Carpet Cleaning Franchise Review: Q&A With Brian Curran of Chem-Dry
Brian Curran’s Chem-Dry carpet cleaning franchise is still growing strong nearly 20 years after a cross-country roadtrip introduced him to the brand.
After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in advertising, Brian Curran and a buddy set off on a countrywide adventure. They partied in New Orleans, explored Dallas, drove through New Mexico, hung out in San Diego, and finally headed north for San Francisco.
They didn’t have a ton of money for their adventure. “We were living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, seeing the country and having the time of our lives,” Brian says.
His buddy, John Lugo — now Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Lugo — had an aunt who lived in Mesa, Arizona, and her home became an oasis for a few months during the trip. She had a friend who had just started a Chem-Dry carpet cleaning franchise and was happy to put two fresh college graduates to work for a few months.
Although they only stuck around for about three months before continuing their excursion, the experience made an impression on Brian.
“I liked the work. I liked meeting people, going in and seeing different homes, the different architecture and the way people lived,” Brian says. “And people were ecstatic about the service I could deliver. It was great to be paid, and be paid pretty well, for doing something that people loved. I figured if I started one, I could get paid well, and in the future, the people who worked for me could be paid pretty well, too.”
After the trip was over, Brian, now 43, returned to Virginia and started his business, Chem-Dry of Richmond. It’s nearing its 20th anniversary and has become of the of the biggest Chem-Dry franchises in the United States.
He has grown by educating customers about the healthy benefits of carpet cleaning, and about the other services Chem-Dry can offer. Some customers don’t know that Chem-Dry cleans more than carpets, so Brian has trained his team to let customers know about upholstery cleaning, tile cleaning, mattress cleaning, stain removal and pet urine removal services. That range of services offers huge value for homeowners, who can get a variety of services from one trusted provider, during a single appointment.
Brian recently spoke with us about his experience:
How many people are working for you these days?
We’re right around 22 to 25 people at any given time, mostly full-time. We have three to four customer service representatives, an office manager, a general manager, a full-time mechanic to keep the equipment in good condition, and everyone else is a technician. At this point, I’m the support staff — people turn to me for help with technical questions, how to handle difficult situations, training, and I also handle hiring and making sure that people are doing what they are supposed to do. We have good systems in place. My main focus is making sure people are getting the type of service that’ll make them want to show off their home to their friends and recommend us.
What types of systems do you have in place?
We have problem-solving guidelines: How to handle equipment when it acts up, how to handle the occasional angry customer, how to handle it when all the information that was typed in during initial booking isn?t quite right. We also have policies and procedures for providing excellent service including what to say and what not to say when calling a customer, how to enter the home, and how to educate the customer about our process and solutions. We really try to have a system for everything from the way to introduce the value of P.U.R.T. (pet urine removal) service, to upholstery and area rug cleaning.
How has the business affected your lifestyle?
I’ve always been an advocate of “family comes first.” This business is here to create my lifestyle. Of course, some weeks of the year you’re putting in 70- and 80-hour weeks, but for the most part, when I turn off my phone, business is done and it’s family time. I’ve always had the ability to turn it off. When I’m at work, I work hard, but I do that so I can go see my children play sports and go to school activities and church activities. With 22 employees, the business doesn’t rely on me on a day-to-day basis. I can have as much free time as I want, but I choose to come in every day. I put in 40 to 50 hours a week. I think it works better when I’m here, but it doesn’t rely on me to work.
I have three children — two daughters and a son who range from elementary to high school. My wife, Danielle, runs the home and helps with them a lot, which is more than a full-time job. The first few years in the business, before we had kids, she worked and helped it grow. We were able to grow it to the point where she didn’t have to work, and that was really important to us.
We travel a lot. We love the beach. My in-laws have a place on a beach in Delaware and my mother has a place in Virginia Beach, and we like to travel for spring break, Fourth of July and Christmas. We go all over the country — everywhere from New York to Florida to L.A. This business definitely gives us the opportunity to do those things. When I have friends who say, “I’ve got to see if I have the time off,” I’m like, “I always have the time off when I want it.” And that’s the nice thing about getting a business ramped up and having it be successful. That said, you don’t have to have 22 people on staff. I know many Chem-Dry franchises that are one-truck operations that are very happy, too. It’s a just totally different job, cleaning carpets versus managing people.
You recently expanded into the Virginia Beach market. Why?
There were a lot of factors. We’re trying to take advantage of the fact that we have a support staff to handle calls and book jobs, and we have systems in place, which allow us to support more technicians. Virginia Beach is growing, and we can expand into that market and expand our footprint and be able to offer a great job for folks who are looking for work and great service for customers. It’s our new challenge.
What has helped your business thrive?
We do more than just carpet cleaning. Carpet cleaning can be very price-competitive, and it’s important to be price-competitive in order to get in the door, but once you’re working with a customer, there’s a lot more that you can offer — upholstery cleaning, area rugs, mattress cleaning, tile and grout cleaning, and elimination of pet odor issues. Once you show them everything you can do and prove that you can do a great job, you become a trusted advisor. If you can connect with a customer on your first job and keep them coming back to you year after year, you will have a growing base of repeat business, and as you keep getting new business, and building new relationships, you can keep growing. You keep your loyal customers. They won’t stray as long as you take care of them.
What sets Chem-Dry apart?
We have a lot of different cleaning methods within our structure. In our market, we clean for people’s health, and we emphasize how we clean and the fact that it is a green cleaning service. We explain to people why it’s important to have a clean home — clean carpets and upholstery and mattresses mean you’ll have fewer allergens in your home. People who commit to keeping their home healthy usually like the green cleaning aspect as well.
We provide a lot of education for our customers. Richmond is a very traditional market, and people don’t embrace change quickly, so it took some time to carve out our niche. Part of owning a business is having the perseverance to get through those difficulties early on and doing what it takes to break through.
What is the franchise?s biggest strength?
Our people and our willingness to share and help others, including people in totally different markets. I don’t think other franchise systems get as much from the relationships with other franchise owners. The franchise system itself is a powerful system, and it continues to get better. Our corporate offices also do a good job of providing coaching.
A great low-cost franchise opportunity
Chem-Dry is ranked as a Top 10 low-cost franchise opportunity and a Top 10 home-based franchise opportunity, but the ability to start small and grow a large enterprise is the reason we’ve been named to Entrepreneur magazine’s list of top franchise opportunities for 26 years in a row. Want to learn more? Visit the research pages on our site to learn more about the business, why it has been a success since it started in 1977, and to find out about equipment packages, startup costs and average financial performance. You can also find Q&As with more Chem-Dry owners and news about the company on our blog.
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