Chem-Dry Franchise Review: Shelly Browne of Kennesaw, Ga.
She was a customer and employee before deciding to buy a Chem-Dry franchise
Shelly Browne and her husband, John, were doing well enough in suburban Atlanta until John, a contractor, suffered a neck injury that curtailed his ability to work manual labor at a time when the market was beginning to suffer. Shelly, a freelance writer who homeschooled her children, was looking for a business they both could run from home and provide a more stable income. In 2004, her neighbors put their All-Star Chem-Dry franchise up for sale, and she and John jumped at the chance to become franchise owners and own a Chem-Dry franchise.
What were you doing before you owned a Chem-Dry franchise?
John had a concrete contracting business that served homeowners and construction firms and did specialty concrete installations ? patios, driveways, sidewalks. He?d done this for 24 years. I was homeschooling and ran a soccer league for homeschooled children and did some freelance writing. Then when John was in that accident and hurt his neck around 2000, he had tremendous headaches and pain because he had to work upside down so much, and he just wasn’t getting enough work. It was really just becoming not enough for our family to live on. We just thought it was time maybe to have something less strenuous. Our family needed something we could count on.
How did you learn about the Chem-Dry franchise opportunity?
We moved to Atlanta in 1986 from Tulsa, Okla. About six months in, one day, our 18-month-old son, Jesse, spilled some milk on the carpet. I had met a lady named Robyn Smith at church, and I knew she did carpet cleaning, so I thought I’d just ask her for advice. I went to her office, and she handed me a can of Chem-Dry spot remover and said, ?you need this.? It worked great! I always made sure I used Chem-Dry from then on, about once a year.
A few years later, I started working for Robyn?s brother, Paul Smith, who had bought a Chem-Dry franchise with his wife. I set up call forwarding and answered Paul?s phones from home, which worked great for me as a stay-at-home mom, and I really got to enjoy helping people solve their problems. I worked for Paul for about three years. During that time ? it must have been fate or something; I was surrounded by Chem-Dry people ? my next-door neighbors needed some money to buy their own Chem-Dry franchise, and I loaned them $850. This was around 1991.
For the next decade or so, I was just a very happy customer until one day I called to get my carpet cleaned and they mentioned they were selling the franchise. I immediately thought, ?We should buy that.?
What sets a Chem-Dry franchise apart?
I feel like it’s got a fairly low entry cost. Especially with the new ownership, we get a lot of support from the franchisor. They give us a lot of tools, like marketing materials, and a lot of freedom to use those materials ? within a framework, of course. Recently, for example, they gave us some fall-themed materials, postcards and photos, that are very helpful to someone who might not otherwise be able to afford top-of-the-line stuff. What’s been very helpful to me, too, is being able to contact other franchise owners and get their insight on how to run the business.
I may be biased, but I feel we have the best process, the best solution, plus a well-respected national brand. For me, being a chemical-sensitive person, if it’s safe for me and my children, it’s safe enough for anybody.
What qualities must a good Chem-Dry franchise owner have?
They need an element of curiosity to think outside the box; and really good people skills to be able to solve problems and work with customers, corporate and other owners. The day is going to come when you need people to help you. There?ve been times when I?ve had to run the business by myself when John was doing something else, and I?ve had other owners who’ve dropped what they’re doing and driven across Atlanta to help me clean a carpet. I’ve worked really hard to develop good relationships with other owners, so there are times when I can?t handle a job, and instead of saying, ?I can’t help with that,? I can refer the job to another Chem-Dry owner.
Is there a misperception about the carpet cleaning industry?
People don’t realize there is an ethical carpet cleaning option that really works. There’s been an awful lot of customer abuse going on in this industry: a lot of bait-and-switch tactics, a lot of pressure to upsell. Chem-Dry has the potential to get a lot of customers who don’t want to be taken for a ride.
How large is the opportunity?
It?s generally very big, although how big of course depends on the market. People should spend a lot of time talking to other owners before they decide. But ultimately, most people have something we can clean.
Who are your main customers?
I would say mainly people aged 40 to 65, people who like to have things really clean … middle-class. Although we have a lot of people who’ve been long-time customers who are elderly and mixed income. We serve everybody. We don’t just focus on one type of client.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn?t do before?
Being a business owner in respected business, I can be part of the local business association and get involved in community efforts. I?m able to work from home and home-school my child; I?ve got one left who I’m home-schooling. I?ve got a home office in back that John built for me. It’s great, because I can keep my family life and not have to spend for an extra location. Overall, it’s been pretty good.
Would you recommend this franchise? Why?
We feel it’s a great opportunity. I think it has tremendous potential, especially with new ownership. I see that the new management team is listening to us, they?re responsive to our concerns and offering more support, and we?re seeing some new online lead generation and new systems. I worked hard when Home Depot owned us to take advantage of every opportunity, but knew it wouldn’t last forever … I’m happy with the new direction. This is an owner who’s focusing on us and our businesses, and I’m sure he wants us to succeed because that builds the whole network.
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