The Franchise Path: One Man's Journey
January 1, 2007
I started in the carpet cleaning business in 1995 as a self-employed, one-man show. Like many in the industry, I had no prior experience, and I ran the business alone for about 8 years.
Initially, I had to learn the hard way, but with time and experience – and exposure to ICS magazine – my business started turning around. I began diversifying, getting into carpet repairs, dyeing, Oriental rugs, and fire, smoke and water-damage restoration.
Business was good, and I was growing tremendously. To attract more business and keep my crew busy, I placed a full-page advertisement in the Yellow Pages, and I targeted both restoration and cleaning business from residential customers. I attended many conventions and many IICRC-approved classes, keeping myself on the forefront of the business, both technically and intellectually. The source from which I received the most help, however, was an active participant on the ICS bulletin board who happened to own a franchise.
I have seen a lot of change in this industry over the years, the main change being the insurance industry’s preferred vendor program. About two or three years ago, I saw a shift in the insurance industry toward a nationwide program, where one company handles most if not all of the losses for their customers. There was some talk about a few of these national companies becoming part of the program, and in the end, ServiceMaster was the primary franchise to be awarded those national insurance programs.
At the time, ServiceMaster was trying to convert independent companies like mine into franchises to keep up with the amount of work they were getting. And it was right around then I noticed a decline in the amount of water-damage and fire-loss business from my Yellow Page ads.
As all this was going on, I attended an Association of Specialists in Cleaning and Restoration convention in Colorado Springs, where it happened that ServiceMaster had a booth. I stopped in and spoke with a marketing representative, who explained to me the manner in which independent conversions were done. I came away duly impressed. From there it took almost two years of negotiations and planning to finally make the move and convert my business completely into a franchise.
I currently handle two counties in California, Fresno and Madera, and business has never been better. Yes, I had to change my identity, painting my vans yellow and removing my old company name and logo. Overall, however, the change to a franchise from an independent was a lot easier than I had believed possible. I can still implement many of my own marketing ideas, and as it turned out, my existing business system is very close to ServiceMaster’s.
Becoming a franchisee has helped my business grow even more than before. However, there are challenges that come with this growth that must be met successfully; I had to purchase more drying equipment, hire more people, and our office manager is in the process of trying to hire her first helper. We are hoping to add new trucks on the road sometime in the beginning of this year.
When it comes to any business endeavor, some will fail while others succeed. This should not be taken as anything but the story of one business-owner’s experience on the path from independent to franchisee. I was always against franchises and I did not see the need for them, because I had built a very strong business on my own. However, since I seized the opportunity and jumped on the franchise bandwagon, becoming “yellow,” as some have designated us, I have no regrets.