Glenn and Kati Buckland, Chem-Dry of Albuquerque and Chem-Dry of New Mexico
Glenn Buckland was born to be an entrepreneur. He tried college at the University of Texas and a job managing a grocery store, but nothing fit until 1986, when he bought his first Chem-Dry franchise in Austin, Texas, at 22. He turned that business, then a second in Albuquerque, N.M., into successes, but in 1999 realized he needed some help managing and marketing his growing empire. So he turned to his then-girlfriend (now wife), Kati, who created some systems, processes and marketing strategies that made the business even more profitable. In 2005, the Bucklands merged operations with another Chem-Dry veteran, Patrick Wallace, and the three together now operate throughout New Mexico.
Q. What were you doing before Chem-Dry?
Glenn: I was a manager at an H-E-B grocery store in Austin, Texas, and was doing really well. If I?d stayed, I would?ve climbed the ladder pretty quickly. It was a great company, and I was making way more than my other 22-year-old friends, but it didn?t feed my need to own my own business. I was always a very independent thinker, someone who did things his own way, and all my life people have told me I have leadership qualities. Those few years I had a boss, it just didn?t feel right to me, even though I liked my boss and had a great job. I just liked the idea of having something that was mine, where all the rises and falls, the hits and misses, were mine, and my future was entirely in my hands.
Kati: I was working at a research and development firm when I began dating Glenn in 1999. He asked me to come aboard part-time to help install some systems and do some marketing at his Chem-Dry business, because he knew I had some skills working with customers and organizing an office environment. At the time, the calls would come in, someone would scribble down the information on a piece of paper, he would write invoices by hand. Now we?re entirely computerized and have systems for everything, plus have a well-developed marketing system. We talked about whether I should come to work for him and what effect it might have on our relationship. But he made it plain to me that he was the boss (laughs), and it worked out fine. We got married in 2000, I came to work full-time in 2001, and I became a partner in 2005.
Q. How did you end up in Albuquerque?
GB: In late 1990, I decided I was going to move to New Mexico. I was ready for a change of pace from Austin, I had some friends out there, and the environment and weather suited me much better. So I got my brother to operate my Chem-Dry in Austin, and I found a Chem-Dry location for sale here in Albuquerque that a guy owned and wasn?t doing a lot with. Six months later, my brother decided he had other plans, so I ended up selling that franchise to a guy in Austin and and took off with my one in Albuquerque. That was in ?91.
Q. What sets Chem-Dry apart?
GB: When I read about Chem-Dry in Entrepreneur in the ?80s, what grabbed me was the affordable entry price and the fact that Chem-Dry is unique. The carpet cleaning business was very vanilla, with everybody doing it the same way, and Chem-Dry had a real competitive advantage with the carbonation ? and we still do, and we?re still unique.
KB: What sets us apart is the experience we provide. Our guys are not just paying attention to what the customer is asking but acting as problem-solvers, taking care of their needs and providing it in such a way so that it?s not so cumbersome. Competitors come in, and it feels like bullying. You feel an incredible amount of pressure to do it their way.
GB: Right. Our industry historically has been full of people who use bait-and-switch and intimidation tactics to try and hard-sell their services to people like the little old lady at home in the middle of the day, try to intimidate her into spending her money on an inferior product she may not even need. Chem-Dry has always been about customer service. That?s part of what allied me with Chem-Dry in the first place, because I sensed that about them immediately. There?s always been that underlying honor and integrity. In my company, that?s a mandate. We deal with customers honestly, and we really stand behind our guarantee.
Q. Who makes a good Chem-Dry franchisee?
KB: Someone who?s not afraid to put himself out there. Somebody who has good organizational and resource management skills, someone who knows how to plan and forecast and scale a business in a measured, careful way. It?s not just about creating yourself a job. It?s about creating a business that can be very profitable if you manage it and your employees properly, so someone who has that combination of strong business and organizational skills and people skills can do very well with a Chem-Dry franchise.
Q. How large is the opportunity?
KB: It?s huge. The opportunity is as big as you want it to be, really. We run seven routes a day, and even now the growth potential is there, and it hasn?t been tapped out. We are definitely not the lowest-priced carpet cleaner in town. We position ourselves as high-end. But we go after it all, residential and commercial. We market ourselves as a high-end residential cleaner, but we?re also going to help you with commercial jobs and jobs where there?s transition in properties, that?s big right now with the market the way it is.
Q. Who are your main customers?
KB: A double-income family, both educated, making anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000. They have children. They?re people who are educated, who have nice things and want to keep them nice, so they?re more open to having a professional in their house meeting their needs.
Q. What would you want someone thinking about becoming a franchisee to know?
GB: That the other owners in the system are open and willing to reach out and help anyone who asks for help. There?s a network of people in Chem-Dry?s ownership ranks that?s committed to the success of the individual owner. Chem-Dry has fostered this network of really supportive, helpful people, and it really contributes to the success of the brand. Besides that, there?s a success model in place, and if you follow that process, which is very simple, and reach out to the people who want to help you, you can?t fail at this. Now, you can?t just sit there and wait for the fax machine to go off ? you have to go out and get the business ? but if you follow the program and work hard, you will succeed at this.
Q. Have you ever referred another franchise owner?
GB: Oh, yeah, all the time. There are times when we?re overbooked or have a conflict when we?ll refer someone to one of the other Chem-Dry owners in the area. We?ll refer friends and relatives, too, and longtime customers of ours who are moving. Say somebody is moving from Albuquerque to Dallas, I?ll do some research, pull up their information to see if they?re five-star certified and check their customer reviews, call HR in Logan and see how long they?ve been in business and how satisfied their clients are. If they?re good, I?ll get back in touch with my customer and say, ?Yeah, I don?t know this guy personally, but he checks out as a great franchise owner, you should look him up.? The incentive is simply to drive the brand. I certainly don?t get paid for it. I just want everybody to have a great Chem-Dry experience. And there have been plenty of times when I?ve gotten a call from someone who?s just moved here who said, ?Hey, so-and-so in Reno referred me to you, and I want to stick with Chem-Dry because I was so happy with them back there.? It?s a kind of pay-it-forward thing. We never miss an opportunity to participate, because everyone can contribute to the growth of the brand.
Q. What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn?t before?
KB: Good example: My 15-year-old son broke his leg last week snowboarding, just snapped his femur in half. Right now, Glenn is at the office, doing what he?s doing, and I?m about to go in. I have incredible flexibility because I?ve put in the hard work and diligence to make sure I don?t absolutely need to be there to make sure the phone gets answered. I can show up at work when I want to, even though I still work a full week. I?m at football games, being the concession stand mom, and I?m very active in the lives of our three children.
Q. Is there a misperception about the carpet cleaning industry?
KB: A lot of independents have done that to us. They show up in the truck with some equipment they?ve rented, and they?re just there to pick up some quick cash, whereas we?re very professional: fully uniformed, everyone has a business card, vans are fully marked, they?re clean and beautiful all the time … Some carpet cleaners are scary. Even I think so. Ours look good and smell good. They?re not the scary, sweaty dude with bad breath. We combat that all the time and work really hard to fight the fear of having strangers in your house.
Q. Is Chem-Dry better as a one-unit franchise or a multi-unit franchise?
GB: The great thing about Chem-Dry is that you can be a success doing it any way you want. It just depends on the individual. When I started, I didn?t want to be on the truck, but I started there. It took me a while, but I was finally able to get off the truck, and I could run the business instead of the business running me. Then again, one guy on one truck can do $200,000 a year in revenue and put $65,000, $70,000 of that in his pocket, and that?s a pretty good living without having a boss. But my goal wasn?t to be the one doing the labor. I wanted an empire (laughs), and Chem-Dry afforded me the opportunity to do that.