What it takes to be a successful hands-on franchisee

By Nick Hall | 23 Nov 2018 View comments

Love the outdoors? Keen to get your hands dirty? There’s no shortage of opportunities for enthusiastic and hard-working franchisees. Here Warren Ballantyne, of Gutter-Vac shares what it takes to become a successful Gutter-Vac franchisee.

Q: How competitive is the market?

A: Most people would assume that the home and garden services sector is highly competitive, but we have a distinct advantage in two ways on the majority of our competitors.

The first being that we vacuum clean the gutters. Not only are we removing the leafy matter but under this there is a layer of mud and sludge that is near impossible to clean by hand.It is actually this sludge that causes most of the problems in a gutter.

The second advantage Gutter-Vac has is that we work safely on a roof. All of our franchisees and their staff have completed their ‘work at heights’ training so that they can work safely at any height. They also use specialised safety equipment that they can install and remove on each job to keep them safe and the property owner risk-free from any potential injuries of the workers on their property.

More than half the work we do at Gutter-Vac is for commercial properties or commercial customers; we find that our competition is significantly lower.

Q: How do you make your brand stand out from the crowd?

A: For the very reasons that we don’t have a lot of competition – safety and the way we do the work.

But I actually believe that Gutter-Vac is a customer-service business that then provides a vacuum gutter-cleaning service. We really pride ourselves on our customer service – it’s something that we at head office focus on, and so do our franchisees.

We regularly survey our customers and the feedback we always receive is that the franchisees and their staff were polite, helpful, on time – that’s a big one – and that they left no mess behind. Our franchisees really go out of their way to help their customers – both domestic and commercial. It is all the little extras that make the difference and we know that our customers are essential in our business and we treat them with respect.

Q: What is your strongest element of franchisee support?

A: Our franchisees are good, honest people who are making a living and life for them and their family, and I really don’t take that lightly. Without franchisees, I don’t have a business so I believe that support is our number one service.

Our head office team knows that support is our number one job and we work together to make that happen. I also believe that it is ensuring we move with the times and continually be looking to do and be better.

As we grew larger, I invested in an external business coach for all of our franchisees. The coach is on hand a couple of days a week and helps our franchisees navigate their business and, in many cases, their life. This has made a huge impact on the franchisees’ businesses because in that time, the franchisees have more than doubled their revenues.

Last year I employed an in-house social and digital manager to look after all things online and assist the franchisees with their online marketing and social media presence. We don’t have a national marketing fund, so I invested in this to support the franchisees.

Technical and mechanical support is a big thing for the franchisees and we make sure this is on hand 24/7 because if they have a machine issue, then they are not working and not producing income for their family and letting customers down.

I’ve worked tirelessly on the machinery and I’m glad to say that any mechanical difficulties are few and far between. I find now the technical support is more around helping with tenders and quoting on large commercial work.

Peer-to-peer support is something we have really embraced and produced as a cornerstone of our culture. We have an annual conference that really adds massive value to the franchisees and is a chance for them to all catch up, and a closed Facebook group.

Q: What can a franchisee expect a typical day to look like?

A: A typical job will require getting everything organised onsite – from putting out A-frame signage, to ensuring all the equipment is set and ready to go, and then of course all of the safety aspects taken care of. A site inspection for safety is always a priority when arriving on site at any job. The franchisees also know that being organised before getting on the roof is not only more efficient but ensures safety for themselves and their staff.

Once they are safely on the roof, they will fire up the specialised wet/dry vacuum machinery and get started at cleaning the gutters, valleys and roof as required. On every job they will take before and after photos – which customers rave about – and they will also do a roof and gutter report to alert the property owner or manager of any potential issues.

Depending on the day, the franchisees might have jobs all day. They often work some marketing strategies between jobs and then they may also be going onsite to do quotes for other potential jobs – in particular commercial work that requires onsite inspections to complete a quote.

Of course the phone rings in the day with customer queries and seeking of quotes, so the franchisees manage their own calls and make sure they are making that connection with their customers. Our customers love that they get to speak to the franchisees directly, not to a call centre, and the franchisees love to speak to their customers.

Because franchisees are in charge of their own schedule they can choose when they start and finish. Most will finish the day to go home to do their invoicing and to complete quotes. Surprisingly, the paperwork is not as much as many people would expect and most of the franchisees do a bit every day, which keeps it totally controlled.

Q: What skills do you seek in a franchisee?

A: It isn’t the skills that we look for because a skill can be taught. We can teach them everything they need to be a successful franchisee.

What we look for is who they are as a person. Will they enjoy working outdoors? Will they be good with customers? Are they willing to learn?

In the end, we look for good, honest people who want to become their own boss and really contribute to the Gutter-Vac brand.

Q: What growth opportunities are there for successful franchisees?

A: When we started Gutter-Vac 20 years ago, I would never have expected the growth that we have seen and there is still so much more to come!

Most franchisees begin with the thought that they will get their machine and they will work for themselves, doing all the work. Then they start to grow their business and realise they need some help and will hire their first ‘off-sider’ to work with them.

From there, franchisees have grown from just themselves to having a team of several staff working with multiple machines and multiple territories.

In the last couple of years, I’m really happy to say that a lot of our growth in territory numbers has come from within. Single territory owners moving into our dual category, some even going to the multi category. Many of our multi-unit owners have expanded their footprint. We have two franchisees who have bought another territory in partnership with a family member.  We have had franchisees buy other franchisees’ businesses when they were ready to retire.  We have even had staff members step up and buy a territory.

Q: How long is a term?

A: Five years with one renewal option.

Q: What is the cost of a franchise?

A: $79,400 + GST + freight. This includes your trailer with machinery, which we have access to finance to for franchisees. It also includes all your training and a starter pack (including marketing material).