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Buying a Handyman Franchise How can you tell if you're cut out to be a handyman franchisee? Our franchise expert helps you construct a plan.

By Jeff Elgin

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the most popular franchise concepts of the past 10 years has been in the area of home-maintenance franchises. These are the so-called "handyman" franchises, and they provide a convenient and desired service, especially in two-income households where neither spouse has the time or energy (or perhaps the skills) to do the fix-up jobs that are part of maintaining a home in our society.

In the old Ozzie and Harriett days, the husband worked and the wife stayed at home. When things broke around the house, the wife either fixed them or prepared a "Honey Do" list for her husband to address on weekends or vacations. Those days are long gone for many families, but things still break in homes and someone needs to do the fix-up work.

Enter the handyman franchises. These franchises are designed specifically to address a list of common problems that need to be fixed around the home--anything from a leaking faucet to a door that sticks to a hard to reach light bulb (this is actually the most commonly requested task in the handyman business). The franchises typically don't address major electrical or plumbing projects or anything that requires a general contractor's license, but rather focus on fairly mundane tasks that a very handy person can usually do without too much effort and without specialized tools.

In terms of the franchisee profile, it's important to note that virtually all the handyman franchises are looking for a skilled businessperson, not a skilled handyman. These are set up as executive franchises where the franchisee runs a business rather than personally delivering the service of the business. For people who are attracted to this business because of a desire to fix things, it would be far better to get a job as a handyman than to purchase a handyman franchise, because the companies are looking for the leverage they get with a businessperson hiring multiple handymen to do the work.

Your role as a franchisee in a handyman business is:

  1. running the marketing to attract customers,
  2. hiring the handymen who will deliver the services,
  3. scheduling the jobs, and
  4. keeping the books.

Your responsibility is to build the business into a successful operation through your management skills, not program a VCR or put a roof on the doghouse.

As the franchisee, you usually provide the handyman with a vehicle to use in the performance of his job. It's typically a van large enough to hold the various tools and ladders (typically owned by the handyman) that they'll need to do their job. The vehicle usually has prominent graphics identifying the company, which has proven to be one of the best marketing tools in the business.

In terms of scheduling, most of the franchises schedule only one job stop per day per handyman, because they've learned that most homeowners tend to add to their list of items to do when they have the handyman on site. What originally appeared to be a list of jobs requiring a four-hour stop often expands to take the entire day. The franchisee scheduler usually has a number of customers who have been put on a short-notice call list in case a handyman does in fact finish with time to go on to another house.

Most handyman franchises look for employees that are seasoned carpenters at least 35 to 40 years old with strong people skills. It's usually not difficult to find such employees, because the handyman role typically pays as much as the carpenter made on their old job, and the work is virtually all indoors in very nice conditions (versus framing houses outdoor in the wintertime or other jobs the carpenter usually has).

In terms of evaluating the various franchise company options in this field, it all comes down to how effective the franchise system is in helping you succeed in the four critical functions listed above. Does the system have a great marketing program to attract customers and employees? Does it have an automated scheduling program (perhaps with a national call center) to make sure the employees are busy generating revenue for the franchisee all day every day? And of course, the bottom line is, does the franchise system's average performance of franchisees show a substantial and growing profit on operations over time?

As with any franchise, the secret to success is to do your research before deciding to enter into the franchise agreement. In addition to talking to the company representatives, make sure to contact a number of their franchisees and ask them all about the business. What's good and what's not? What kind of numbers are they producing, and what are their major difficult issues with the business? Finally, if they had to do it all over again, what would they change and would they get this franchise again?

Also, give special consideration to the level of competitiveness in the market you plan to operate in. There weren't many of these businesses 10 years ago, but there are more every day. Make sure you're not going to be the last entry into the market before the glut starts producing a shakeout in the industry.

Finally, make sure to carefully check any local or state laws and regulations that might affect this business in your area. Are there special permits or licenses required? Are there any special challenges with obtaining liability or workers' compensation insurance in your market?

The handyman business can be a very profitable business. Since it's a service franchise, there's virtually no cost of goods sold and the contribution margins (after paying labor costs) are typically very high. You might not even need to set up a fixed location for the business, thus avoiding rent expenses. Total investments to get started are also typically very low, so the risk/reward ration can be very appealing. Based on these and other factors, and assuming you do your research carefully, this can be a great business to be in.

Jeff Elgin has almost 20 years of experience franchising, both as a franchisee and a senior franchise company executive. He's currently the CEO of FranChoice Inc., a company that provides free consulting to consumers looking for a franchise that best meets their needs.

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