Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning Franchise Review: Tim and Tara Outson of Nashville

Couple has garnered Toast of Music City ?best carpet cleaner? award three years running

Tim and Tara Outson started TNT Chem-Dry in Nashville in 2006 after making clean breaks from their careers ? Tim in radio, Tara in medical staffing ? and from Cheyenne, Wyo., a town too cold, small and isolated for their tastes. Tim had an older brother in Nashville, so he and Tara decided to pick up, move to Music City and start their carpet cleaning business. It?s paid off handsomely. TNT Chem-Dry has won three straight ?best carpet cleaner? designations at the annual Toast of Music City awards. Now in their early 40s, they?ve found their niche, which is amazing when you consider what little they had to start with. This interview is with Tim; Tara was recovering from root canal surgery and having trouble talking.

What were you doing before Chem-Dry?
We lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Tara ran an office staffing nurses for hospitals, and I worked in radio. I was program director for a light rock and a rock station. She and I had met in Cheyenne; she?s from New York, and I?m from Nebraska originally. So we?d been there for a few years, and we both were starting to think about other places and career directions. I grew up on a farm and always wanted to be my own boss. I had worked in corporate America for 10 years and didn’t like the direction of my career. It was just the uncertainty of my future in radio, with technology putting jobs in danger. I was kind of at a dead end. I felt like I?d maxed out the opportunity in that market. She wanted a change of scenery and to not have stress of working for someone else.

Tim and Tara Outson with their latest Toast of Music City award.

How did you learn about Chem-Dry?
We began looking at franchises because we knew it?d be pretty risky to start a business from scratch, and we just didn?t have a whole lot of money, so franchising seemed like the safest bet. Truthfully, we didn’t really know what we wanted to do. We did research on some food franchises, Cold Stone Creamery, things like that, but the investment was too high. We were more directed to a service-type industry, something that had financing, low fees and was good with support. We hired a franchise coach, and he told us about Chem-Dry. It didn’t take long to narrow it down, and reality kind of hit quickly because of our lack of capital. Chem-Dry was our choice because of the ease of getting into it, the fixed low franchise fee and in-house financing. We probably wouldn’t have been able to pull it off otherwise.

What sets Chem-Dry apart?
When we were first thinking of getting into the business, carpet cleaning was the last thing I was thinking about doing. But the more we learned about it, the more excited we got, and I was never afraid of physical hard work because I grew up on farm. I got excited about it when we did our training in Logan, Utah, because it was then when I really understood what Chem-Dry was about: the benefits, how we could really provide a good future for ourselves because we knew we had good system behind us. We had an opportunity to make money quickly compared to other franchises, where you spend a lot of money to just get the business started. If you do your marketing, you can start building your customer base rapidly.

What kind of qualities should a good Chem-Dry franchisee have?
A willingness to sacrifice at first, being able to do the work yourself before you hire someone. Also, the motivation to please people on a daily basis, a mentality of excellence, good communication skills and a friendly persona, ’cause that’s what it’s really about. When you go into a customer?s house, you give them the best possible experience so they don’t have a reason to call anyone else. And having good business sense and ambition and dedication, because it really becomes a big part of your life.

Is there a misperception about the carpet cleaning industry?
Yeah, I take the information I get from my clients, the different kinds of stories I hear about bad experiences from other companies, whether it’s a bad cleaning job, shady characters in the home, a bait-and-switch kind of situation. I?ve heard quite a few of those things. So most people are kind of defensive when they hire a carpet cleaning company; they expect to have to be cautious. That gives us an opportunity to showcase what we’re about as a company and the reputation we’ve built in Nashville as very trustworthy, informative, professional carpet cleaners.

TNT Chem-Dry tech Thomas Dover prepares to clean a Nashville client’s upholstery.

How large is the opportunity?
As long as you have the right mindset to do it right, the market is definitely there. People are aware of fly-by-night companies, companies that are just out there to make a quick buck, and people are more likely now to do their homework by going online for customer reviews, which is why I do blog posts informing our customers about the benefits of our services.

Who are your main customers?
Generally the busy family household, middle- to upper middle-class income, people who appreciate and maintain their homes and want things to last a while. The majority of the people making these decisions are the moms. Those are the ones we generally interact with. It gives us a chance to really impress our clients, being well-groomed, well-dressed, educational, with friendly personas. You want to make them feel they’ve made a great decision by choosing us.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn?t do before?
I make a better living, certainly. I can decide when I want to take off and more freedom to decide when instead of having to ask permission. We’re both big football fans ? she’s a New York Giants fan, I’m a Nebraska Cornhuskers fan, and we go to Titans games in the fall. I really enjoy gardening, so having a business and having gotten to the point where we can let other people run some of it, I can end my day early a lot of times, like at 2 in afternoon, and have the rest of the day off. I basically function as the leader of our team of three techs, and I do a lot of the Internet marketing, whereas Tara because of her experience at office management does all that ? the office stuff, payroll, HR, insurance, answering the phone.

Would you recommend this franchise? Why?
Yeah, I would recommend it, mainly because if you want to become a business owner, Chem-Dry provides excellent support and the best tools to be successful. You start out with a real chance of being successful because of the in-house financing, and if you pay attention to the other owners, you can get really good advice. They’re always willing to help you out ? not just corporate Chem-Dry but the other franchise owners.

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