General Business Services Inc., a Columbia-based franchiser of business advice companies, has been saved from failure for the second time in a year.
The 300-franchise company was purchased this week by Waco, Texas-based franchise king Don Dwyer, owner of eight other franchising companies, including carpet cleaners and furniture refinishers.
Mr. Dwyer said in a telephone interview yesterday that he paid $1.1 million for the GBS, about $400,000 less than he offered a year ago, and $700,000 less than the price paid by Leadley, Gunning & Culp International, a Canadian competitor who purchased GBS in August.
Mr. Dwyer said he was now installing new computers and software in the Columbia headquarters so GBS can prepare the tax returns of the franchisees' clients, one of its most important services.
And, he said, he planned to add other services for the franchisees. He also predicted that he would build GBS back up to its old strength of 1,000 franchises in five years.
He said he planned to take the company public by mid-year.
Mr. Dwyer, who said he used a GBS franchisees' service when he was starting out in business in 1981, said there was some irony that a company that purports to give good business advice is struggling.
But, he said, he hoped people would judge the company by the franchisees' performance and not the problems at headquarters.
But the reforms and promises came too late for many franchisees, who said they were driven away by poor service and managerial turmoil of the past several years.
Craig Eifler, who was the third generation of his family to run a GBS franchise, said he pulled out late last year because the Canadian company changed staff at the headquarters and initially failed to pay back wages to some of the dismissed workers.
Leadley eventually paid some of the owed back salaries. Robert Leadley, chairman of the St. Catherines, Ontario, accounting firm, did not return a call asking for comment.
Mr. Dwyer said he was first approached to buy the company in 1991. Instead, he bought the company's loan from First American Bank in Washington at a deep discount in a move to take the company over.
But GBS managers filed for bankruptcy in January 1992, stopping him from seizing control of the company. GBS then agreed to be bought by Leadley.
But Leadley faced worsening cash problems and told franchisees late last year it was considering shutting down altogether, according to Mr. Eifler and Mr. Dwyer.