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Erik Helgesen and Stephen R. Preuss of PayMore: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Launched My Business or Startup

Mar 17, 2023

Two men in black shirts standing outside a store front with large windows

An Interview With Ben Ari

Taking the risk to start a company is a feat few are fully equipped for. Any business owner knows that the first few years in business are anything but glamorous. Building a successful business takes time, lessons learned, and most importantly, enormous growth as a business owner. What works and what doesn’t when one starts a new business? What are the valuable lessons learned from the “University of Adversity”? As part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erik Helgesen.

Erik Helgesen is the President of PayMore Group. Erik is a technology specialist and a career entrepreneur that’s been in the buy and sell business for over 16 years. A Long Island, NY native Erik was previously a professor at Hofstra University, teaching e-commerce strategy, development, ethical practices, legality, order fulfillment, growth and more.

Stephen R. Preuss is the CEO of PayMore Group. Stephen has a 20+ year career as an entrepreneur with a heavy focus on commercial real estate. Stephen has also been a partner with Erik since 2004 in the buy and sell industry. Stephen is a Long Island native.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Stephen: Erik and I began our entrepreneurial journey together in 2005 when we opened our first second-hand business with a brick-and-mortar location in Long Island, NY. We mainly were trading on eBay at that point, where we would sell a diverse range of items, ultimately (among other key future business planning ideas) discovering the high demand for used electronics. Over the next several years, this clear realization led us to permutate the business and re-launch it as PayMore in 2011.

PayMore quickly became a thriving & essential business focusing on buying, selling, trading, and recycling electronics. We recognized the untapped potential of this market. We collaborated on building our own innovative concept & built our proprietary operating software from the ground up, extending beyond the confines of eBay and allowing people to get cash for electronics. It is a completely safe and trusted environment for consumers. We became the highest-grossing second-hand store on Long Island a few years later, which is just about the time we knew we unlocked the code to a business needed in every market in the country.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Erik: Starting a business is always challenging, as each industry presents unique challenges. Constructing our proprietary POS system is one of the core obstacles that immediately came to mind. This system is the heart and brains of our operation, and we had to ensure that it was efficient and provided features that were beneficial for our franchisees and customers alike. Countless hours over 13+ years were spent tirelessly refining the process, brainstorming new ideas, and developing ways to make the system faster and safer for our customers. We also needed to evaluate the products that people brought in with utmost accuracy and care. Despite the daunting nature of this task, I relished the opportunity to utilize my IT background to create something from scratch, something that had never been seen before.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Erik: Right from the outset of our journey, we recognized the massive profitability of electronic resale. While navigating the challenging process of starting our own business, including the daunting task of establishing a franchise, we remained driven by the exceptional results our store produced. We were acutely aware of the importance of telling our story correctly to attract the ideal franchisees. What fueled us further was that there was nothing else like our concept in the electronics market. When Dan Rowe, with his vast experience building several big brands, approached us about franchising, we were inspired and energized by his recognition of our exceptional potential. I envisioned PayMore being a nationwide franchise, with people worldwide having access to buying, selling, and trading electronics — and nothing would stand in the way of that vision. We knew we were on the verge of something significant and refused to let go of that determination.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Stephen: Things are going incredibly well for PayMore, and we are experiencing rapid growth, expanding from two markets to being in development in 14 states in less than a year. We are on the cusp of an enormous breakthrough, and I’m ecstatic with the brand’s progress. I’m humbled by the number of franchisees who have signed on for additional units, with some even before opening their initial location or within their first few months of operation. It’s incredibly gratifying to see former franchisees of well-known brands such as UbreakiFix, Firehouse Subs, and Domino’s impressed by the quality of life, low startup & labor costs, and explosive sales & profitability PayMore offers. Witnessing their amazement at our POS system and the traffic of opening a PayMore store is incredibly rewarding. It’s fulfilling to share the excitement and passion that drove me when I first started with other entrepreneurs and continue growing and developing this brand with them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Erik: I wouldn’t call it a mistake, and I’m not sure if it is funny, but I encountered a hurdle that took me several years to overcome — lack of delegation and wanting to do everything on my own for the initial Corporate Store in Massapequa, NY. We were doing large volume, but like many budding & successful entrepreneurs, I ended up working in and on my business for an extended period. I thought I could do the job better than anyone else and did not want to hand the keys to ‘my baby’ to anyone else. After many conversations with my partner Stephen, we staffed our store, and I was able to expand our enterprise horizons in short order. Our store sales went through the roof, and we were able to focus on the expansion to franchising.

The clear lesson is to have both balanced leadership and a top-notch support staff, which enables the principals to work on the business and take a more global approach.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Stephen: What sets our business apart is that we have created a new and innovative model that has never been seen before in the secondhand industry. We have entered a completely untapped market with a limitless customer base and a steady source of inventory. Our repeat customer rate is nearly 70% and growing, without a national presence or wide brand recognition, although that is close! The average customer retention for the industry is fractional compared to PayMore.

We have taken the stigmas of the secondhand industry and changed the look, feel, and experience. We are located within inviting shopping centers and retail strips, with a clean, modern, and fun in-store layout. Customers are greeted by friendly staff, and ultimately, we give real transactional optionality and fair pricing, not to mention cash in hand. Our concept is unique, but the basis of the business has been around forever…buying, selling, and trading. The industry needed disruption, and that’s what we’ve done.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Erik: My recommendation to colleagues in the industry would be to always keep in mind why you started your business. Sharing your vision and helping others see its potential is incredibly fulfilling. While being an entrepreneur is not easy, it is one of the most rewarding careers. My business partner Stephen and I always understood our brand’s potential and what it could achieve. We persevered and sought out the right franchise partners, and once we found them, our dreams became a reality.

So, stay focused and keep pushing forward, and remember that success is always within reach if you remain true to your vision.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Stephen: Having someone to co-pilot you on your journey is crucial to achieving success, and I am fortunate enough to have had Erik as my co-founder in PayMore. He is known as the ‘man behind the technology,’ and his unmatched specialization in IT, Technology, and operations background is the perfect counterbalance for my strengths and focus. Our partnership has been smooth in the challenging world of entrepreneurship, which I know is not the norm. I couldn’t imagine any better partner than Erik for this PayMore adventure.

Erik: Echoing Stephen’s thoughts, our long tenure together has allowed us to have a mature, efficient, and constantly expanding machine of a company, even though we are only a few years into the franchising stage. Stephen’s extensive 20-year business & commercial real estate background in The Capital Markets at the highest levels has been an ideal complement to my focuses and has allowed us to excel quickly. Although our core competencies are different, our vision for PayMore aligns perfectly.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Erik: Part of our mission is to repurpose old electronics and keep them from ending up in landfills, which has become a significant environmental concern. We have found a way to obtain and repurpose these electronics while ensuring they are safe for customers to use. To incentivize customers to trade in their old electronics, we offer them cash and provide warranties on the repurposed electronics that we sell. In 2012, our first location in Massapequa experienced a surge in high-volume trade-ins, and we received tremendous local support for our green environmental efforts. Our commitment to repurposing old electronics while reducing our e-waste footprint makes us stand out in the market.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first launched my business” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Invest in a Winning Team

Erik: Learning to relinquish control was the hardest lesson I had to grasp we were starting PayMore, but ultimately every business owner will need to trust their team as they grow and take on new challenges. As a founder, building an inspiring leadership team and reliable support staff is crucial to feeling comfortable letting go of the day-to-day and returning to the big picture. Finding the right people to be your go-to folks behind the scenes will benefit you so greatly in the long run, and it worth the time, effort and investment into those who fit the bill.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Keep Building

Erik: When we first started PayMore, I knew we wanted to incorporate our own proprietary technology as a key offering to compete with top international electronic resellers. It took me over a decade to perfect this technology, and I’m glad I stuck with it. This piece of the business has become crucial to differentiating both our brand and our offering to put us on the map at a larger scale.

3. Chronicle the Journey

Stephen: Don’t forget to chronicle your journey when starting a new business. Note every milestone and every setback, then take the time to reflect on the progress you’ve made. By recording several experiences, insights, and lessons achieved, you will always have those learnings to refer back to down the road whether for personal or professional use. There are many moving parts to a business navigating the day to day, thus its importance to reflect and record along the way. You’ll thank yourself later.

4. Take One Step at a Time While Planning Five Steps Ahead

Erik: Like any good leader, an entrepreneur must be able to address the problem at hand while also thinking five steps forward. At every stage, you should always consider questions to gauge the root of the problem such as, How do we fix this? How will it affect the business in the future? What do I have the capacity to change (either now or in the future) to prevent this issue from becoming a reoccurring one? The faster and more efficient you’re able to anticipate these issues, the better off your business will be down the road.

5. Appreciate Your Wins, No Matter How Small

Stephen: It’s hard to believe sometimes that we set out to open our first store over a decade ago. While the time has flown by, it’s taught us to celebrate every win. As we sign new deals and formulate new partnerships with new and prospective franchisees to grow and expand the footprint of our brand and business, we can’t help but pinch ourselves every now and again that we have grown 175% in the last 3 to 4 months.

As you look back on your journey or when you hit a big milestone, like Erik and I did when we hit ten franchises, be proud of your growth and embrace the boost of confidence that your success ultimately brings to keep pushing forward every day.

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?

Stephen: Balance. Our business model is 70% online, which means you are selling and making money while you sleep or outside of business hours. Our typical store is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. on Saturday, and closed on Sundays. This allows our operators to enjoy their families and other interests, not to mention scale quickly. Even though Erik and I work 100+ hours a week now, we both are family men and have young children and strongly believe in this work–life balance. Many food operators see this aspect and are immediately drawn to it, along with the low number of employees needed per store. Finally, surround yourself with good people. I know it sounds a bit corny, but it’s important for Erik and me that our franchisees fit within the overall PayMore culture. We are very proud of the first couple dozen area developers in the system, and we look at them as partners to help us continue to build PayMore stores across the country.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

ERIK: As someone who recognizes the power of influence, I firmly believe that we must prioritize the environment and find innovative ways to protect it. With PayMore’s successful impact as a green business, I have seen firsthand the positive difference it can make in the world. Therefore, if I could start a movement, it would be to raise awareness and take action toward preserving the environment for future generations. Additionally, I want to continue to share PayMore as a franchise opportunity for entrepreneurs, as I have witnessed its positive impact on our franchisees’ quality of life. The success of PayMore has shown that a profitable business can also prioritize work-life balance and positively impact the environment.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

ERIK: You can check out my blog on PayMore’s website for new information about the brand. Or visit PayMore’s landing page on the Fransmart Website, and the PayMore Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram pages.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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