Interview with Franchise Partner Ric Millington of Conroe North Houston, Texas

Ric and his wife Jennifer have joined the Special Strong family as owners of our Conroe North Houston location. Working out regularly resulted in positive improvements for their son Luke, and they wanted to be able to provide that opportunity to other families in their community.

Tell me a bit about yourself – what does your background look like?

My wife Jennifer and I have been married for 17 years. My son Luke is turning 16 next month. He was diagnosed with autism, so we’ve been dealing with that for quite a while now. We’ve been through a lot of therapies, have made a lot of connections, and have been able to be part of a community in our area that is trying to help where we see help is needed.

What were you doing in your previous career?

Jennifer was a school teacher, and I had been in the steel business for about 25 years, which I got out of right before Covid. We also own another franchise called Primrose School of Conroe that’s been open for the last seven years.

How did you end up here? Why did you pick Special Strong?

I was going to open up a manufacturing company in Houston. One of the downturns hit, so the timing didn’t seem right for that. We were considering how much we were paying in childcare and decided it made more sense to open our own school – which is how we ended up with Primrose School. A similar situation is what happened with Special Strong.

We had Luke in a club and we finally found a trainer that really connected with him. I love to work out. I grew up in a weight room, and my dad was really into it as well. It was always part of my life – and my wife’s as well. It’s been a good foundation for the family; it’s how we relieve stress. After getting Luke involved we saw pretty good attention gains and an improvement in following directions. We had to think about what we were doing differently. His diet and environment were the same; working out was the only thing that was different.

Covid hit, the gym shut down, and Luke’s trainer moved to Colorado. After things opened back up again, we couldn’t find anyone who had the same impact. We did some looking around online to see if anyone specialized in this and that’s when we found Special Strong and Daniel.

From start to finish, what was the process like of becoming a franchisee?

I had already been a franchisee, so I had been through the process 3 times before. What was different about this one is how small the group is. It’s really refreshing. Both my wife and I said it’s such a nice thing to return to something with more of a personal connection. We’re dealing with Daniel directly; he has his hands on what needs to be done every step of the way. It’s refreshing working with him and not through a representative who has to go back to the franchise and it might take months to get a response to something.

During the process, what did you learn from talking with other franchisees?

How needed this is in everyone’s community. The one thing that stood out to me, being a father with autism, is that there are so many other disabilities that I knew nothing about. It was eye-opening to me.

One of the other great things is looking at some of the behavior techniques and tools they use with their clients. We have been able to use some of those techniques with Luke as well. One example is when a client is about to have a meltdown, redirect that energy into doing ball slams with a medicine ball. All that energy and growing frustration are released through that physical motion. I think it’s genius, and these types of ideas are so helpful to share with each other. I look forward to being able to continue to share them.

What would you tell someone else who is considering becoming a franchisee?

I’ve actually already had this conversation with a friend in Florida. Each franchisee I’ve met so far has some sort of connection with disabilities. I think that’s where my passion comes from – knowing that I’m helping my son as well as whatever other clients will benefit from Special Strong. It can be emotionally draining to train someone who has a disability, but what balances that out is that when you work with clients long enough you’re really able to see their success.

There are other opportunities if you’re only in it to make money. Daniel didn’t start Special Strong to put a location up anywhere he can. This is a different type of franchise. It’s not for everyone; you need to have the passion and time to deal with the challenges, knowing that you’re going to witness successful moments that are going to be so fulfilling and uplifting. The fulfillment I get thinking about this is a feeling I’ve never felt before.

Also, remember that Daniel’s not your boss. In fact, he’s here to work for you, and he does. It can be hard to make that switch for a lot of people who have worked for someone else for a long time. Daniel does an excellent job of reminding us of that. Utilize him and his team – they’re fantastic resources. He’s built an incredible group. There are no egos getting in the way; there’s absolutely none of that going on here. It’s great to be with an organization whose true singular focus is helping people. The mission and statement are true. 

What were some of the most attractive components of the business model?

I already mentioned the appeal of a smaller franchise, the passion, and the close relationship with Daniel and his team. When you get down to the nuts and bolts, it’s a low ceiling financially compared to other franchises. It’s attractive not having to get a brick and mortar up immediately, but that’s an option down the road once you build your base. There’s a low entry fee into the franchise and the opportunity to partner instead of having to own, which can make a big difference for some people as the market is changing and costs are going up.

What made Special Strong different from other opportunities you were looking into?

We looked at Sport Clips, Clean Juice, and a number of other options. Nothing really resonated with us until Jennifer showed me Special Strong. It immediately clicked. I love to work out, we were looking for something with Luke, and we thought why not go this route? This was the first opportunity I got really excited about, thinking about creating something to help our community.

My overall goal with this is to create a network here. We’ve met a lot of key people in our market that are pushing for more for our kids. We all want to get these ideas out there to see what helps on an individual basis. Special Strong not only fulfills a need for the child, but it does for the parents as well. While visiting Mike Lutey’s facility, I saw all the parents get together while their kids were doing group classes. That’s its own form of group therapy. I knew that those moms were going to come every single weekend to talk to each other because they have so much in common.

What was your biggest fear about saying YES to Special Strong?

My biggest reservation was time. We have a son with special needs and a daughter who is 9 but thinks she’s 30. Jennifer is involved with the chamber of commerce and we already have another company. It’s a lot.

Also, I’m completely out of my comfort zone. I can tell you the mechanical properties of steel but I have a lot to learn in this industry. It’s a matter of building up that confidence that comes with doing something for so long.

What made you overcome your fears and say YES to Special Strong?

I think getting out of your comfort zone is a great growing opportunity. You’re never too old to learn something. We have a great support system from a family standpoint that’s onboard and willing to help.

I’m also really excited about it as another way for us to continue helping our community. We want to be here for those people who are going through similar experiences to ours and show them all of the resources that are available. 

What did you think about the start up costs and fees with Special Strong?

The fees are much lower than other franchises we’ve looked into. The franchise is still young, so it’s a great time to get involved and be able to watch it grow. Watching other people come up within different businesses over the years, I can recognize that drive in Daniel that convinced me this was the right choice.

If you would like to learn more about owning a rewarding Special Strong franchise, we encourage you to reach out to us today for more information.