How The Brothers that just do Gutters Became One of the Fastest-Growing Franchises
Cofounder Ryan Parsons explains how some hard-learned lessons from the 2008 recession helped form the foundation for a thriving franchise.
You can assume a few things about The Brothers that just do Gutters. First: They just do gutters. Second: They're founded by brothers. What you might not guess is that they're also one of Entrepreneur's Fastest-Growing Franchises of 2023, coming in at No. 95. Ryan Parsons (who cofounded the company with his brother Ken) talked to us about how their singular focus has led to success.
So—do you really just do gutters?
Pretty much, yeah. Gutter cleaning, gutter maintenance, gutter repair, gutter guards. The riches are in the niches, as we like to joke. So all of our advertising, all of our marketing, everything is 100% geared towards one trade. When you're doing everything, you need every tool in the book, and you need a lot more skilled labor. By hyperfocusing on one thing, our training program's unbelievable. We're able to just do one thing and do it really, really well.
How did you get started?
Around 1997 or 1998, my brother Ken had graduated college with a teaching degree and was trying to get a full-time job teaching, but was just getting bounced around. He met a gutter guy who said, "Hey, you should install gutters," and he said, "Yeah right." But then he started developing a relationship with this guy and saw his lifestyle. This guy had a plane, a nice house, four wheelers, snowmobiles. My brother likes to joke that he literally took his degree and threw it in the gutter. He worked for this guy for one summer minimum wage and no benefits, but he had the vision that if he could learn this and then go out on his own, he could improve his own lifestyle.
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Meanwhile, I was doing graphic design and started working for my brother hanging gutter on the weekends to make some extra money. When the dot-com I was working for went out of business, I found myself working full time for my brother. And coming from graphic design, I quickly saw the opportunity we had as far as building a website. This was around 2002, when nobody in the trades had a website. We were the first by years. We were the first to stop using the Yellow Pages and concentrate on digital and paid. And we started to build a company and I bought in and became a partner, and we were growing really strong up until the recession around 2008.
How did you do during the recession?
Before the recession, we had diversified our services, because we had so many clients saying, "I wish you did more than gutters, because I'd hire you for everything." So we hired somebody that could run a construction division, and before you know it, we were building homes and doing kitchen remodels… and losing a lot of money. Because if you mis-bid a kitchen remodel that takes months to finish, you're losing money for months. If you mis-bid a gutter job, those four hours kind of suck, but you learn and move on to the next job.
Every time payroll was getting tight for the construction company, we would basically steal it from the gutter company—because the gutter company was still doing great. So we ended up with no money in both companies and in the midst of a recession. It just hit us so fast. We were young and never saw a recession coming, and we almost went out of business. From that point forward, we closed the construction company and decided to just do gutters.
Up until that point, we did business as Waterfall Seamless Gutters, but coming out of the recession, we wanted to concentrate on who we are, and after a brainstorming session, we came up with the name The Brothers that just do Gutters.
How did you get started franchising?
A lot of people thought we were a franchise already, so coming out of the recession with all we'd learned and the new branding, we decided that we should franchise. But we took our time perfecting the model. We launched two pilot locations in 2010 and they helped us improve everything, until we were ready to begin franchising in 2014.
I also talked to colleagues I knew who were franchisees with various brands, and several of them told me that it's all about support and the best thing you can do as a franchisor is create a win-win. And that's why we took so long, because until we had the infrastructure to support franchisees, we didn't feel comfortable franchising. So before we had our first official franchise open, we had a call center, a coach, and a marketing team. We were doing all these things on day one.
Your growth has really accelerated these last few years. How?
Starting out, we were able to get some franchisees organically, but we grew very slowly—two or three franchisees a year, and they were doing very well. We were really good at getting someone who's never been in business from zero to a million. But we really felt the pressure that we were not growing fast enough. We realized we're really good at this business, but we have no idea how to find franchisees. So we got introduced to the concept of an FSO, a franchise sales organization. We teamed up with an FSO, and when they looked at our infrastructure, our unit economics, our FDD, and how well our franchisees validated, they were blown away. So they were able to package who we were better than us, and they went to the consultant networks and the consultants loved our concept. And they just crushed it for us, so now we're growing exponentially.
Because we overbuilt our system, because we had all the support in place already, and then we teamed up with the FSO, I think it was all just perfect timing.