Weakened Economy Didn’t Ail Handyman Franchise House Doctors in 2008
(Cincinnati, OH)---Over the last eight years, Jim Hunter has gone from his homeland of Scotland to Canada and the United States. The 53-year-old Hunter, born in Wishaw, 25 miles south of Glasgow, relishes a challenge.
Since September 2007, Hunter has been CEO and president of House Doctors (also known as House Medic in some areas), one of the nation’s leading nationally franchised, professional handyman companies. A veteran of the franchising industry from both the franchisor and franchisee perspective, Hunter saw his own father, William, spend almost 47 years working for a small Scottish engineering firm that manufactured coal-cutting machines until he was downsized.
“Subconsciously that may have prepared me for the changes I have seen in my life. I have always been comfortable with new challenges. I encourage change, like new challenges and like making things happen,” said the amiable Hunter. “The challenge is what really brought me here. I jumped at it.”
Faced with a dire economy, Hunter has performed exceedingly well since being recruited by Paul Spires, Jr., who founded House Doctors in 1995 to provide professional repair, maintenance and remodeling services to homeowners and commercial property owners. A true entrepreneur, Spires launched the company while still in his early 20s, but sought Hunter’s franchising experience and knowledge to increase House Doctors’ brand awareness and foster its growth.
Hunter wasted little time. Bolstered by a number of new initiatives, House Doctors broke sales records in 2008 with new franchisees posting first-year revenue increases over 70 percent greater than previous standards. A third-year House Doctors franchisee in Pottsville, Pa., a town of only 16,000 in Pennsylvania’s coal region about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia, generated the highest revenue in House Doctors’ history, breaking another major revenue milestone for the company.
“The soft economy is actually keeping us very busy,” Hunter said. “New construction has slowed down, but demand for the repair and maintenance of existing homes has gone up. We’ve seen a real positive trend in our market.”
With over 100 territories in more than 40 states, House Doctors handyman franchise expects to add 15 to 20 new territories in each of the next several years with a target of 175 territories by the end of 2012.
“This is a growing market that is not a fad,” Hunter said. “We are becoming a do-it-for-me society and more and more people want our services. Homeowners are used to being serviced by the ‘Chuck in the Truck’ handyman but as our industry mushrooms and more professional companies enter the industry, House Doctors is well positioned to capture a big slice of the market.”
Before entering the franchising industry, Hunter spent 14 years in telecommunications with General Electric in the UK. But with a bug for entrepreneurism, Hunter and his wife, Jakki, became owner/operators of a Kwik Kopy printing franchise in Glasgow in 1988. They built a highly successful business over the next 10 years until Hunter’s zest for adventure took the couple to Canada.
Landing in Toronto, Hunter became director of franchise development for Kwik Kopy’s Canadian master franchisor before opening his own franchise consulting firm and helping another handyman concept launch its Canadian operations before joining the company as a vice president.
Hunter was investigating U.S. franchises to bring to Canada to operate as a master franchisor when he met Spires, who convinced Hunter to take the reins of House Doctors and its sister company, HomeTeam Inspection Service, which provides residential home inspections.
In the last 18 months, Hunter and his team have repositioned both concepts by creating new logos and marketing programs. A Franchise Advisory Council has been established and a myriad of new initiatives have been launched including a “Fast Start” training program that enables a majority of franchisees to open for business sometimes as soon as a week after completing their training. More than 100 different start-up requirements ranging from obtaining a business telephone line to creating a business plan are addressed before classroom training sessions even begin.
“We want to take the excitement that our franchisees have developed during training and immediately put it to work in starting their business,” Hunter said. “We don’t want franchisees spending weeks worrying about hiring people and other matters.”
A mentoring program encourages new franchisees to network with veteran franchisees and an academy program provides extensive headquarters’ support to franchisees in their first year, monitoring their progress and growth patterns and quickly resolving any issues.
“Paul had taken the company as far as he could,” Hunter said. “I moved people around and brought in others. It’s all about getting the right team working together behind the right vision. There is energy in the atmosphere. We are able to offer so much more to our franchisees and the results are evident in the sales records we are breaking. We have taken huge strides forward over the last 18 months.”
With a modest initial investment and minimal overhead, including the ability to launch the business from home, House Doctors is proving to be a strong draw for budding entrepreneurs, especially those from the corporate world.
House Doctors handyman franchises do not do work themselves, but employ service technicians. Franchisees manage their business; recruiting, training and motivating their staff while also handling marketing and planning responsibilities. A handyman or construction background is not necessary. Instead, the most successful franchisees excel at managing and marketing their franchise.
“Our franchisees come from a variety of backgrounds,” said Adam Long, vice president of shared services. “They are looking to maintain their income or elevate it, but without the issues of the corporate world, where many come from. They want their independence and the ability to rapidly grow a business.”
Adds Hunter: “Prospective franchisees do need to have a comfort level with the industry, but they won’t be swinging a hammer. They are bringing their management skills to a growing industry and we are giving them the systems and marketing support that enables them to capture market share.”
While other handyman franchise concepts sometimes focus only on offering specific services, House Doctors’ unique “hybrid” business model allows franchisees the opportunity to easily scale their business, starting with a focus on smaller repair and maintenance projects while building their staff and transitioning into offering larger-scale remodeling services backed by the trust and long-term relationships established with customers.
“We create a strong rapport with our customers,” Long said. “We want to create a relationship in which our technician is not only there to do small jobs, but also larger-scale remodeling projects because of the expertise we provide and the trust we have established. We have positioned ourselves to service both markets and we feel that very much separates us from our competition.”
Hunter’s passion for franchising is evident. Looking back at his own experience as a franchisee, he says he’s amazed at the ease with which he was able to transfer his skills from the corporate world to an industry in which he had no experience, but quickly found success.
“I was amazed at how with the support of a good franchisor, I could build such a successful business,” Hunter said. “I love getting people into business and believe wholeheartedly in the franchising model, especially when you get the right match of franchisor to franchisee. That’s what makes House Doctors such a success.”