Business continues to thrive for multi-unit owner in the new normal
Adam Blake, owner of N-Hance wood refinishing franchise in Washington and Utah, discusses how he and his team navigated his business during the pandemic and how, despite disruptions, his family business is growing as the economy and the demand for home remodeling pick up.
Blake also talks about how his military experience prepared him to thrive in business, the franchise network support franchise leadership and fellow owners provide and much more.
Do you think your experience in the Marine Corps helped you in business?
Blake: I think it did. I rose through the ranks in the five years I was in the Marine Corps. I learned some basic leadership skills also so when jumping in to run a small business not only did I have the attitude and the willingness and fortitude to build out my business, I also gained the skills to manage small teams.
Did you know when you left the Marine Corps that you wanted to start a business?
Blake: No, I actually went back to school and when I was in the Marine Corps I worked on electronics in radio repair and fiber optic cables and that sort of thing. When I started school that’s when I started looking at businesses. My father-in-law, who I went into partnership with, had owned a Chem-Dry carpet cleaning franchise 30 years at that time. So he had a long-standing family small business and practical knowledge and I was going to school gaining the theories and the book knowledge so when we went into business together it was a good pairing.
Obviously because Chem-Dry and N-Hance Wood Refinishing Franchise share a parent company it made the decision to look into N-Hance an easy one, right?
Blake: Yes. We found N-Hance through the Chem-Dry network.
What ultimately attracted you to sign the franchise agreement?
Blake: When we were doing our research and due diligence, there were a couple of businesses out there with similar processes, but the other networks and businesses weren’t quite as flushed out as Harris Research, which owns Chem-Dry and N-Hance.
We were familiar with Harris Research through the Chem-Dry experience. So we were looking into it and trying to decide what was the best option and we were leaning toward the franchise because of the support you can get through the franchise network.
We visited another franchisee who was operating a couple of hours away, saw what they were doing and how they were doing it and that sealed the deal. We saw what they were doing and saw the potential.
How long have you owned your N-Hance Wood Refinishing Franchise?
Blake: I’ve been involved with the N-Hance network for about 15 years. We started in 2005 in California where the Chem-Dry was and over time we expanded. My brother-in-law was living in Spokane. By that time it was 2006 and he was a real estate agent and we know how the real estate markets were in 2006. The franchise became available and we all went in together and we bought that one. We grew from the one in Spokane up to four territories in Eastern Washington and Northern Utah and three in the Tacoma area.
You were in business during the Great Recession in 2008, and now as we are going through this pandemic, you are certainly no stranger to a national crisis.
Blake: Not really. We knew we had to make it happen. We did what we had to do and put our nose to the grindstone and built our business with the values and fortitude that we wanted to put into it. We did grow year over year. Part of it is our offering a way for consumers to save money on this sort of project so it fit well with the recession and everything going on and as we came out of it we just kept going. Some of those early lessons we were able to apply and prepare for the pandemic.
Your N-Hance business grew year over year in spite of the Great Recession. As we move through this crisis what are those lessons being applied to your business?
Blake: Part of getting through this pandemic was planned in some ways and some was unplanned. We were doing everything we could to build our business and business was good in 2019. 2020 started off as a banner year. We were expanding. Our crews were working well. Luckily we were having a good year. So with the combination of a really good first quarter and the savings we had for when we closed down for six weeks we were able to weather through that because we had that capital set aside as well as just having a good year to prepare.
As you are opening back up are customers coming back?
Blake: It is localized to a certain degree. Our Tacoma location, for example, is close to the epicenter in Washington so there is more reservation about having work crews come in. We’ve been back open for a little over a month and over there the leads are starting to trickle back in and build back up but it’s a slower go.
In the Spokane area there was less concern about the pandemic for whatever reason and so during the time that the business was shut down we were still juggling schedules and in contact and doing virtual estimates for customers as they were coming in because they were still showing demand. So when we were able to open up as part of the phased program under the governor we actually had a backlog of work on the Spokane side. We’re still playing a little bit of catchup to make up the time for when we had to shut down. At this point the leads are coming in and they are coming in stronger week by week so I think we’re going to have a pretty solid year in our Spokane area because of the consumer confidence compared to the pandemic.
Why is N-Hance Wood Refinishing Franchise a good fit at this time?
Blake: A lot of it comes down to the value for the money they are spending. The value of refinishing the existing cabinets and maybe getting new countertops at a significantly less cost than replacing all of them and ripping them all out is a good way whether it’s a recession or not to save that money for your remodeling project and stretch it into other things. So instead of getting new cabinets and having to skimp on a countertop, you can refinish the existing cabinets in a solid color or darker wood tone or something of that nature and still have money left over to get the nicer counter quartz or granite countertop you’d like for your kitchen or maybe ben spread that to flooring. We help customers stretch that dollar a bit more during their remodeling projects. So in a recession it’s always good to be able to stretch that dollar and even in good times when they are remodeling, we’re still a good option.
Obviously consumer behavior will change as the economy opens back up, but from a business operator’s standpoint are you doing things differently?
Blake: Yes there are some changes in operations and a lot of them focus on protecting not only our consumers, but also our employees and technicians. Regardless of the phases and the plans that the governors and cities are putting out we are requiring protective equipment for all of our employees We always wore gloves during the refinishing process but now when they are on site it’s gloves at all time and now masks, safety glasses and safety shields to protect them from droplets. And there is disinfecting on a regular basis in high-touch points and traffic areas and the same goes for our shops and offices. So it has changed things as far as the way we are doing the business. As often as we can, instead of doing things onsite in a consumer’s home anything we can we are bringing back to the shop to do in a more controlled environment to keep the technicians out of people’s homes for longer periods of time. It’s just a matter of trying to project everybody and keep customers less in contact with techs and vice versa. There is contact tracing so we keep logs of who everyone is in contact with on job sites, as well as medical and safety briefs but for the most part it hasn’t really affected production and it’s actually been an asset and a comfort to a lot of our employees and staff.
Are you doing anything different on the marketing spend front?
Blake: A little bit differently. As we were shutting down and at the time we didn’t know for how long so we did cut back on a lot of our paid advertising, especially online, that we could fire back up really quickly because we didn’t know how long we were going to be there. I didn’t want to be spending a lot of money bringing in leads that we then couldn’t go service. So there was a period of hunkering down, saving and spreading the dollar out so we could make it through and then once we knew when the phases were coming open we slowly trickled the paid advertising back on and once we were open we bumped it up with higher budgets than before. We want to make sure we can keep the business going and also for employees because if they are coming back to work we need work for them to do. So there was a little bit of shift where we throttled it down and then we throttled it up as we were coming out and we are starting to see the fruits of that as we are now up and running and those leads are still coming in.
Did corporate provide any additional resources?
Blake: They were in the same boat, with people having to work from home, etc. They were very good with helping provide commercial grade disinfectants. As far as guidelines there was a time when they deferred franchise fees to help us stay healthy financially through this and they increased communication through the owner group Facebook pages and as well as through email about what was going on and what they were doing and how they were helping.
Can you discuss N-Hance Wood Refinishing Franchise’s very collaborative franchise owner network?
Blake: Yes there are a lot of us who have each other’s phone numbers. Some of the guys back from New York called and we chatted about how things were going out here and we chatted about how things were going there so there were the individual phone calls going back and forth. But there were also collective groups There is a private Facebook group of franchise owners and it’s a great forum for us to share information and tips. There were quite a few conversations and discussions with owners discussing legislation related to things like the Payroll Protection programs and the SBA grants and loans and just the different things going on and how they can apply to our businesses. It’s a good supportive group to have as a resource.
What are your hopes for your business going forward?
Blake: I don’t know that we’re going to meet the goals initially set at the beginning of this year due to being shut down for six weeks. The lost revenue during that time was a pretty substantial chunk of the year but I think we are going to do fairly close. We’re still on an upward tick. We have work coming in and work scheduled for our technicians going forward, so unless it gets really bad again we are going to do ok and we’re going to continue to thrive.
What advice would you give to other franchise owners?
Blake: Just have patience and be understanding and empathetic not only with your employees but your customers. A lot of them want to work and customers want to get the work done but they are a little freaked out about what is going on. So, having some understanding and patience even though it’s a lot of stress on the owner will go a long way with your employees and customers.