Cover StoryJuly/August 2019

Inspecting Homes, Building Trust

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You know how they always tell you not to show up empty-handed at a friend’s house for dinner? Well, if you’re a Pillar To Post Home Inspector, you never forget the coffee and baked goods when you meet with a real estate agent. So says Dan Steward, President and CEO of Canada’s No. 1 home inspection franchise – Pillar To Post Home Inspectors. Steward explains, “Building trusted relationships with realtors is critical. We know from history that when we personally introduce ourselves to realtors we work with or hope to work with, it goes over well. Bringing a nice coffee and snack can break the ice, but there is so much more that goes into long-term trust in the realtor-home inspector relationship.”

Going beyond simply inspecting homes across North America is what’s made the franchise No. 1 not only in homeowners and homebuyers’ hearts, but also in those of its franchisees. Pillar To Post has been ranked as such by Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise500®, an annual coveted ranking of the top 500 franchise systems.

The company was started in 1993 by Mike Brewer, a franchisor in the auto glass sector, who had a bad experience when purchasing a new home. He felt he could provide a better home inspection than what he experienced in the home buying process. Using his franchising experience, he started the company and began franchising in 1994. “By 2000, Pillar To Post was the largest home inspection franchise business in North America,” boasts Steward.

At that time, there were 250 franchise locations. In 2003, Brewer sold the company to FirstService Brands, Pillar To Post’s parent company.

From 2000-2006, Steward says the real estate industry enjoyed what he calls the “golden” years, especially in the U.S. That was until the recession hit, which strangely enough was not a bad thing for the franchise. Steward says that downturn actually helped the company. “What the recession in 2007, 2008, and 2009 really taught us was the difference between having a brand name and a brand experience. We decided we needed a brand that’s not dependent on the economy for our franchisees to succeed. We were able to look at some franchisees and why they succeeded and some who struggled and even failed.”

Steward says what they discovered was that the strongest franchisees were resilient, driven to have their own business, enjoyed continued learning, and received true joy by helping others. “We really had to grow from our beginnings of doing great home inspections to identifying with, understanding, and empathising what that means to be a customer of our service.”

Four Pillars of Support

Right now, there are more than 500 franchises in the U.S. and 80 in Canada. All franchisees work in the business and there are no corporately-owned locations. Franchisees don’t need a home inspection background.

As far as the Pillar To Post concept goes, says Steward, “We focus on this concept of confident home ownership which largely has to do with starting the process of buying your home. The work our franchisees do is related to helping realtors and homebuyers have a great experience, to provide objective information so the buyer can make an informed decision, and have peace of mind in making that decision.”

The Pillar To Post concept works to provide home buyers with a clear, unbiased evaluation of a property’s condition and answers to any questions they may have. Pillar To Post creates an easy-to-read objective report regarding the condition of a home’s electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems along with its structure and foundation.

Steward explains the company fosters the franchise’s growth and its franchisees in four ways: balancing branding, systems, support, and quality of life. “Franchising is everything. If we did not have franchisees, we wouldn’t have a company. What makes it unique is we’re really focusing on the franchisee and their life goals.”

Meet the Franchisees

Two franchisees singing the praises of Pillar To Post are Bradly George in Saskatoon, who’s been with the company nine years, and Raj Bimrah of Streetsville, Ontario.

George was drawn to the franchise because of the brand’s strength. A jack-of-all-trades with experience in IT, construction, renovations, and flipping homes, he says, “I’d looked at other franchises and none ranked as well as Pillar To Post. They’re a leader in the industry. What drew me to it was the business-in-a-box format, so I could get going pretty quickly with a proven method.”

Bimrah concurs. Even though he has years of renovation, project management, and construction experience, along with a civil engineering degree, he knew he needed to team up with professionals for help with sales and marketing. A real estate agent buddy of his mentioned Pillar To Post right off the bat when Bimrah was researching home inspection franchises. “He said they’re well-known and when there are big houses to be inspected, they’re the first ones people call.”

The franchise also offers great systems to franchisees. “We have a particular system for starting up a new franchise, one for adding new products and services for their offering, a defined system on helping them to hire people, for getting customers, or how to expand business.”

In addition to state-of-the-art training, great support is also essential to franchisee success. A support team works with new candidates to evaluate if Pillar To Post is the right fit for them. A dedicated team takes care of the initial training of new franchisees for the first 9-12 months, while providing business coaching, marketing, and IT support.

Bimrah received access to detailed online training – about 200 hours’ worth, then in-person training in Toronto. He says, “They assigned mentors to help us with our launch and any issues we might encounter.”

Franchisees are also able to use the franchise’s large network of fellow inspectors and business owners for support. George says, “We’re so large if I don’t know the answer, have a new idea or someone has a new idea working for them, that’s a great plus to the network.”
Franchisees also have access to a large information database, as well as a national training conference.
George has high praise for the franchise’s support sys¬tem. “Our regional director is always available and if he doesn’t know the answer, he knows the people who do.”

And there’s the quality of life. George says, “Financially we’re enjoying a good income and I can choose the hours I work. Lifestyle-wise it gives us what we want. I’ve got two small kids so I can take the afternoon off and go on a field trip with them.”
As far as challenges go, George says the biggest one is getting in front of real estate agents. “You need to continuously build relationships with all new realtors and keep on top of them. Who’s coming and who’s going. They need to be able to depend on me and know that they can.”

For Bimrah, the biggest challenge initially was sales and marketing. “I’ve never had to market myself with interviews. With the help of the start-up director and the support staff at Pillar To Post, I got my speeches set up along with a business and marketing plan.”
The franchise has two types of marketing. George loves the established marketing plan where he’s in charge of local marketing and the franchisor is in charge of the national marketing strategy. “There’s a synergy to the whole thing.”

“I’m seven weeks in and I’m on my eighth inspection,” adds Bimrah. “I wouldn’t be here without them because they put me in front of all these agents and set up my plan. It’s such a positive environment, it’s making me want to do more for everyone else.”

For those interested in investing in a franchise, Bimrah suggests, “Ask a lot of questions, compare our system with other companies, trust that the company is looking after your best interest and make sure the company has a tried and trusted plan for your success. I see all of that with Pillar To Post.”

George says, “I get calls on this all the time. Follow the plan, follow the model you paid for by purchasing a franchise and just add your own personality. I don’t see how you can’t really succeed.”

The company would like to see 1,000 franchises by 2025. Steward says, “We’re going for world dominance. Our No. 1 goal for growth is to see our existing franchisees go after their goals and dreams. We want to expand our products and services to help our existing franchisees grow their businesses and enhance their profitability.”

And don’t forget the doughnuts. Bimrah says, “The biggest impact I’ve seen is showing up to open houses for agents with food. It’s such a ‘wow’ factor I would not have thought of doing.”

Not only is Pillar To Post serving up an incredible franchising meal from soup to nuts, so to speak, it’s also turning doughnuts into dollars along the way.

By Georgie Binks