate America,” she said. “This gives me the opportunity to create something that will make people happy.”

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