The Franchisee Experience
HVAC franchisees discuss why franchising works, and for whom it works best
Franchising is an endeavor that HVAC contractors should not enter into lightly. But several franchisees who shared their experiences with The NEWS said companies that commit to the franchise system and work hard to implement its policies and procedures will find the benefits of franchising to be numerous and pervasive.
Shawn Mitchell started Ashburn, Virginia-based Modern Mechanical in 2010. In April 2016, he and his business partner, Pete Danielson, joined One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning® as well as Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® and Mister Sparky® electrical.
“Our first year has been a very positive experience so far,” Danielson said. “Certainly the trainers who have come into our business have been way beyond anything we could have done on our own.”
Danielson said Modern Mechanical has been visited by more than 20 different types of trainers who have taught courses on customer service, timeliness, sales, and more.
Exposure to new vendor partners has been another important plus.
“We’ve begun working with new vendors in credit card processing that have saved us a lot of money, and we’ve gained access to suppliers who have provided us with new product offerings at competitive prices,” Danielson said.
Mitchell said the biggest challenge the company has faced in its first year has been the software transition.
“The One Hour software is fantastic, but as anyone who has ever gone through a software transition knows, there’s a learning curve,” he said. “It wasn’t a game-stopper at all — in fact, we migrated to the new software on the hottest week of the year and One Hour provided great support. That said, the transition wasn’t without its challenges.”
Danielson said Modern Mechanical’s employees generally took the decision to join One Hour in stride.
“Some of our team members were very excited and saw how this would make our company more successful and prepare us for the next level of growth. We also had some folks who were a little anxious,” he said. “But, we reminded them it’s the same owners, the same leadership team, and the same core values of quality and honesty. Their still doing what’s right for customers, but with new partners, tools, and resources to help them grow and build a stable and successful company.”
Added Mitchell: “One Hour has given us many new tools to be more successful, and a big part of our experience in the first year has just been learning to use all the tools that are available.
“It comes down to what you want,” Mitchell concluded. “Some people are comfortable at $1 million or $1.5 million, and that’s fine. But if you want to grow your business, the franchise model gives you a clear road map on how to do that.”
HELP IN CHANGING TIMES
Jim Fetter is a newcomer to the Aire Serv family. His 23-year-old business, Jim’s Heating & Air Conditioning in Sumter, South Carolina, bought into Aire Serv in October 2015 and officially became Aire Serv of Sumter on March 1.
Fetter said the decision to join the franchise was an easy one for him: The phone just wasn’t ringing as much as it used to.
“When I first entered the business, we put an ad in the Yellow Pages. That’s all we needed to do,” Fetter said. “But that has changed over the past few years. I never worried too much about marketing; I just kind of took whatever came my way. But, I could see the market was changing and decided I really needed to make a change.”
In addition to marketing help, Fetter said he was drawn to Aire Serv by the franchise’s support group, which was available to take a call whenever he had a question.
A benefit that has already paid dividends in the first year has been Aire Serv’s service software.
“For about a year before I decided to join Aire Serv, we were working on designing our own service software, and it was a difficult and time-consuming effort,” Fetter said. “The system that Aire Serv offered was exactly what we were looking for. It tracks everything, shows you and your people where you can improve, and makes it easier for us to serve customers.”
The most difficult adjustment Fetter has had to make was increasing his prices to where they should be. He found that some long-time customers have had difficulty accepting the new pricing. A key to gaining their acceptance is making sure to show them the value they’re now receiving, he said.
“The price to do business right is expensive,” Fetter said. “So, we do all we can to show customers that our work is worth what we’re charging. We always strive to show customers what they’re getting and make sure they understand the cost for providing the services we’re providing.”
For any contractor interested in joining a franchise, Fetter advised, be serious about it and understand that you have to do the work.
“Joining a franchise will be the hardest easy thing you’ll ever do, and the easiest hard thing you’ll ever do,” he said. “There are a lot of things to implement, and the implementation is up to you, but you’ll never be on an island by yourself. You’ll always get the support you need, and if you do the work and put the time in, you can have far more success than you could ever have on your own.”
COMMIT TO THE SYSTEM
Ray Bramble started his HVAC residential and light commercial business in 2004 and became an Aire Serv franchisee in 2009. He said that becoming Aire Serv of Bull Run, immediately helped him begin growing his business, even in what was largely considered a down economy. When he joined Aire Serv, he had two people working with him. Today, the Front Royal, Virginia-based business employs 22 individuals and is doing more than $2.5 million in revenue annually.
“We followed the system and got involved in everything Aire Serv recommended,” Bramble said. “We committed to implement the model.”
Bramble said the services he has received from Aire Serv over the past seven years have been well worth his investment.
“We looked at other ways to run a business without the support of the franchise group, and found the costs for a computer service tracking system, vehicle inventory tracking, marketing plan, pricing guide, technician and sales training, plus a business coach was about the same as the cost of franchising,” he said. “And, with the franchise, we have a nationwide peer group we can bounce ideas off of, which has helped us grow our business.”
Plus, Bramble added, Aire Serv is always keeping its franchisees updated with new technologies and innovative ways to structure businesses based on changes in the marketplace and the future.
“Unless you’re a superman or superwoman, how are you going to keep track of and evaluate all the new technologies by yourself?” he asked.
Bramble concluded that his business wouldn’t be where it is without the franchise and the key to long-term success as a franchisee is to stay involved and committed to the system.
“You can’t ‘cowboy’ it,” he said. “There are procedures, systems, and a code of values you have to commit to. It’s the glue that keeps it all together.”
BECOMING PART OF A BRAND
John Bebeau is president of QTL Holdings LLC, which includes two One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning franchises, two Benjamin Franklin Plumbing operations, and one Mister Sparky franchise in the Toledo, Ohio, area. QTL Holdings has been affiliated with the franchisor for 12 years, and Bebeau has been associated with the franchise for more than five years. He is a member of the franchisee’s leadership team.
He said joining a national franchise means giving up a certain degree of autonomy, but there is much to be gained in return.
“When you make the decision to become part of a franchise network, you have to ask yourself one thing: ‘Do you want to be part of a brand?’” Bebeau said. “You have to be prepared to be part of a national brand and must agree to go along with the brand’s standards and expectations.”
Bebeau used the example of Outback Steakhouse. It’s possible that some customers are visiting an Outback because of the individual franchisee, but a far greater number of customers are going there because they’re familiar with the chain’s name, menu, and quality standards. They know what to expect.
“People like doing business with local operators, but in the U.S., the trend is pretty clear that more and more of us tend to spend money on national brands,” Bebeau said. “People like the comfort and predictability of nationally branded companies. So, although it’s inevitable that you’re going to let go of a little bit of autonomy, you’re doing that to give consumers and homeowners what they want.”
Like the other franchisees, Bebeau praised the power of the network, and the benefits of being able to connect with companies and individuals who have made the decision to conduct their business in a very similar way.
“It’s a great way to share ideas on how to solve some of the challenges a business has encountered,” he said.
To be successful over the long term, Bebeau suggested remembering that good franchisors will always be innovating, so franchisees shouldn’t ever feel as if they’ve derived all the benefits they can from their franchise affiliation.
“Some franchisees may feel as if they’ve learned everything about the systems and processes they need and may not feel as if they have anything to gain from renewing their franchise agreement,” he said. “But, franchisors who are involved and engaged will constantly come up with new and better ways to do things, and contractors need to keep an eye on what benefits could come their way in the future.”
Danielson summed up what he would tell other contractors about franchising: “Look at all the advantages and disadvantages closely,” he said. “Belonging to a franchise is not for everyone. But, if you’re the type of person who thrives in a system and wants the processes and procedures established so you can focus on running your business, then a franchise may be a really great option for you.”
SIDEBAR: A LIFE-CHANGING CODE OF VALUES
Jim Fetter, whose 23-year-old company became Aire Serv of Sumter in March, had praise for The Dwyer Group’s Code of Values, which serve as one of the uniting forces among Aire Serv franchisees.
The code is based on the acronym “Live RICH,” with the “R” standing for respect, the “I” for integrity, the “C” for customer focus, and the “H” for having fun in the process.
“Implementing the Dwyer Group’s Code of Values has been huge for us both professionally and personally,” Fetter said. “We read the code at every one of our Monday morning meetings, and we hold ourselves to it. It definitely changes people. It’s hard to put into words how much of an effect it has had on us.”
Publication date: 11/21/2016