Applegate/26/dp1st/mark2nd

JANE APPLEGATE

When Sheila McCann traded in her pinstriped suit for a baker's apron, the former public defender didn't know much about baking the low-fat, American-style bread that launched House of Bread in San Luis Obispo.

"I asked myself what need in the community could I fill," said McCann. "Then, I thought, we have no good bread."

So she hired a baker to teach her a few basic bread recipes. She apprenticed without pay at other bread bakeries while maintaining her full-time law career.

She made mistakes along the way buying equipment that was too large and botching many batches of dough. But when McCann opened her doors in November 1996, she exceeded her sales projections on her first day and hasn't looked back.

In February 1999, she internally financed a second shop called "House of Bread Junior." When sales took off, she began to explore franchising as a way to expand.

"With a manager, you have to get them to care," said McCann, whose bakeries were attracting franchisee interest from the beginning. "With an owner, they care because it is their business."

The popularity of franchising continues to grow, with hundreds of people opening new franchises around the world every day.

"The beautiful thing about franchising is that it solves the two most difficult challenges of owning a business the people and money problem," said Don De Bolt, president of the International Franchise Association based in Washington.

"The franchisee provides the money and the personnel," said DeBolt. "You also benefit from the passion for the business that a franchisee brings to the table."

But franchising your business requires a tremendous financial, legal and emotional commitment. First, De Bolt said, you must determine that your business will work as a franchise. For most people, it pays to hire a franchise consultant, which McCann did.

"You have to have a successful store, but it can't be successful just because of you," said McCann. "The best Italian restaurant in town can't be duplicated."

McCann said two new franchised House of Breads will open this November. She also has a letter of intent from a third franchisee. Meanwhile, the company is opening two additional stores, which officials plan to convert into franchises.

The cost of buying a franchise ranges from a few thousand dollars to millions. It costs $24,000 to buy into House of Bread, not including the cost to build, buy or lease your store, purchase equipment and other start-up costs.

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