The decision to join a franchise is not an easy one for plumbing and heating contractors. As with most decisions, there are pros and cons to be weighed, such as the upfront cost and loss of brand identity versus the benefits that come with joining a nationally recognized brand. Plumbing & Mechanical sat down with a few plumbing franchisee business owners to discuss their reasons for joining their respective franchises.
Kari and Jon Murdock, owners of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Kalispell, Montana, converted their family business to a franchise model last summer. Also pictured are their daughters Alyson and Jillian. Photos courtesy of Mr. Rooter Plumbing and Summer Engman.
Business model for growth
Kari and Jon Murdock, owners of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Kalispell, Montana, a Neighborly company, officially converted their plumbing company to a Mr. Rooter franchise on Aug. 10, 2020. The Murdocks hadn’t ever considered a franchise business model for plumbing until they were contacted by Vernon Riggs, who is a franchise developer at Mr. Rooter.
“My husband Jon and I had talked about how to continue to grow our small business, and all that would be involved in that process,” Kari Murdock explains. “But we didn’t have any concrete steps in place for that process. The fact that a franchise could help us with all of the non-plumbing tasks associated with running our business — such as software for scheduling and billing, marketing, onboarding and ongoing training for our plumbers — was a very attractive prospect. Jon and our guys are great plumbers, but neither Jon nor I have a business background. I spent 18 years as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist before quitting to run the business with Jon. We felt we would be unable to continue growing our business as efficiently on our own as we would with the support of franchise business coaches and other franchise owners.”
Once the company was on their radar, the Murdocks began researching all available plumbing franchise options. They also read “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It,” by Michael Gerber.
“We were really drawn to Mr. Rooter Plumbing because of the company’s focus on client care, its core values, which drive all business interactions, and the integrity with which the organization wants franchise owners to run their businesses,” Kari Murdock says.
“Any reservations we had about franchising revolved around the fact that we had worked so hard to build our own business with a great reputation in our small town,” she continues. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose the ability to make all of the important decisions about how our business runs. Maintaining our focus on taking care of our customers and being a part of our community was of critical importance to us. We wanted to make sure people still knew we were a family-owned and family-run business. We were worried people would not know they are supporting a local family when they requested service from a franchise business. We spent a lot of time talking with Vernon about these concerns, and he was very reassuring. We also flew down to the Neighborly headquarters in Waco, Texas, to spend a day with everyone on the Mr. Rooter Plumbing team to learn more about them and the business.”
Since transitioning to a Mr. Rooter franchisee, the Murdocks receive access to live training as well as training modules to use on an ongoing basis for both plumbers and office staff. They were also assigned a business coach who is always available for any questions or support as needed.
“Our coach helped us get ServiceTitan, a new scheduling and invoicing platform, in place and provides ongoing training as we delve into more of the features available to us,” Kari Murdock says. “All of this has made us more efficient. Our customers are the people who ultimately benefit the most from all of the training and technology that we have in place.”
Though the Murdocks didn’t open as an official franchise until August, they signed their contract with Mr. Rooter in early April, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was getting into full swing. The Murdocks immediately began receiving frequent communication related to the pandemic as it unfolded.
“We were thankful we could remain open as an essential business, but we did have a responsibility to keep our employees as well as every customer whose home we would be entering safe,” Kari Murdock says. “Mr. Rooter Plumbing provided us with safety guidelines and access to purchasing protective equipment at a time when such things were in short supply. We also relied on other Mr. Rooter Plumbing owners for advice, as we were all going through unprecedented times. There were discussions related to how other franchise owners were able to keep paying employees who were quarantined for two weeks. Grants were available to small businesses to be reimbursed for paying sick leave, which would allow us to take care of our employees if they needed to stay home. That helped us tremendously as we strived to care for our employees while still remaining open during the pandemic.
“Our favorite thing about our franchise is the support from and collaboration with business coaches and other owners,” she adds. “COVID-19 forced a cancellation of last year’s reunion at Neighborly, but we are looking forward to meeting everyone in the organization in person and continuing to build the relationships which have been invaluable to navigate our day-to-day business and all the challenges that come with it.”
Jason Clark, owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Wichita, Kansas, first joined the company as general manager in 2008, helping grow the business using the franchise’s turnkey solutions with help from a corporate franchise business consultant. He became owner of the company in 2013. Photos courtesy of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing
Opportunity for success
In 2001, Tade Plumbing — then owned by Richard Tade — became the third ever Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise, located in Wichita, Kansas. In 2003, Jason Clark began working as a technician for a franchise location in South Carolina.
“Prior to joining the company, I worked at an independent plumbing business, but was aware of the Benjamin Franklin Plumbing location in my area,” Clark notes. “They were known around town for being professional and when I received a call to join Benjamin Franklin Plumbing as a technician, I eagerly weighed the opportunity. Upon further investigation, I was impressed by the turnkey systems in place and the potential for growth, and despite being offered a substantial raise to stay at my current place of work, I knew Benjamin Franklin Plumbing would provide more for my future.”
In 2007, Tade contacted Clark because he was in need for a general manager for his location in Wichita.
“After many rounds of discussion and examination into the company’s current standing, I knew I could help make the company profitable, as the resources Benjamin Franklin Plumbing offered for franchisees weren’t currently being utilized to the fullest potential,” Clark says. “My wife and I packed up our life and moved to Wichita, Kansas. Upon arrival, I immediately reached out to my franchise business consultant (FBC) at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing corporate to get to work.”
With the marketing support, training through Success Academy, recruiting assistance and weekly meetings with the FBC, the company grew substantially with Clark’s help. It went from $500,000 in total sales July 2008 to $1.2 million at the end of 2008, earning double digit profitability during a national recession. In 2013, Clark became the owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Wichita. Since then, the company has also grown from four employees to a team of 31 today.
“When I worked at an independent plumbing company, we were figuring out how to run the business as we went,” Clark says. “We didn’t have proven, successful strategies in place to make operations more efficient or a wide variety of resources from industry professionals available at our fingertips. This was my main driver in joining Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. I saw what they were offering to franchisees and knew that in my journey to ownership, I was going to be introduced to key tactics and strategies that would help me succeed. While my team put in a lot of hard work to accomplish what we have today, I can easily say that Benjamin Franklin Plumbing provided a comprehensive roadmap that guided our efforts and decisions, which ultimately helped us thrive.”
Clark adds another reason of why he is happy to be part of a franchise is the constant reminder that the corporate team has franchisee best interests in mind at all times.
“When COVID-19 hit, everyone was worried about how that would impact their business and their livelihoods. However, Authority Brands, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing’s parent company, was on top of it. I was receiving emails twice a day with information about PPE, updates from the CDC, and I can’t say how appreciative I was to be getting real-time updates on such a complex situation. My thought is that with a national brand, customers perceive that we have all the right procedures in place to keep them and our employees’ safe, and while that rings true, that helped keep business strong last year.”
Scott Hart, owner of Z PLUMBERZ of Ann Arbor, Michigan, decided to join the franchise group because of the business management support helping franchisees run their businesses day-to-day. The call center has been especially helpful for his business because he doesn’t have to hire his own staff to answer phones, he notes. Photos courtesy of Nicole Krawcke/Plumbing & Mechanical
Scott Hart, owner Z PLUMBERZ, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, opened his plumbing business in 2017 and transitioned to a Z PLUMBERZ franchise in April 2019.
“The opportunity to be part of the Belfor Franchise Group (BFG) seemed like a no-brainer,” Hart says. “The professional atmosphere, and to be honest, the Belfor name, is what convinced me. Knowing that a support team experienced in assisting franchise owners in the correct ways to run a business day-to-day is a huge help. They have knowledge in all aspects, and the call center is just the cherry on top.”
Hart says his decision was all about the people, in addition to the leadership, training and resources available.
“The culture cannot be beat,” Hart explains. “Skills and traits can be learned and taught, but having a heart and being passionate about your work comes within — and this runs rampant at Belfor. Of course, I had reservations. It is always stressful to explore other opportunities to make sure it fits well with my family and existing team members. Z PLUMBERZ were very transparent in what their expectations were and always made it clear we could have an open dialogue to talk about anything we were not clear on or needed more of an explanation.
“The team at Z PLUMBERZ and BFG are the true leaders and experts in our field,” he adds. “Getting over ‘the plateau effect’ whenever I reached the ‘max’ in my previous position and getting the next level was made possible thanks to Z PLUMBERZ. The wealth of resources available at your fingertips and the size and scale of being part of the leader in the space affords us opportunities that are harder for smaller businesses or mom and pop shops. I’m still a small business and can be a part of my local community, but I have tremendous national resources that make me the best I can be.”
Hart notes that, much like other plumbing contractors, his business became busier this past year during the coronavirus pandemic.
“More people working from home actually put more of a burden on their plumbing systems, and thus, the need for our services,” he says. “At the beginning of COVID-19, when fear and uncertainty was a huge factor, our franchisor set up resources specifically for us to help with the small business loans and applications for PPP and more. Being able to rely on the home office support that never staggered throughout the pandemic was incredibly helpful. It’s amazing to see the shifts in business operations in order to help more people as efficiently and safely as possible.”
Sean and Amy Hunt, owners of Zoom Drain of Orange County, California, had no previous plumbing experience when they started their business, but felt comfortable jumping into the trade thanks to Zoom Drain’s systems, personal coaching and support. Photos courtesy of Zoom Drain
Amy Hunt and Sean Hunt, owners, Zoom Drain of Orange County, California, established their company in 2019. The couple was looking for an opportunity in the home services industry that had a good opportunity for growth, generally resistant to recessions or economic downturns and wasn’t going to be replaced by automated technology anytime soon.
“Plumbing was very attractive to us for all these reasons and because of its market outlook,” Amy Hunt notes. “As the current generation of plumbers begins to retire and fewer young people enter the trades, we wanted to be in a position to capitalize on the growing demand for services.”
Sean Hunt is always researching business opportunities and came close to buying other service businesses once or twice before, his wife notes.
“We weren’t initially looking to buy a franchise, but the franchise leadership and documented systems behind Zoom Drain were too good to pass on,” she says. “The more we learned about Zoom Drain, the more we knew we had discovered something special — ‘the best that business can be!’”
Amy Hunt notes their main reservation was neither she nor her husband had any experience in the plumbing trade. However, the training, systems and personal coaching and support Zoom Drain provides gave the couple the confidence to jump into the trade.
“As a general contractor, Sean had spent many years running a small service business but had to learn everything ‘the hard way,’ so that progress was mostly slow and often painful,” Amy Hunt says. “But now as a franchise, we can benefit from a business model and practices that are tried and true. This includes the ready-to-go manuals and procedures for every position in the organization as well as a ‘roadmap’ on how to reach our business revenue goals. Finally, the support, advice and encouragement that we get from our franchise leadership and the other franchise owners is invaluable.”
The Zoom Drain franchise leadership was quick to lean into the chaos and uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic and help provide franchisees with information and industry best practices as the situation was evolving, Amy Hunt explains.
“They didn’t claim to have all the answers, but they were able to pull from a lot of sources to provide sound advice,” she notes. “One example of their assistance was with getting our Pay Protection Program (PPP) Loan application approved through one of their trusted financial institutions after we’d had issues with our own bank.
“We are both military veterans and it was important to find a company that shared our values of service, integrity and excellence,” Amy Hunt continues. “There is no question that Zoom Drain is committed to these values. Jim Criniti, founder of Zoom Drain, is also a military veteran, so I think it was a natural fit for him to incorporate strong service values alongside ‘best-in-class’ business practices.”
Call 888-495-5940 or visit www.neighborlyfranchise.com.
American Leak Detection
Call 866-701-5301 or visit www.americanleakdetection.com.
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing
Visit www.clockworkfranchise.com for franchising information.
bluefrog Plumbing + Drain
Call 866-556-4904 or visit bluefrogfranchise.com.
Call 888-395-6473 or visit www.neighborlyfranchise.com.
Call 866-MISTER W (866-647-8379) or visit www.mrwaterheater.com/franchise.
One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning
Visit www.clockworkfranchise.com for franchising information.
Call 888-252-9281 or visit www.rooterman.com/franchise.
Visit www.servicemasterrestore.com/ franchise-opportunities for more information.
Zoom Drain & Sewer
President Ellen Rohr is available at 877-620-7647 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call 866-362-3455 to attend a Profit Day seminar or visit www.yoursgi.com/trades/airtime.
Plumbers’ Success International
Call 866-362-3455 to attend a Profit Day seminar or visit www.yoursgi.com/trades/plumbers.
Radiant & Hydronics Council
Email email@example.com, call 703-824-8854 or visit www.acca.org/rhc.
Retail Contractor Coalition
Stephanie Fritz or Theresa Wilkins, 877-262-3341, or visit www.servicenationalliance.com.
Service Nation Alliance
Call Stephanie Fritz at 877-262-3341 or visit www.servicenationalliance.com.
American Fire Sprinkler Association
Amy Sweeney, member relations specialist. 214-349-5965, ext. 119 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.