Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
After 30 years as a senior executive with IBM, Skip Wyatt was ready to take a break. Upon returning from a mini-retirement filled with golf and family time, Wyatt decided that, in his next career, he wanted to create jobs -- not find ways to eliminate them. Franchising offered him a chance to do this, with a lower failure rate than a typical startup. Here's what he's learned over the last decade as a Mr. Handyman franchisee.
Name: Skip Wyatt
Franchise owned: Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County in Fairfield, Conn.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I’ve owned Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County in Fairfield, Conn., since February 2004.
Back when I was investigating my options I learned that the failure rate of franchisees is less than half the rate of other startup businesses so the risks involved with becoming a franchise owner are significantly lower than starting a business from scratch. I had worked in a big corporation for 30 years, but I had never actually started a brand new business.
Our franchisor provided a roadmap to opening and operating the business. They also provided IT systems, marketing materials and planning advice. Most importantly, we are able to draw upon the experiences of our fellow franchisees. This has proven to be a priceless resource for me.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before I became a franchise owner, I was a senior executive with IBM. Over the course of my career, I had run IBM’s sales and services business for 11 Western states, managed worldwide mainframe marketing, server sales, and the reengineering of our sales coverage model.
After 30 years, I retired and decided to recharge my batteries before starting my next career endeavor. During that time I played a lot of golf, read many books, and spent time with my family. I also interviewed for potential CEO positions, but realized that going back into the corporate world was just going to be the same stuff I had been doing for the past decade. I wanted to create jobs instead of finding ways to eliminate them.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I knew there was market need for handyman services based on personal experience. I was impressed with Mr. Handyman’s business model, the feedback from current franchisees, and the competencies of the home office team. Their corporate culture was a lot like IBM’s. Mr. Handyman is extremely focused on customer satisfaction, business integrity and excellence.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I probably spent $100,000 before we were officially open.
Fees - $40,000
IT Systems - $25,000
Marketing Materials - $25,000
Van Related Expenses/Misc. - $5,000
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I got most of my advice from a search firm, the Entrepreneur’s Source. I had been researching various websites and I got a call from one of the Entrepreneur’s Source consultants.
I was very impressed with the company’s service and the concept of matching my interests and skills with potential business opportunities. They had me complete a few diagnostic tools and then presented me with three potential businesses. They also shared a lot of information on each of the recommended businesses and weighed the advantages of each option.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Hiring the right people was and still is the biggest challenge of opening my own franchise. The unexpected difficulty was defining the standards for selecting and retaining people. Our business sounds pretty simple – we fix and maintain your home. But, we need people that have broad and deep technical skills, so the customer only has to make one appointment to get carpentry, drywall, light plumbing and electrical work done.
We also need folks who can adapt to our disciplined service delivery model. The technician must arrive on time, complete his or her paperwork properly, stay on schedule, communicate with our office if the project is running over or under time, etc. Most importantly, our hires must genuinely care about quality and customer relationships.
Not every tradesman has all of these attributes. We can coach and train some of them, but most of it is either ingrained over new hires’ 20-plus years of experience or it’s not. We have had to hire more than 150 tradesmen over the past 10 years in order to build our award-winning team, which now consists of about 40 technicians.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
My advice to individuals who want to own their own franchise is to not assume that owning a franchise is easier than just starting a business from scratch. This is hard work and is not for the faint of heart. Make sure you have the capital it takes to open and operate a new business. Talk to current franchisees and ask tough questions. Pray a lot!
What’s next for you and your business?
My Mr. Handyman business has experienced explosive growth. My goal is to maintain this level of growth, by staying focused on our customers, adding good people to the business, and expanding our service offerings. We are developing a management team that will allow us to sustain our customer satisfaction and growth. We are also considering partnerships, alliances and acquisitions aimed at supporting our strategic intent.