Albert and Serina Daniel are partners in business, marriage and parenting.
The New Market, Md., residents are the parents of three children, one still in school and two who are adults.
They have owned the Milex Complete Auto Care franchise at 100 Bucheimer Road in Frederick, Md., for the past 10 years, and they added a Milex/Alta Mere co-branded store in Boonsboro, Md. in 2015.
The company has named them Milex Franchisees of the Year three times, in 2013, 2014 and again this year.
Albert attended high school in Prince Georges County and served in the military.
Serina attended high school in Montgomery County, then did bookkeeping and office management for a grocery store.
She completed some finance-related college courses at a community college.
Serina continued to work full-time at a property management company, and managed the paperwork for Milex (payroll, taxes, human resources, expenses, etc.) until September 2015. Once the second location opened in Boonsboro, it wasn’t feasible for Serina to commute to Montgomery County every day so she resigned for her longtime job and became a full-time employee of Milex.
Their business in Frederick employs six people, while the Boonsboro outlet has three full-time employees.
Albert recently answered some questions posed by Mike Lewis of Crossroads Business Journal.
What were you doing before opening the Milex Complete Auto Care franchise, and what led you to make the leap into business ownership?
After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and began working aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington. I worked to maintain the support equipment for the aircraft. After serving my time in the Navy, I began working in various automotive dealerships, where I continued to learn more about the trade. I especially enjoyed working on performance cars and eventually found myself in charge of the performance team at a local dealership.
After suffering an injury on the job, I was out of work for a few weeks and began researching franchise ownership. Oddly, when we began the search for a franchise, we were not focused on automotive. We thought about a restaurant and briefly entertained the idea of a fast food establishment. It didn’t take long for us to determine that we should stick with what we know, and we are so glad that we did.
I found Moran Family of Brands and was impressed with the support system they outlined. We both went to visit the Moran team in Midlothian, Ill. The days we spent there reassured us that they were the group to go with. We signed on and it was a stressful few years before we found a place to start our business. Moran did not pressure us, they simply helped us find the best location to start.
Our startup facility was not ideal, but it worked for us. The landlords were fantastic, and we did the best we could. It sat behind an auto body shop and two other independent repair facilities. Some would describe our store as “a dive.” However, with a fresh coat of paint, a new lift, and a favor from a carpenter friend to build an office counter, we were off and running. We soon outgrew the small shop and our current Frederick location came available. We bought out the business and relocated to that site. We went from a two-bay shop with three tight lifts, to a two-bay shop with six lifts.
You’ve been named franchisee of the year three times. Given that it takes hard work and professional expertise, what are some of the other keys to succeeding in business?
The keys to success are always changing. You must be able to change with demographics, client needs and computer advancements, just to name a few. One suggestion is to be open to changes. This one statement is easy to say, but can be very difficult to learn. Social media, computer advancements in automobiles, and improved diagnostic equipment are just some of the items that need constant attention because they are always changing. We, as a society, are still going through a transition. Some of our customers are still “old school,” while many more are the newer generation that only know computers and they have a lot of faith in the computers. It’s very important to recognize and accept both types of customers. Be courteous and kind to all of them.
How have your opportunities and challenges changed since you opened, and how have you met them?
Treat all customers with the respect they deserve. Follow up and get feedback regarding their likes and dislikes of our facility and service. Word-of-mouth advertising goes a long way. Customers experiencing problems with service should be addressed immediately. Accept the fact that disagreements occur, but face the issue right away and accept responsibility when necessary.
Tell us a bit about the experience of being a trainer and mentor to other franchisees. How have you been able to help them, and what have you learned?
I enjoy using the experience and insights that I have gained over the years to help other franchise owners throughout the system. We all work as a team, and if I am able to help other people who are experiencing the same issues I am dealing with on a daily basis, I welcome that opportunity. I have been on the Franchise Advisory Alliance for several years, and I have recently contributed to a new online training course for franchise team members. It has been beneficial to not only share knowledge with others in the system, but also learn from their experiences to make myself a better business owner.
How do you juggle the demands of the business with family and personal time?
In the beginning, we felt like the business owned us and we struggled to find enough personal time away from the store. With the help of our franchisor, Moran Family of Brands, we have seen great improvement. We have hired a great staff and have a tremendous amount of trust in them. We know our shop is able to function without us if we need to take some time off.
What’s next for you, your family and your businesses?
I’d like to keep improving what we have, not get comfortable with where we are. I’m always looking to add other shops, but I like to buy people out since a lot of the set-up work has been done already and it has a built-in customer base. I’m looking to grow, but at the right time and right place. I have declined several offers, just because they didn’t seem right for us. I’d like to eventually have four shops, but I don’t want to rush into it.
— Compiled by Mike Lewis