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100% Canadian FranchisesCompany ProfilesJanuary/February 2021

Home-Grown and Locally Owned: Wise Cracks Concrete Technologies and The HandyForce

By David Chilton Saggers

To achieve success in the Canadian franchising industry, there isn’t a single or simple formula. But among the best ideas would be this: find a great concept, start small, work hard and smart, and plan, plan, plan. That’s how the systems profiled here got a good thing going.

Wise Cracks Concrete Technologies

Andrea Mackey, president of Wise Cracks Concrete Technologies, sums up her business in two sentences: “We repair leaking basements. It’s our number one job.” Mackey and her husband Chris started Wise Cracks in 1991 after they spotted a gap in the market for a reliable home improvement and repair firm.

Mackey notes that her business isn’t glamorous, and that over the years, it has stayed small. However, after starting to franchise in 2000, Wise Cracks is now a 22-unit system – including one corporate location – with others as far apart as Newfoundland and Alberta. Mackey sold her first franchise in 2000 to a franchisee who bought the South Shore territory in Nova Scotia. Other franchisees followed in such places as Niagara Falls, Ontario, and just recently Wise Cracks sold a franchise in Edmonton, says Mackey from head office in Middle Sackville, a suburb of Halifax.

The cost of a franchise territory is $35,000 and includes the tools necessary to start work, although all investors will also need a suitable vehicle. Most of Mackey’s franchisees operate from their own homes, and it’s predominately men who invest with Wise Cracks. Still, some women have bought into the system and they, and their male counterparts, have varied backgrounds – one franchisee she notes, is a master electrician and he’s been very successful. Training takes one week at head office and then there’s continued instruction online.

 “Experience in restoration is always handy, with practical experience in restoration more than handy,” Mackey adds. As for expansion, she says she’s looking at a couple of key areas including Ottawa, and would like to open five or six more franchises in the next two years.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected Wise Cracks too critically. Mackey says in the first two weeks of the outbreak, business dropped right off, but after being declared an essential service, her mostly residential customers returned. Now, the system is quoting a lot more by using phone calls, photographs instead of in-person visits, and billing by email. “This (the pandemic) was a bump in the road, but we’re almost back to normal,” says Mackey.

As for the benefits of investing in the Wise Cracks system, Mackey points to the owner-operator model, the low cost of entry, a good profit margin, and the brand’s promise of quality and service.

The HandyForce

Ten years ago, Paul Switzeny started The HandyForce alongside a partner when they aspired to provide small-to-medium-sized residential repairs, odd jobs, and renovations. Today, the president of The HandyForce describes the company as, “a Swiss Army knife for your home.”

In other words, HandyForce can do just about anything. Interior tasks can be relatively simple, like hanging a curtain rod or installing new tiles, or something larger and more difficult such as renovating a kitchen or finishing a basement. Outside, HandyForce can replace a roof or add a new deck to a home, and much more. And everything comes with a one-year “no hassle” guarantee.  

Switzeny, who’s based in Toronto’s Borough of East York, began designing his state-of-the-art franchise in 2020. He expects to start accepting franchise inquiries in his system in early 2021. The Greater Toronto Area is his first choice for initial franchises. The cost of a HandyForce franchise has yet to be finalized, but Switzeny has already worked out other details of his system. Training at head office and on-site will take four to six weeks, and a project manager will also be on hand full-time to help new franchisees with details including providing customer quotes and using the proprietary software application.

Switzeny believes individuals with strong leadership qualities, business acumen, and good communication skills are attractive characteristics in franchisee candidates. Tenacity, perseverance, and a positive outlook are key elements to success. “Somebody has the right attitude, or they don’t,” he says. A background in construction is also not all that important; Switzeny himself doesn’t have one.

As for how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his business, Switzeny says, “[It] has had a very big impact. People are not travelling, so they’re spending on their homes [instead.] We’ve been extra busy and new opportunities have grown out of COVID-19 [for HandyForce.]”

Switzeny is enthusiastic about the benefits of scaling his business by attracting the best and brightest through the franchise model. Franchisees won’t have to work evenings, weekends, or holidays, nor will they have to put in exceptionally long hours. This is the lifestyle that Switzeny has enjoyed, and still enjoys in his busiest year ever. He says he’s looking forward to sharing the secrets of his success with colleague franchisees right now.