It stands to reason that Jesse Cox launched his garage-door business from a garage.
"I was working from my apartment and renting out a detached garage at the complex," says Cox, the founder and CEO of Access Garage Doors. "I'd get shipments in at 8 or 9 at night. It'd be a little noisy sometimes, and I had it worked out with the manager to where I wouldn't get in too much trouble from the residents.
"I started out just trying to make my rent – including the detached garage – and my truck payment every month," he recalls.
Fifteen years later, Cox says his company has grown to a point he couldn't have imagined when he was working out of his apartment.
"I was watching our trucks roll out one morning and it hit me – Access Chattanooga now does in one day what I averaged for a month in my first year," he recalls.
And Access now has grown beyond its Chattanooga roots, having launched franchises in Naples, Florida, Raleigh, North Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama. Cox says three other new franchises – in Nashville, Cleveland, Ohio, and Tallahassee, Florida — will open by year's end.
In 2016, Cox and his senior staff began thinking about how best to grow the company, he says. Two years later, they'd settled on a franchising-based model and began to put the plan in motion.
"We catered to affordability when we started 15 years ago," he says. "As our reputation grew, we sold higher-end, better quality products."
In getting the new franchises off the ground, the business went back to its beginnings, emphasizing affordability to build their presence in new markets, Cox says.
"We worked with suppliers on pricing and built value into [products] with more affordable prices," he says.
Cox estimates that in the process of approving six Access franchises outside Chattanooga in the past 12 months, he's talked to some 50 candidates.
"I don't sell franchises – I award franchises," he says, adding that franchisees undergo a two-week training program that emphasizes technology, but covers every aspect of the Access business model, from marketing to technical support. "Not everyone gets approved."
That commitment to consistency and quality got Cox and his then-fledgling company through the Great Recession of late 2008 and early 2009, he says – but not by much.
"I remember hoping there'd be another job pop up that we could handle with product in stock, so that we could make ends meet," he says. "We struggled through those hard economic times, but now we're soaring."
Access Garage Doors
* Year founded: 2005
* Location: Founded and headquartered in Chattanooga, with franchises in Naples, Florida, Raleigh, North Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama. Three other new franchises – in Nashville, Cleveland, Ohio, and Tallahassee, Florida — will open by year’s end.
* Number of employees: 33
Fast forward to last spring, when Cox concedes that "we panicked, like most of America" when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the economy to a standstill. The office staff transitioned to working from home, though, and Access instituted safety measures for technicians making service calls to homes and businesses.
And the back-to-basics approach Cox and his team had taken to their franchising initiative stood them in good stead. When customers became more cost-conscious, he says, Access was ready.
"We were already where we needed to be," he says. "That's where our uptick has been – more affordable, more cost-effective doors. And repairs are up – we're doing more repairs than replacements.
"We have to be able to pivot, to adjust to the world," Cox says. "Everything hasn't always gone right for us. I've had to tell my staff, my family and myself that the key for us is to just keep doing what we do."