Chem-Dry Franchise Review: Robyn Smith, Chem-Dry of Atlanta
In 1984, Robyn Smith and her husband, Stu, decided to leave their corporate managerial positions for franchise ownership with Chem-Dry. They were among Chem-Dry?s pioneers, some of our first franchise owners, and they quickly realized Chem-Dry was their vehicle to a more fulfilling career and life.
What did you do before Chem-Dry?
I was an account manager at AT&T, selling phone systems to small and medium-sized businesses. This was 1984, before email or any of that. And the thing is, I really liked my job for a while. But more and more responsibilities were piled on me until I finally realized I was going to have to put forth more effort in my job than I was really willing to give. Stu was a dispatch manager at a large department store, and he wasn?t happy at all. Things came to a head in 1983, when our son was playing in the Little League World Series ? his team ended up winning the world championship, by the way ? and my husband?s employers weren?t going to give him the time he needed to see our son play. He just decided he didn?t want to work for them anymore. Truthfully, both of us were burned out and felt like there was nowhere else we wanted to go with our employers. So we decided to quit cold turkey. Two car payments, a house payment and two kids, but we went for it. My mom thought we were smoking crack, but we went for it!
How did you hear about Chem-Dry?
My mother-in-law had heard of Chem-Dry and told us about it. She was saying, ?Oh, the ladies at the beauty salon have been really talking it up, they?re fantastic,? and she suggested we look into it. Now, it wasn?t like we had always wanted to clean carpet. It?s not the sexiest job in the world. But the price was right; it?s a very low-entry franchise, and it didn?t require a great deal of technical expertise. So we opened the first Chem-Dry franchise in Georgia in March 1985, and we?ve added five franchises since then. And once the entrepreneurial bug bit, I wasn?t looking back. It?s about having control over your own future and the freedom to do what you want to do and go where you want to go. I love this business. I love everything about it. I don?t think about it like we?re cleaning carpet; we?re improving lives by providing them with healthy homes and offices in a way that people can trust and count on.
What sets Chem-Dry apart?
We?re able to offer complete convenience to our clients, thanks to the fact that our process leaves carpets dry in an hour or two. In downtown Atlanta, where we serve a lot of offices, I think that?s one of the things people look for. We?re able to do a deep clean without having to use all the gallons of water, and we use a natural solution. We are creating healthy homes and offices, and healthy people live in them. We have built a very strong business, and people trust us ? Our vans are equipped with premier equipment, so we have a commitment to technology as well as an enormous database of wonderful longtime customers that we nurture. We do email marketing. We do reminders. We have wonderful leave-behind packages. It?s gone beyond the old magnet-on-the-refrigerator thing.
Are there any misconceptions about carpet cleaning?
Yes, and I think that was part of the reason we chose Chem-Dry. It?s exciting to educate people on the difference between Chem-Dry and steam cleaners, the independents, the vendors we affectionately refer to as ?soak and suck.? That?s fun, educating people on the process. A lot of the misconception is that these people are going to show up in a pickup and wife beater and tacky equipment and you can?t trust them. And certainly those people are out there, but they shouldn?t be taken as representative of the industry as a whole, and certainly not representative at all of what we do. So that was another exciting thing ? with our level of intelligence and professionalism, we felt we had a big advantage there.
Who are your customers?
Remember the quote from Jerry Maguire: ?The key to this business is personal relationships.? Building those strong relationships of trust, to me, is the challenge. We get a very good rate of customers using us again. We do lots of commercial business in the Downtown area, more than some Chem-Dry franchisees. We specialize in property management companies. Servicing large office buildings and the tenants that they are in. Commercial carpet gets a lot more traffic than residential carpet and needs cleaning on a regular basis. Commercial clients can be harder to land but often use you more and pay better rates.
What advice would you give to aspiring Chem-Dry franchisees?
Understand that at first, you?re going to have to devote all your time and energy to the business. It?s just not something you can do part-time. You?re either in or you?re out. But the payoff is tremendous. Our goal starting out was a five-year plan to build a solid customer base, and we knew we would have to really plow the field and put in the time and effort, and we did, and we were able to grow. The number of referrals we got was was phenomenal. With the level of commitment we made, it allowed us to go to three vans, and we also learned a lot along the way technically, plus from conventions we went to. We were in it to win it. You can?t just play around with it. If you take advantage of the resources available, plus invest the time and effort, I don?t see how you couldn?t be successful. There?s a program, and you follow it, and it works.
What has Chem-Dry franchise ownership allowed you to do that you wouldn?t have been able to do otherwise?
I think the best part is being able to enjoy my children, attend their ballgames and school and trips. Having the freedom to be able to set your hours, and I?ll tell you the first few years were tough and we had to make some choices. We decided to occasionally close down to make trips, and we would lose money while we were closed. Our son is 41, and our daughter is 35. Since I?ve come back to the franchise, that?s been beautiful. That part is so much fun. That?s the biggest benefit is spending time with your family. It?s doing all the little things you enjoy.
Would you recommend this franchise? Why?
I would recommend it, because I feel like as far as the opportunity to build your own business, you?ve got an opportunity that?s like no other. It?s unique: the structure, the process, the caliber of people you can draw upon, and the ones who succeed are the ones who follow the program.. We?re at the cutting edge here, and to me, that?s a very big competitive advantage. You get to control your own destiny here. All your hard work is going to pay off for you, not someone else, and you?ve got the support of the best people in the business. If you?re committed, you can?t help but be successful.