Newsmaker Profiles: Ellen Rohr, President Benjamin Franklin Plumbing
The name choice of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing was the result of a market survey of 1,600 residential service customers, which found that most customers see plumbers as honest, frugal and hard working.
About 50 PSI members signed up initially; 88 as of March 2001 held temporary licenses to become "Revolutionaries," or franchise owners.
Ellen Rohr was named president of the new company in January 2001. She was attracted to the position because she wanted to "create the perfect plumbing company, in which the good work that plumbers do is honored, recognized and rewarded."
Rohr, founder and owner of Bare Bones Biz, which educates small business owners in basic business skills, is an accomplished writer and seminar speaker. She has written hundreds of articles for Plumbing & Mechanical, as well as The Springfield Business Journal Gazette, Entrepreneur.com and HeatingHelp.com.
Her goals for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing are lofty, but her enthusiasm for the industry is infectious. The following interview with the new president outlines the strategy behind PSI's venture into the plumbing franchise business.
It's been only a year since the inception of Ben Franklin Plumbing. How many franchises are up and running?We sold our first franchise in October, and now we are up to $8 million in total franchisee sales. That reflects the sales of our first nine Revolutionaries, our name for franchisees. We are currently working on agreements with two more Revolutionaries.
Our goal is 25 Revolutionaries by June 2002, so we are right on target. By year's end we anticipate 36 franchisees, which will put us on Entrepreneur magazine's list of the top 80 fastest growing franchises.
Much of 2001 was spent creating our business plan and crafting the franchise documents. Our mission is to create America's No. 1 home service plumbing company, in three measurable ways:
No. 1 in TOMA, Top Of Mind Awareness. We intend for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing to become the inevitable choice when it comes to plumbing service; No. 1 in growth and profits; and the No. 1 employer of choice in every neighborhood we enter.
We took a lot of care creating the franchise agreement and the offering circular. We secured the best franchise legal team, Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal. This is the firm McDonald's has used since the beginning of its franchising career. No shortcuts. We're creating a company that can go the distance.
What is the process of starting a Ben Franklin franchise?We intend to be a world-class company, one that can stand along side McDonald's, Disney and FedEx. So, we are selective about our Revolutionaries. They must meet the "Revolutionary Criteria." And they must buy into the mission.
The reason I took this position was to help create the icon company in this fine industry. I'm looking for Revolutionaries who want to hold themselves to a higher standard, to be representative of the best the plumbing world offers.
We are targeting progressive and ambitious business owners. We want Revolutionaries who want to grow. The potential is huge. Our financial plan aims for $2 million in sales per 100,000 population. It's possible. There are a handful of contractors out there hitting those numbers.
At this time, we are a full conversion franchise. That means, as you come on board, you must identify yourself as Benjamin Franklin Plumbing -- from trucks to uniforms to how you answer the phone. This is a process. As we convert, we'll have a whole lot of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing trucks running around.
The full conversion is essential. Revolutionaries are required to fully convert their identity within six months. Also, they must all use Successware as their information and accounting system. A common accounting system allows us to compare financial apples to apples. And, this will help us help franchisees hit their financial goals, create a sound budget and operate with a viable selling price.
What can an owner hope to accomplish as part of a franchise that he can't do on his own?It depends on what you want. Franchising is a great way to short-cut the trial-by-fire method of growing a company. It's a way to maintain your freedom, yet have access to a much bigger game.
While we aren't there yet, we are creating a total turnkey business system. We have a good handle on the operational structure and systems. And we have the best name, logo and message in the industry. It's easier to use ours than to make up your own.
In individual markets, there are some terrific $2 million-$6 million service plumbing companies. These companies are doing very well in their local markets. John Young calls these companies "Bonsai" businesses. Here's what he means by this: They are perfectly pruned, finely tuned and highly profitable companies. However, they are small and weak when you consider what it will take to survive the changes coming in our industry's landscape.
There is about $20 billion in total plumbing work being done, yet there aren't many big plumbing companies. As you move into new markets, do you have a name, logo and message that will help you grow rapidly? As you compete against Home Depot and Expo, what position will you take to establish yourself as different and better?
If you want to get big, we have the model. Focus small to get big. Our business plan for Revolutionaries is based on neighborhood locations of $1 million-$2 million in sales in neighborhoods of 200,000 population. Neighborhood by neighborhood, you can create an empire.
We have TOMA survey results on 50-year-old companies that show less than 5 percent unaided name recall. Over the course of 50 years, how many millions of dollars were spent on marketing for 5 percent TOMA?
What is the marketing strategy behind Benjamin Franklin Plumbing?We'll differentiate ourselves from all other plumbing companies by our unique message to the marketplace.
We did a sophisticated, formal consumer survey and discovered an interesting statistic. Customers expect plumbers to be late, if they show up at all. They expect that, because that's what they've experienced, and that's the stereotype.
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing is "The Punctual Plumber." When we say we'll be there, we'll be there. If we don't meet our "Punctuality Promise," our customer gets a Benjamin Franklin, a $100 bill. We have trademarked the word "punctual" for the plumbing industry. We will own the word "punctual" in the marketplace.
How does Ben Franklin hope to become a nationally recognized brand?There is a huge opportunity here. There are 57,000 plumbing contractors in this country. In national TOMA studies, over half the people surveyed couldn't even name a plumber. They couldn't think of one. There is a national branding opportunity here.
A great identity is dependent on a great name, logo and message. Using a scale of 0-10, how good is your company name? Most plumbing contractors use the "billfold" method of name selection -- you open your billfold, and pick the name on your driver's license. Your company name can multiply, or divide, every marketing dollar you spend.
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing scores a 10. Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin. Commonly known, however, uncommonly used in connection with plumbing. That catches your attention.
And Benjamin Franklin is loaded with positive, embedded associations: punctual, honest, hard working and inventive. On a subconscious level, customers are making those associations about Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.
We've learned a lot about branding. We are working with The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams, New York Times best-selling author, to expand our brand. A great identity can dramatically multiply every marketing dollar you spend. If you are interested in rapidly growing your company, that is reason enough to become a Benjamin Franklin Plumbing company.
What is the primary focus of a Ben Franklin franchise? What role does customer service play in this franchise?The last time we visited, I told Steve Smith that I would be obsessed with the relationship between our employees and our customers. I am! This is where most companies miss the point. In the plumbing service world, there is one way to know what's really going on with your customers: Get in the field. Ride along. Find out what your plumbers are saying to your customers. Help them improve their skills -- customer service, sales and technical skills.
Our mission statement holds the key to our customer service focus. If you want to provide great customer service, love your employees. Help them grow. Become the employer of choice in your market. Treat your team with respect. Hold them accountable. Good people love it when you hold them accountable, when you play fair. Care for your employees and they will care for your customers.
I'm very proud of the career opportunities available with our business model. As we expand into neighborhoods, we need people to take charge of each neighborhood center. This is a great way to keep the entrepreneurial employee who might otherwise strike out on his own. The more involved the employees are in the success of the neighborhood centers, the more likely they are to take good care of their neighborhood customers. It all adds up to better customer service.
What strategies or business and marketing tools are part of the Ben Franklin franchise?I'm really proud of how we are documenting and distributing our systems. Our Web site, www.benjaminfranklinplumbing.com, is our main communication link between franchisor and Revolutionaries. We're building our "Graphics Standards Manual" there. And we're storing our marketing vehicles there. Ben's Big Book is available there, organized according to our organizational chart.
The systems are really coming along. I'm delighted with what we have developed. An advantage of franchising in general is having access to turnkey systems. However, no matter how good your systems are, there is no way to anticipate all the bizarre things that can happen in the plumbing business.
Our first group of Revolutionaries created The Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Constitution at our Ben 101 training program. The constitution is a lofty document, including our mission, our message, our customers' bill of rights, our employees' bill of rights, our call standards and our "All Hands" standing orders. This document clearly states what we hold to be true, what's really important. This is where you find guidance for decisions that must be made when the Big Book doesn't cover it.
What's interesting is how our message to our customer, "Benjamin Franklin the Punctual Plumber," is as important to our operational excellence as it is to our marketing efforts. Consider what it takes operationally to deliver on "The Punctuality Promise:" you've got to be organized; you have to work as a team; you must be disciplined; you have to care. By setting that standard, we have the opportunity to elevate ordinary operations to the realm of the extraordinary.
What role do PSI co-founders Jim Abrams and John Young play in the operations of these franchises?I am so fortunate to be a part of this team. John and Jim are amazing. I confer with John several times a week, sometimes several times a day, regarding every aspect of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. John is responsible for the best components of Ben's Big Book, our operations manual, as well as developing our marketing strategy.
Jim is focused on the financial aspects. We've incorporated his "Key Financial Indicators" into the "Big Picture Form," our one-page financial status report, as well as our budgeting system. These guys know how to make money and grow businesses. It's really fun, because they are both so fired up about the potential for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.
The most striking characteristic of both John and Jim is their unshakable confidence. These guys know how to play the business game, at a level that only a very small percentage of people understand.
Do all PSI members need to become a Ben Franklin franchise holder? And likewise, do all Ben Franklin owners need to be PSI members?So far, all of our Revolutionaries are PSI members, though it's not a requirement of becoming a franchisee. There are a lot of really sharp contractors in PSI, so membership is definitely a plus. PSI is focused on serving the independent contractor, on improving the value of his or her company. PSI's systems are complementary to Benjamin Franklin Plumbing's systems.
As president of Ben Franklin, what is your role in the scheme of operations?I am the Fearless Leader! As you can tell, I've set very high goals. We are on an ambitious mission: our sales goal is $1 billion dollars in Revolutionary sales.
Every day we fall short of the ideal. However, one of my responsibilities is to keep everyone moving towards the ideal. More important than where we are today is where we are headed.
Each Revolutionary is required to submit its three-year goals. I'll measure my performance by the number of franchisees hitting those goals. I'm discovering that I am good at recognizing talent and helping people develop. I love helping dreams come true.
I assume full responsibility for our mission. Given the team that we are assembling, and the plan that we are following, we can only succeed.
Who are the members of your team that help run the executive offices of Ben Franklin?We have a terrific team developing. I have the support of the VenVest team, and access their administrative services as needed. Andrea House works with PSI and Air Time 500 members, and helps me as the Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Branding and Imaging Officer.
My staff in Rogersville, Mo., is poised to take on more responsibilities as we grow. Our Lightning Team, the training team, is growing and offering additional career opportunities for our Revolutionaries' employees. And, of course, I have direct access to John Young for support and guidance.
On my office wall, I have a picture of Benjamin Franklin. He is definitely a part of the team. He was a scholar, an inventor, a philosopher, a politician, a businessman. He retired from the printing business, a millionaire at age 42. That was in 1748, when a million dollars really meant something!
He helped create the finest government the world has ever known, during a time of constant war and struggle on this continent. What we intend to accomplish seems easy in comparison to what is possible.
Where do you see Ben Franklin another year from now? Five years from now? 10 years?Our top line goal is $1 billion in Revolutionary sales. Our three-year goal is $100 million in Revolutionary sales. We have benchmarks established between here and there. Each year will take us that much closer to the fulfillment of our mission: No. 1 in TOMA; No. 1 in growth and profits; and No. 1 employer of choice.
As Benjamin Franklin says, "The secret to success is constancy to purpose.