Meet Hotondo's loyalists
Builder Chris Dodt knew how to construct a home and to renovate a bathroom, but four years heading up his own firm taught him he did not know enough about running a business.
With his wife Michelle working on the business as well, and trying to juggle a home life with young children, it was obvious the couple needed help ‒ and some systems.
That is when the idea of a Hotondo Homes franchise seemed like the best idea.
“We saw it as a window of opportunity to professionalise our business,” says Michelle.
Managing a typical annual workload of two home builds, up to four bathroom renovations and small-scale construction, they also had subcontract work, but it was not enough. The business needed to offer something different.
“We had no display homes, only plans, and it’s hard to sell a house that isn’t built,” says Michelle.
Once they signed up to a Hotondo Homes franchise they learned a lot very quickly. “It felt as though we went to uni and got a degree,” she jokes.
The business coaching was terrific, says Chris. “Learning how to sell a house was phenomenal. In the first six months, it was like switching on the light bulb. Training is so important, learning how to present and what not to say to people. If you can’t sell yourself, you can’t sell anything.”
The couple attended their first annual group conference within the first eight months of being Hotondo Homes franchisees and were so motivated they phoned three people on the way home from the event and booked jobs.
“We’ve done 21 of these conferences,” says Chris. “We haven’t missed one.”
The initial goal with the business was to build five houses a year. It took 12 months to achieve that target. Then the business reached a stage where a big decision was needed: should the couple grow more or be happy with the level of work and income they were bringing in?
Chris and Michelle opted to move the business out of their Queensland home and in to an office in Gympie, which led to the addition of small display homes and, inevitably, employing staff.
Recruitment and employment issues were areas where the couple lacked experience, and again the franchise proved invaluable for guidance. There were guidelines also for how to set up the office and present the display-home reception area to maintain brand uniformity.
The business grew and grew. And so did the goals.
“We set ourselves a goal, and every year we increase it,” says Michelle. “Now we are building 45 homes a year. We have sometimes thought we could be bigger, but we want to be close to our customers. Chris inspects every home and knows the clients.”
Says Chris, “It’s like you marry the client for six months. If you don’t make the journey a personal experience, they won’t come back.”
And clients do return for rebuilds, as well as recommend Chris and Michelle to family and friends.
“Originally it was about the brand,” says Chris, “but I think repeat business is because the customer has had an awesome experience. They have to trust you, as this is the biggest financial commitment they will make.”
Armed with the business know-how they previously lacked, it might have been tempting for the couple to step away from the franchise go independent.
“We’ve weighed up the options,” admits Michelle, “but we are very well established in our area, people have confidence in the brand, and Hotondo Homes has gone a long way to support us.
“We’ve seen others who have gone outside the brand, but without a network behind you everything falls on your shoulders.
“There is no way an independent business can manage or afford to produce a website like we have now; the backend technology is mind boggling. We don’t fully understand the cost to set up and maintain something like this. There are lots of things you forget you have given you as a franchisee,” she says.
“The marketing is great, the training is great, and it’s all part of our fees. People sometimes forget that,” says Chris.
The couple is ready to sign up next year for a further term.
“We are very successful in our own right, but we’ve had the support and encouragement of the franchisor.”
For Chris it has been “a helluva ride”. He says Hotondo Homes keeps lifting the bar.
“I was always a good builder but never a businessman. My filing system was the glove box of the ute.
“I now have business acumen I didn’t have 20 years ago. If I’d been asked to do this interview back then, I’d have run for the hills. This has made us grow into business people."
You can read more of these The Loyalists stories in the Mar/Apr edition of Inside Franchise Business, out in newsagencies now.