At 13, Dave Lavalle realized he could combine his passion for woodworking with his desire to make money. That led to multiple businesses, from furniture making to lawn care to light remodeling, before Lavalle started Mr. Handyman in 1996 and franchised it in 2000. In 2004, he branched out yet again by launching Dryer Vent Wizard, which began franchising in 2006. The first company to focus solely on dryer vent cleaning and maintenance, Dryer Vent Wizard has grown to nearly 100 franchise locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. We talked to Lavalle about building a successful franchise operation. Next month, we’ll discuss (with Lavalle and others) how to franchise your business.
Rieva Lesonsky: How did you get the idea for Dryer Vent Wizard?
Dave Lavalle: While at Mr. Handyman, people would ask, “Hey, while you’re here, can you clean the dryer?” So there was an untapped need. I was educated by the consumer, which is how I approach all my businesses. [Listen to] what the customer is asking for. Find a need and fill it.
Before I started the business, dryer vent cleaning and maintenance was being handled in a chaotic manner by many different services – from carpet cleaners to plumbers. I knew if I spent the time to develop the business model properly, follow the correct codes and develop technical processes and procedures, homeowners would benefit from a higher quality of service.
Q: How was franchising Dryer Vent Wizard different from your experience with Mr. Handyman 10 years earlier?
A: With Mr. Handyman, I didn’t recognize that it was a franchise opportunity until people kept asking, “Is this a franchise?” I worked [with Service Brands International] to franchise it, and we had to take every piece of the business and dissect, reengineer and systematize it.
With Dryer Vent Wizard, from the very beginning I expected it to be a franchise, so I systematized everything down to every product SKU and the tools we used.
Q: How do you develop a franchise system?
A: I looked at where my stumbling blocks were when I started the business. Look at what takes too much time for you [as an independent businessperson] or what was a challenge for you. That’s where you can assist the franchisee.
For example, [businesses] spend all this time and money on marketing, but sometimes a call comes in and they can’t answer the phone. So, I decided, we’ll answer the phone for the franchisees, we’ll schedule the [client appointments] for them. Sometimes it’s hard to recruit, so we have a recruitment program. Getting a new vehicle set up takes time, so we get it ready for them—tools, their name on the side, keys in the ignition.
If you don’t have any stumbling blocks, look at where the non-transferable skill sets are. Maybe you’re fantastic at spreadsheets or social media, but is the general populace good at those things? If not, provide support in those areas to make it easy for the franchisees to grow the business.
Q: How do you know if your business is franchisable?
A: Ask yourself:
- Does it have wide geographic appeal, or is it geographically specific? An igloo-building business only works in Alaska.
- Does it have a transferable skill set? In other words, can you teach the person down the street to do it?
- Does it have margin? You need [to provide enough] value to the consumer to create margin for the franchisor and the franchisee.
Q: What advice do you have for would-be franchisors?
A: I’m sure someone told Mailboxes Etc. and the UPS Store, “That business isn’t a good idea—we already have the Post Office.” But they added outstanding service to make it worth using them instead of the post office.
Don’t you dare believe anybody who tells you your idea isn’t good. Believe yourself, beta test everything, try it out, and look for opportunities to add value. Business is a set of challenges to overcome. You can look at it as a lemon or turn it to lemonade.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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