A Midlife Career Change Through Franchising
August 10, 2014
Ted Madden is one of those lucky guys who managed to develop two divergent skill sets early in life, and he later combined them into a successful business, thanks to franchising.
Eight years ago, Madden was making a living in the financial services industry, assisting teachers with their retirement planning. During the course of his career, he cultivated a strong set of management and organizational skills—something that can be quite valuable in just about any type of business.
Even as he progressed in his financial services career, Madden was quietly pursuing an avocation of sorts. While he and his wife were both working at full-time jobs, they also acquired and renovated older homes as a sideline. In fact, they had been doing that for about 15 years when Madden made the decision to become an Andy OnCall franchisee in 2004.
“I found myself in a position where I just didn’t really love what I was doing,” he says of his career in financial services. “I didn’t wake up every day and say, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to get to work.’ I decided that I needed to find something that fit my skills and personality better.”
Madden and his wife had enough money saved that they felt comfortable with him taking a stab at pursuing a new career direction in his life, but having no previous experience as an entrepreneur, he was hesitant about pursuing such a radical change in direction on his own.
“I really loved the home repair and rehab work we were doing on the side, but it wasn’t generating enough income that we would have been able to live on that alone,” he recalls. “Plus, it was very physically tiring. We did all of the work ourselves, which made for very long days. I wanted to find something that I really liked doing—and already knew something about—that also would have the potential of providing us with a decent income.”
Still, Madden was attracted to the idea of finding a business ownership solution that would allow him to leverage all the experience he’d accumulated from 15 years of “amateur” home repair and rehab work. “I thought it would be great to have a business where I didn’t have to learn much about the actual day-to-day stuff,” he says. “I already knew how to do drywall, trim work, minor plumbing, etc., so I figured there would be a shorter learning curve for me as a business owner in that field.”
Madden’s main reason for looking into franchising as a path to business ownership was a straightforward and common one. “I didn’t think that I had enough experience to be successful on my own,” he admits. “I knew there were other, larger competitors out there that we’d have to go up against, and
I felt that I would need more support with systems, marketing, advertising, prospecting, etc., if I were going to be successful.” In hindsight, it was a good decision, he reports, since most of those bigger competitors he was concerned about did not survive the Great Recession, but his franchise is still going strong.
Madden was methodical and persistent in conducting his franchise search, making good use of the managerial and organizational skills that had served him well during his financial services career. He and his wife did a lot of research online, and he got in touch with a local attorney who had experience working with franchisees. “He asked me several questions to help figure out which company best met my needs as an owner,” he says.
Andy OnCall was a relatively young franchise when Madden began researching the opportunity. It started when Tom Harris, a Chattanooga homebuilder, was constantly receiving calls from previous customers and friends who wanted him to do small jobs and repairs around their homes. Recognizing that there was strong market demand for handyman services, Harris developed the concept for Andy OnCall in 1993. He continued to hone the concept and began franchising it six years later.
Madden contacted the franchisor and obtained a list of all current franchisees. “Andy OnCall was relatively small at the time, so I was able to talk to all of the current owners. When speaking to other owners, you have to be open-minded enough to hear the good and the bad about a new business,” he advises.
Madden frankly acknowledges that not every single franchisee he spoke to was “100 percent happy with all aspects of the day-to-day job” of running the franchise, but he had the good sense to weigh all the information he was receiving. Not only did he recognize what a valuable source of information existing franchisees were to him as a prospective buyer, he also had the foresight to realize what an important resource they could be on an ongoing basis if he chose to join this franchise.
“Prospective franchisees who fail to realize the importance of listening to other owners—or who decide they want to make up their own rules once they have bought the business—will have a tougher time,” he says. “You have a great resource of people available to you who can tell you all about their own successes, but also about their mistakes. They are a very valuable resource.”
What was reassuring to Madden from his conversations with existing franchisees was that the same things that were important to him were also important to them. “I found that many of the people who already owned an Andy OnCall franchise were very much like myself,” he says. “They weren’t super salespeople, they didn’t have to work 60-hour weeks, etc. They were hardworking, relatively careful business people who were successfully following the franchisor’s business plan and model. That made me very comfortable with choosing Andy OnCall.”
Harris envisioned Andy OnCall to be an inexpensive, manageable franchise in the home repair industry—a customer service organization in the truest sense of the word, helping craftsmen and homeowners alike. Franchisees like Madden benefit from the assistance they get in obtaining work and managing the business side of performing minor home repairs, while homeowners benefit from being able to locate a professional, reliable source for getting their minor home repairs completed with a guarantee.
Andy OnCall markets itself as being attractive to homeowners because it has introduced a new level of professionalism to the handyman industry. It appeals to people who are concerned about security and leery about letting a stranger into their homes. Franchisees can offer customers the advantages of approved, qualified and monitored craftsmen, insurance, a one-year warranty and an organization that stands behind its work. And since Andy OnCall provides access to a broad pool of craftsmen, franchisees can offer their customers one-stop shopping for a wide variety of home repair needs.
That all appealed to Madden when he was doing his franchise search. “I like dealing with customers who have a preconceived notion—mostly a correct one— about handymen,” he says. “They think we’ll be late or not show up at all, or that if we do show up we’ll do a poor job. When everything works out and they call back to say they’re going to recommend us to all their friends, well, I think that’s the best part of being an Andy OnCall owner.”
Madden credits the franchisor with doing a good job of helping him get started in his business and of providing what he needs to continue succeeding on an ongoing basis. “The pre-opening training program was very good,” he declares. “As we’ve gained experience, we have required less assistance from the franchisor. But whenever we have an issue or questions, they are there for us and are great at helping us out.”
Like all businesses, Madden’s Andy OnCall franchise faces certain challenges. “The most difficult part of ownership is finding qualified, honest people to do the work,” he says. “We have let many guys go because they don’t understand the concept behind our business and the importance of being on time and doing a good job. Most guys in this field do not have the necessary work ethic to be successful.” Of course, Madden and his fellow franchisees insist on hiring employees who do have “the right stuff.” That’s what sets Andy OnCall apart from the competition, and they never lose sight of that fact.
Now in his eighth year of doing business as an Andy OnCall franchisee, Madden says his goals have remained fairly consistent. “I guess one of the main goals I have is to make sure we have a reputation for being a fair and honest company,” he says. “We want to make sure that all of our customers are completely satisfied with our service. Along the way, we’ll make a little money, too.”
Asked if he has any parting advice for others who might be considering business ownership through franchising, Madden offers this: “Listen to other owners about their experience. Don’t go into a business without the proper funding. Make sure the people you will be dealing with—the franchisor—are people you like and can get along with.”