After graduating from high school in rural Texas, Gary Findley knew he wasn’t ready for college, so he took a job working for the railroad.
“It was some of the most back-breaking work I’ve ever done,” he said. “However, it taught me valuable lessons, including how to be a good leader.”
These days, Findley leads both the Restoration 1 and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain franchises as their CEO. PM recently spoke with Findley about his leadership style and his plans for both brands.
PM: When did you take over as CEO of Restoration 1?
GF: I became the CEO of Restoration 1 in January of 2016.
PM: Why did Restoration 1’s leadership make the move to acquire bluefrog Plumbing + Drain last year?
GF: Plumbing is a complimentary industry to the restoration business, so we saw it as a natural pairing. It’s also a brand that has tremendous potential and we recognized a huge opportunity to grow and develop bluefrog like we have Restoration 1. This acquisition was a great move for all of us as it allows franchisees of both concepts the opportunity to bring in an additional revenue stream by broadening the scope of services they’re able to offer customers.
PM: How many franchisees and employees does bluefrog have? How about Restoration 1?
GF: bluefrog has 11 franchisees with a support staff of 6. Restoration 1 has 173 franchisees and a support staff of 24.
PM: How does the bluefrog acquisition fit with the company’s overall mission?
GF: Our mission has two parts. First, we’re always looking to best serve customers during their time of need. Second, we look to set our franchisees up with the best opportunity for business success.
Acquiring bluefrog allowed us to broaden the services we offer for customers. This was important because we know that restoring a home or commercial property isn’t where their needs end. Smaller plumbing emergencies and/or regular maintenance is necessary, and bluefrog allows us to service these customers outside of a larger restoration project. Additionally, it helps set up our franchisees for success by offering a complimentary service that they can use as an additional revenue stream.
PM: On a side note, why is bluefrog not capitalized, and where did that name come from, anyway?
GF: The lower-case lettering was designed to make the logo stand out and the name was the decision of the original marketing team.
PM: You’ve been referred to as the “redneck CEO” in the past — tell me about that label and what it means to you.
GF: Being a redneck CEO is something that I take a lot of pride in. Growing up in the country served me well as I learned many important lessons from some of the best rednecks around. From a young age I was taught to appreciate hard work, and I do. After driving tractors, working on a railroad and so much more, I was able to learn first-hand how honesty, integrity and not being afraid to get some dirt on your hands will help you achieve success as long as you’re not afraid to work hard for it. I’ve worked in big cities across the country helping to grow some of the biggest franchise networks around, but ultimately, it’s my country roots that have served me well throughout my life and career.
PM: You recently wrote an excellent guest editorial on water conservation for PM — why is this topic so important to you and the industry?
GF: Water is a precious and limited resource but it’s so easy for us to take advantage of the seemingly endless supply we have of it here in the U.S. In one flush of a toilet we can use the same amount of water that some people live off of for an entire day. Knowing this and being in the plumbing industry where we’re responding to water related calls each day and come face-to-face with customers, it’s important that we recognize the educational opportunity that’s right in front of us. We have an opportunity to offer simple tips to customers who can implement them each day. Doing this over a span of time can make a huge difference. I think it’s important to recognize these kinds of opportunities when we have them and make a change by doing our part in acting upon them.
PM: What other industry issues are important to you and the company?
GF: When it comes to the experience homeowners have with plumbers, there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty surrounding in-home service. Our biggest focus is to create extremely consistent and enchanting experiences with our customers. And as peculiar as those words may sound coming from a service provider, consistency is our currency. Knowing what to expect is of upmost importance to a homeowner. Secondarily, a good experience can be found a number of places, but very few places seek to create an experience you value far beyond the transactional payment of money for services. We focus on the way customers feel due to our consideration, attentiveness, and competency.
PM: What are your personal goals as CEO of Restoration 1 and bluefrog?
GF: My goal for both brands is really pretty simple, to continue cultivating them and establish them as household names. I want both brands to continue delivering exceptional service to customers and I want our franchisees to experience sustained success.
PM: How do you hope to grow bluefrog in the coming year? Five years?
GF: In 2017 alone, we were able to grow Restoration 1 by 70 locations. To do that we made some important progress, established new systems and made investments in growth. In short, that’s my roadmap for bluefrog this year.
While recognizing that bluefrog is its own brand with unique challenges, the plan overall is similar. We’ve already put down a lot of groundwork and now I look forward to seeing the fruits of our labor. In the next year I’d like to see bluefrog reach 50 locations, and the sky is the limit for where we’ll be in five years. As long as we continue growing with the right franchisees and keep servicing customers beyond expectations, I don’t see either brand slowing down for years to come.
PM: What is bluefrog doing to attract and retain young talent when the workforce is shrinking?
GF: Increasingly we’re seeing young entrepreneurial-minded people look to franchising to help them become their own boss. I’ve witnessed new college graduates go straight from the classroom to opening their own franchise location and be extremely successful. This reinforces what I’ve always believed, age is not a prerequisite for success.
I welcome young talent to bluefrog. This is an attractive concept for young workers. We have a low overhead cost, it’s a recession-proof industry, they receive training, marketing support, a professional website, materials and more, and they don’t have to open a brick-and-mortar shop immediately (or ever if they choose). We’re living proof that dirty jobs pay well, and young talent is a great match for us.
PM: What kind of training opportunities do you offer to your franchisees and their employees?
GF: As part of their onboarding experience as franchisees, they all receive a full week of extensive sales, marketing, operations and business training. They’re also encouraged to invite whatever employees they have that they feel should attend.
PM: When and why might a plumber consider becoming a bluefrog franchisee, and what are some of the benefits?
GF: We aren’t your average franchisor. We set the bar very high for our franchisees and just because you’re a plumber doesn’t mean you should be a bluefrog franchisee. We’re ultimately looking for more than a “man-in-the-van.” If you’re already a plumber and think that joining a franchise brand will seal the deal for success, you’re not our kind of franchisee. I’m looking for franchisees that are good leaders, know how to manage people and can follow established processes. If you’re a great plumber who can do all that, then let’s talk. If you don’t know anything about plumbing but have all those skills, let’s talk!
The benefits are numerous. Our franchisees reap the rewards of national vendor relationships, professional marketing, access to the best suppliers and services, a professional online presence, a guide and design for branded trucks, uniforms and more. It’s all been figured out for you, you just have to execute.
PM: What is one accomplishment from the past year that you are especially proud of?
GF: I’m really proud of the bluefrog acquisition we made last year. This is a brand that is full of potential and we’ve spent the time to lay really solid groundwork and build the best team to help cultivate growth for the company. All of the important assets are in place to grow this solid business into a household name with national prominence.
PM: What is one thing you wish you would have done differently over the past year?
GF: Looking back, I wish I would have changed around my leadership team quicker.
PM: As a leader, what is your leadership style, and how do you help your employees grow in their professional and personal lives?
GF: I am a hands-off leader. Meaning, I hire people that are great at what they do and I simply step out of their way and let them do their job. No one can be the best at every role and I completely accept that, so I go out and find the best of the best and I let them execute in their respective roles. You won’t find my team sitting in meetings or conference calls. No one is out getting things done if we’re all sitting around a table or dialing in for a call all the time. I don’t micromanage, I have an open-door management style and I’m always here to help when needed, but ultimately, I stay out of their way.
PM: What’s the company culture like at bluefrog and how do you create/maintain that?
GF: At bluefrog, we have an internal focus on “Simple, Effective, and Unified” solutions. We are constantly in a process of refining and distilling what we do to ensure that it is less complex, more seamless and more effective tomorrow than it was yesterday. To accomplish that, we have a work culture focused on “Initiative, Innovation, Humor, and Humility.” If we can create a cultural blend where people are encouraged to think outside of the box while being free to find the best solutions, regardless of how we arrive at them, and have fun while they are doing it then we’ve done a good job.
PM: What are some of your hobbies outside the workplace?
GF: I love spending time on my ranch with family. Outside of work I’m probably hunting, driving my tractor or doing other things around the ranch. They don’t call me the redneck CEO for nothing!
PM: What’s one thing you want PM’s readers to know about you?
GF: We are not about putting dots on a map. We want successful franchisees in our system who are looking to build multi-truck operations. We’re looking for more than the “man-in-the-van.”
This article was originally titled “From country boy to CEO” in the May 2018 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.