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Chain lightning: Independence through franchises in New Hampshire

Union Leader Correspondent

January 12. 2014 3:47PM

Windham resident Andy Smolko recently left a longtime career in high tech to open a CertaPro Painters franchise in Nashua. Currently there are approximately 3,700 franchises in the state, which generate more than $3 billion annually. COURTESY 

Whether they're well established or just getting their feet wet, New Hampshire's many franchise owners are gaining new ground and giving back in 2014.

At last count, the Granite State had approximately 3,700 franchises, according to Matt Haller, vice president of the International Franchise Association.

Franchises currently generate more than $3 billion in the state each year, and Haller said franchising is "definitely poised to grow at a rate that's outpacing the general economy."

On a national level, franchises are expected to contribute to a 2.8 percent increase in job creation this year, with a good portion of that growth centered in the area of personal services (salons, spas and fitness), home improvements and "discretionary spending" areas such as restaurants and specialty food and wine businesses.

"As we come out of the recession, credit is getting easier to obtain," Haller said. "It's a fact that franchises offer a greater return on investments as banks can research their history and success."

Sweet success

For Windham mom of three Laura Calamari, the path to owning two Sweet Kiwi frozen yogurt franchises began with a simple conversation with her oldest daughter, Jamie.

After realizing that Jamie, 20, and her two sisters Kristin, 17, and Renee, 15, were traveling to Andover, Mass., for a frozen treat, the former stay-at-home mother decided to take matters into her own hands.

Calamari opened her Hudson yogurt shop on Lowell Road last March. By June she'd opened a second shop in Londonderry, on the corner of Route 102 and Gilcreast Road.

Both locations seem to be thriving, Calamari said, and with all three daughters among the shops' 20 employees, it's very much remained a family affair.

Wanting to share their good fortune, the Calamari family places tip jars on their counters — not for the staff members to pocket, but to promote various charitable causes. Last summer "tips" collected resulted in a $1,200 donation to the Wounded Warriors Project.

"We pick a different charity each month," Calamari said. This month's proceeds will benefit Friends of McKenzie Lowe, a Hudson-based group that's helping a local 12-year-old battling a rare form of brain cancer.

"So far everyone's been on board with it," Calamari said. "It makes my employees feel good to give back."

Painting it green

For 55-year-old Andy Smolko, opening a CertaPro Painters branch in Nashua provided a welcome respite from the corporate rat race.

Smolko, who spent three decades working in the high-tech industry and has lived in 10 different states and three different countries, opened his commercial and residential painting franchise, located at 20A Northwest Blvd., last summer.

"I'm no longer having to move around to follow the jobs, which is what I'd been doing since the industry changed back in 2008," he said.

While winter tends to be a slow season in the painting business, things are definitely on the upswing: Smolko said he plans to hire his first employee sometime in February.

"I'm really excited about how things worked out," he said. "Every day I'm doing something different, meeting new people."

Like Calamari, Smolko also plans on using his new business as a means to assist a cause close to his heart.

This spring Smolko will run in the 2014 Boston Marathon. In doing so, he'll raise funds for the American Liver Association in honor of his younger sister, who died of liver disease last fall.

"Sometimes the universe gives you what you need," the Windham resident said.

Massage makeover

For German-born Jackie Martinez, opening up an Elements Massage franchise in Salem last month was a way of obtaining the American dream.

When she first moved to the U.S. at the age of 18, Martinez spoke little English and worked several low-wage jobs to pay for classes.

One day she treated herself to a massage at an Elements Massage chain, and she said she was inspired to become a massage therapist about a year later.

Over the years Martinez worked through the company ranks, and after five years of working for other Elements Massage franchise owners, she was able to purchase the new Salem shop, located at 315C S. Broadway.

"What sets us apart is our dedication to listening to clients' needs in order to pair them with the right massage therapist," Martinez said. "The Elements franchise was founded on the healing benefits of massage, and we're looking forward to making a positive impact in our clients' lives."

Ms. Fix-it

Having worked as an appliance repair specialist for Sears for well over two decades, Jeanne Lemieux said she decided to open her own shop after becoming increasingly frustrated with the changes in her former corporation.

In 2007 the Granite State mom opened her Mr. Appliance franchise, and she believes she remains the company's only female franchisee.

The company, which specializes in appliance repair, has more than 150 locations around North America.

When Lemieux first got started, she was a one-woman operation.

"I was answering phones in between going out on the road," she said with a laugh. But within a year, business continued to boom, and her husband stepped in to lend a hand.

Today, Lemieux, who learned her trade through a high school co-op program in Merrimack, has five employees, including technicians and office staff working for the Mr. Appliance of Strafford & Rockingham County, located at 285 Calef Highway in Epping.

"When I first started out there were only a handful of women doing this job in the Manchester area," she said. "It's just not a field that schools tend to encourage, but hopefully the scholarship program sponsored by Mr. Appliance will change all that."

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