Brent Dowling wasn’t supposed to get into franchise development.
Today, he’s the CEO and co-Founder of Raintree, a franchise development firm.
An Australian native who often found himself in the Colorado Rockies as a competitive snowboarder, Dowling thought he’d found his dream job working in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Ultimately, he decided to leave the field and pursue his MBA after realizing it wasn’t a fit for him.
While completing his MBA, he came across franchise development and thought it was an overlooked industry deserving much more attention. He said he didn’t realize it was such “a massive industry,” and decided he could put his skills to use in it. He moved to Denver to be with his then-girlfriend (now wife!) and to pursue his new dream.
Once in Denver, he started working on a part-time basis at Doc Popcorn before he went full time, and he worked there with his future Raintree partner, Mike Edwards. Together, they helped Doc Popcorn grow from 10 units to more than 100 Franchise Owners and 400 units within three years. During that time, Dowling said he and Edwards were approached by different franchise brands and were asked to join their teams and help them grow.
“After that happened a few times, it became pretty clear that there was a demand for folks like us in franchise marketing and franchise sales and we figured ‘Why just help one more company when we can definitely scale this and help multiple companies at a time?’” Dowling said.
Together, Dowling and Edwards decided to launch Raintree.
Raintree’s main focus is to help franchise brands grow, and it has come a long way since it was founded in 2013. It started off working with just a few smaller clients, but the past year has seen major growth for the company. While Raintree still works with smaller clients, it has also expanded its roster to include larger, more established brands, including Jamba Juice, Screenmobile, Cheba Hut and Famous Dave’s.
Raintree spent 2018 working to position itself for optimal growth. The brand brought in one new brand per quarter. They also grew their team to more than 30 team members and are currently “hyper-focused on ensuring each Raintree Team Member is better trained and equipped to outperform all others in their field in this industry,” Dowling said.
As much as Dowling and Edwards enjoyed their time at Doc Popcorn, they were confident in their decision to start their own company and provide functions that were typically found in-house.
“We were really excited because we knew there was this big hole in the franchising industry and we were excited to get to work and start to fill it,” Dowling said. “We grew slow, but smart in the first few years. It paid off, as we are now exceeding franchise growth goals for over 20 partners, and have carefully built the infrastructure and personnel to continue to grow from here.”
Raintree’s services include franchise packaging, lead generation, and franchise sales.
Today, the company seems to turn away far more brands who are looking for a partnership, than those who they bring into their portfolio, which speaks to the major growth it has experienced over the past five years.
“The Raintree team’s straightforward, real language and practicality was totally different than the other franchise development companies I’d talked to,” Screenmobile president and CEO Scott Walker said. “Raintree made no lofty promises and shared our view that working hard leads to progress and success means being flexible and accommodating along the way.”
Some of Raintree’s newest partners include Footprints Floors, Voodoo Brewery, Level UP Learning Center, and Dog Training Elite.
“The most surprising thing we continue to see in brands that apply to partner with us is the lack of energy that some companies are putting into their development programs,” Dowling said. “I think that we’ve learned that there’s a lot of brands out there that could use our help.”
Brands, he said, are playing catch-up, as they are often a bit behind in terms of, for example, lead generation.
“Companies do not always put the right amount of effort into their franchise development programs,” Dowling said. “What we do is we try and take a pretty well-rounded approach. We’re big believers in content. We believe in telling the story. We create a lot of video. We spend a lot of time on social media speaking to potential entrepreneurs. But before we do any of that, we do the hard yards to try to understand exactly who we need to attract to each brand and find out what resonates with them. This type of strategic positioning takes months of continual refinement. The level of patience and flat-out hustle needed here is something we just don’t see in most brands, but something we are very proud to bring to all our partners.”
There has also been some self-development. Dowling and Edwards made the decision to become franchisors themselves so as to even better understand their partners. Although he’s had several years of experience in growing a brand and helping other brands grow their franchises, there was still something missing. He didn’t feel as if he had true empathy for franchisors, which are RainTree’s valued partners. When an opportunity came up to invest in a franchise, he did so along with Edwards.
“Becoming a franchisor has been a fascinating and rewarding experience,” Dowling said. “We are learning so much more about the industry, and now we can take those learnings and apply them to RainTree and make sure we are the best possible partners. It’s not just about results in terms of awarding franchises, it’s about being great partners for our brands and really enjoying the ride.”
Raintree projects it will bring in at least two new brands each quarter in 2020. Historically, Raintree’s clients have been smaller brands that were just starting out and needed help. Often, they were companies with only two or three locations.
“We’ve really worked hard on making sure that we’ve got a program in place that can help not just young food brands, but any brand of any size in any industry and we’re seeing that with Famous Dave’s, Hounds Town USA and Screenmobile and all these different-sized organizations, and I’m really excited to now deploy that with new partners in 2020,” Dowling said. “But I tell my Raintree teammates all the time; it’s not about being the biggest. I couldn’t care less about how many brands we have. It’s about being the best. That will always be the goal.”