How a smart innovation led to Gutter-Vac’s long term success
Twenty-six years ago, cleaning gutters was neither safe nor efficient. Then Warren Ballantyne had a moment of inspiration.
“We had a need in our plumbing business to clean gutters, and it became more and more a part of what we did. So we decided the solution was vacuuming to make it more efficient, and safer. We searched and we found vacuuming equipment, and literally started the business a month after we thought about it,” Warren explains.
The proprietary Gutter-Vac system, which now comes in a closed trailer, van or truck, was a revelation and today it remains one of the franchise’s unique selling points: it’s convenient and safe, allowing even height-averse operators to clean roofs – from the ground.
As the machinery was perfected, so was safety at the Bundaberg-based business. Warren and his brother, Trevor began Ballantyne Safety to offer working from heights equipment and an RTO nationally accredited training course, which would later be rolled out to Gutter-Vac’s franchisees.
But back when Warren and his wife Anne began the business in 1995 paying to have your gutters cleaned just wasn’t done.
“They just got the kid next door to get up and clean it. So, when we started charging $80 to clean their gutters, people used to laugh at me and say, ‘people will never pay that’. Well guess what – they do! And today that same size house would be $400,” Warren says.
Gutter-Vac began franchising in 2001, and as it grew, Warren and Anne relocated to Brisbane, although all the trailers and tools are still made locally in Bundaberg.
The business now boasts a network of 51 franchisee operating across 90 territories around Australia, and still growing. Nationally the brand has seen year-on-year growth, including a 30 per cent rise from 2019 to 2020 and a respectable 17 per cent lift during the 2020 pandemic.
Not only has the business survived and thrived, earning itself a 5-star franchise rating, so too have the founders, who are still enmeshed in the business. Married for 46 years and working together for about 36 of those years, Anne and Warren have perfected a solid relationship and base their strong working partnership on clear roles: Anne as Gutter-Vac’s management consultant, and Warren heading up the business as managing director.
Together, they’ve been proud to grow a network of franchisees who share a love of attaining best practice in their businesses.
“Our franchisees love to go to conference where they can sit down and share stories about gutter cleaning and how they can improve,” Anne reveals.
“Or if one of our franchisees gets sick, the other surrounding franchisees will put their hand up and do the work for them so they can survive – that’s the best thing about our franchisees, they want to help each other.”
So what are Warren and Anne most proud of in their 21 years of business? It’s about helping people, says Anne.
“We’ve been able to give so many people a lifestyle, to help them out, take just an ordinary man from the street and turn him into a businessman with a profitable business, to be able to buy a house and go on overseas holidays.”
The couple look forward to continuing to grow the business and both strive for continuous improvement. One of Anne’s roles is a steadying hand, keeping Warren from implementing too many ideas too quickly.
“My biggest nemesis is contentment, I envy people that can be content. If you’ve got contentment you can drop the anchor and have a bit of a spell and take the top off a nice wine. But I’m never content,” admits Warren.
“That’s not a sales pitch, that’s just my nature. If I’m home for the weekend, I’m bored by lunchtime Sunday,” he says.
Flashback: Hear Warren chat about how Gutter-Vac got started on this earlier podcast.