New franchise opportunities for ambitious and business-minded entrepreneurs (even if they’re not so handy)
by Brenda Adams
When Paul Switzeny created The HandyForce in 2010, it wasn’t because he was handy. In fact, he’s not very handy at all. No, The HandyForce came about because of the one thing that every good business idea is founded on: need.
After going through a major home renovation, Switzeny found it impossible to find good workers to take care of the little things—those small tasks around the house that the big contractors don’t want to be bothered with. Unfortunately, businesses offering home improvement services can be one-person shows operated by someone who lacks experience running a business.
Anyone who performs services for a living knows that the actual money-generating work is only a small part of the process. For a service business to succeed, all the elements—marketing, hiring and training staff, quoting, scheduling, performing the work, and invoicing—must be part of an organized and structured system.
In doing his research, Switzeny also discovered that tradespeople often have high turnover rates. So, he set out to build something different: a well-organized, structured, and reliable home improvement business that meets customers’ needs and provides training and a stable work environment with a healthy work-life balance and the opportunity for both the owner and employees to learn and grow.
Switzeny tells us more about how it all started.
What made you consider starting a home services franchise?
I’ve always been good at building systems, structured ways of thinking and operating, to both improve performance and create efficiencies. I also knew the industry was ripe for change. There’s a reason why people like Mike Holmes have built their careers on showcasing home renovation disasters. The lack of controls and accountability in this business is quite astonishing.
You went to Florida recently to meet with Kevin Harrington, an original Shark Tank investor and inventor of the late-night infomercial. What was that about?
Kevin’s always on the lookout for new business ideas. He learned about The HandyForce and asked to meet with me, which I was happy to do. He found my business model to be intriguing and thinks there are real opportunities for expanding this idea to new markets, such as the U.S., so we’re discussing how to do that.
What type of person makes a good HandyForce franchisee?
The biggest requirement is to have some business-related experience and leadership abilities. If you have a bit of familiarity with the renovation or contracting industry, that’s great, but it’s not essential. It’s also not necessary to know how to fix things yourself. In fact, this can help you approach a job from the homeowner’s perspective. People who have previously managed a business or have other business experience are ideal.
What training do you provide for franchise owners?
Our franchisees start with four weeks of in-class training focused on running the business and, most importantly, how to build and lead a great in-house team. We have a specific curriculum, detailed operation and management manuals—the whole package.
You mentioned the importance of having a good system in place. Tell us about the system you created for The HandyForce.
Our system is founded on our proprietary cloud-based business management software, which is a tool that I am tremendously proud of. We built it ourselves, from scratch, to ensure it does everything we need it to do. It’s very intuitive and easy to use, and very powerful. You answer a series of questions to communicate the client’s needs and it will generate the quote and price out the materials. It will also create a schedule and job plan, from the number of people and hours of labour required to the skill sets needed. The program does all the heavy lifting.
We also provide other important tools, such as a call centre with live call answering to screen calls and route leads. We also provide employee uniforms, marketing support, and more. We try to make it as turnkey as we can.
Many businesses complain about how hard it is to find good workers. How do you address that problem?
The big difference is that we don’t go looking for workers—we build them. There are lots of young people out there who want to work with their hands. Many have tried to work in the trades but received very little (or very poor) training and very little support. That’s why we provide Certified Master Handyman training that will teach someone how to do the work the right way; for example, how to lay tile, or paint, or how to repair drywall. Our program is made up of eight modules of hands-on training. And every team has both a master handyman and a junior handyman.
Having a junior and senior person working together creates the best environment for teaching and learning. When you teach someone well, pay them a fair wage (including while they are learning), and show that you care, it can create tremendous loyalty. I see this every day.
Why are you limited to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) at the moment?
Toronto is where I started, and I wanted to make sure the model worked well before starting to franchise and expand. Having the franchises located in the GTA—close to me but with their own specific territory—helps me ensure they have the tools they need to succeed. And, with a population of close to seven million with more than two million dwellings, there is a lot of opportunity here.
Why do you insist that each franchise have a brick-and-mortar location?
This is a major differentiator for us. When was the last time you saw a storefront selling handyman or renovation services? I can’t tell you how many jobs we’ve been hired to do because the customer saw our sign. It’s the opposite of fly-by-night. The sign communicates reliability and reassures our clients that they will be able to reach us, should the need arise. I think of it as insurance against ghosting—they never have to worry that we will disappear on them. Having a storefront doesn’t mean you can’t work from home most of the time; it just means you need to have a physical presence within your territory.
What does the future of this industry look like?
Everyone’s busy—between work, family, and social obligations, there is little time left for relaxation, let alone home improvements. Most experts believe that customer demand will remain steady in this industry as homeowners and renters look to outsource both small and large home improvement projects.
The potential for growth in this market is strong, and interest in our concept is also growing. A number of our franchise territories in the GTA will be in especially high demand, so if someone thinks The HandyForce might be a good fit for them, I urge them to contact me while those areas are still available.
To find out if The HandyForce is right for you, contact them through website at thehandyforce.com/franchises.