Interview with Franchise Partners Teri Dunn and Tamara Ishee West Houston, Texas

Special Strong West Houston Family Photo

Teri Dunn and Tamara Ishee adopted their daughter Abby when she was six weeks old and she’s been the backbone of their family ever since. Their desire to support their own community and provide more resources for Abby to stay engaged is what led to their decision to open their own Special Strong location.

Tell me a bit about yourselves – what do your backgrounds look like?

Teri: I’m a retired special ed teacher of 34 years, and spent the last 14 years of that time working in a severe autism unit. Just meeting the families and the parents, going through what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis, and being able to help them was a great experience.

Throughout that time I also coached a lot of softball and basketball at the high school level. Aside from that, we have our daughter Abby who is 19 and we do a lot of Special Olympics. I help coach the basketball team and really try to help coach any of the sports she’s involved in.

Tammy: I started my career as a television production manager and producer

for 20-something years and then moved into the healthcare and wellness industry as a project manager, which I’ve been doing for the last 22 years. While Teri’s the coach for the Special Olympics team, I’m the Team Mom. The whole family has always been involved in that community.

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

Teri: One of our good friends, Kristin, told us about Special Strong. She has twins that are Abby’s age, and we met when the kids were just babies at a Down Syndrome Association of Houston event.

Tammy: She was telling us about the success her son Warren has had with Special Strong and how much fun they have. We went and visited Mike Lutey. After talking to him and seeing what he was doing, we thought this was a great opportunity to build something with and for Abby. She’s really our “why” for all of this. We wanted to get her out in the community, build a bigger community around her, and be able to offer this service in our area. I don’t think there’s anything similar here in Katy.

Were there any concerns that you had going into this process?

Tammy: It’s a franchise; it’s a big commitment. It’s a little daunting, there’s a lot to it. But I think the beginning is the hard part, the fun part comes when we get to work with the kids. And I think that’s a phase that everyone probably goes through.

Recognizing that this was an opportunity for our family and our daughter helped to outweigh that concern. There’s a lot that goes into it. But anyone looking into a franchise doesn’t go into it blindly. It is a business. If you have no business experience, Special Strong really lays it out for you. It’s a lot of information but they’re really well organized and they have everything planned out to help guide you through the process.

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

Teri: I’ve been around special needs kids for a long time, so I know what the joy is like to work with the kids – being around them and being a part of the family. But I’ll let Tammy tell you how she felt when we went to visit Mike Lutey.

Tammy: We went to visit and watched one of his group classes and I told Teri I’ve never smiled so much in my whole life! What Mike said to me is that this is the best decision he’s ever made. Coming from the corporate world, that was what I wanted to hear.

The service that it provides to the community was really attractive to me. I really want to model after what Mike is doing. He has a lot of great classes, and I love the idea of the community-building that comes along with offering group classes.

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

Tammy: There are personal trainers in our area that could do this without doing a franchise, but Special Strong really provides all the tools you need to get going. It’s a recognized brand. Unless you’re a bona fide business person who knows how to do it all, being involved with the franchise is so helpful. We have our own coach and having the management behind you to support you throughout the process gives you all of the resources you need.

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

Teri: One of the big things is the way that Special Strong has outlined step-by-step procedures to get everything up and running. We can finish one set of steps and already they’ve turned on the next part of the portal for us to get started on. That’s been a big thing that we’ve enjoyed. We own another business, so it’s been really interesting to learn the benefits associated with opening a business that is a franchise. Daniel has done a lot as far as getting people prepared for what they’re going into.

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

Tammy: We hadn’t really been looking at other opportunities. We learned about Mike Lutey and went to see what he has been doing. I was looking to get out of the corporate world and we hadn’t really thought about a franchise. What I saw was an opportunity to build something for Abby and us to do together. 

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

Tammy: There are the normal fears associated with starting a business. It’s a financial risk for our family. Will we get the clients we need? Will we be able to stay afloat? Will we have any free time for ourselves? All the things I think anyone would fear when thinking about starting a new business. 

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

Teri: Abby, our number one passion. We’ve been wondering what she’s going to do when she finishes school and how we can keep her involved in the community. This was our biggest reason – to give her something to be involved in.

Tammy: Our friend Kristin checked in on us when we were still toying with the idea. She really reminded us that we might as well be doing work that we love. The classes are what drew me to this model. I appreciate the benefit of the one-on-one training, but building community through classes will be so great for our area and our kids.

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

Tammy: For what is provided for us – all of the training, equipment, and all of the other things they’ve provided us – I think it’s a reasonable fee.

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.