Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning Franchise Review: Rob Cochran of Frederick, Md.
Top-performing franchise owner left senior VP post at major bank to start a Chem-Dry cleaning franchise
Rob Cochran, 48, has been one of our top performers since he opened his Chem-Dry business in October 2008 after a 23-year career in banking. Cochran left his senior level job at a major worldwide bank just after the banking industry collapsed. He says the state of the financial services industry was one factor that compelled him to buy a franchise, and another was his desire for the control and direct contact with customers he could achieve with a small business. Cochran met his wife, Karen, when she worked as a bank teller. Karen was a stay-at-home mom for 25 years until Chem-Dry, and now she co-owns and helps run the business from their home. The Cochrans serve clients in two Maryland counties and three in West Virginia, operating two vans. Rob says their business has grown large enough to be able to run three or four vans.
What were you doing before Chem-Dry?
I was a senior vice president at a top three banking institution where I had worked for 13 years. As Karen and I approached empty nester syndrome, we wanted to start a small business. I had two or three small businesses when I was very young ? a small engine repair business and a very small landscaping firm. I didn’t even have a license. Karen?s and my families are nothing but entrepreneurs.
When I left banking, people asked me, ?How can you give up that job security?” Well, what had drawn me to banking in the ?80s was that it was very entrepreneurial and innovative. By the time it matured, really everybody had the same products, and my job amounted to just going around the world to count beans. These last four years, we all know what happened. That’s not why I was there. I needed something where I could make a change that was meaningful and have some customer interaction. I knew we could do it, and if it didn’t work out, I could always go back. Then I found out that the revenue possibilities with Chem-Dry were endless. You only get that chance maybe once in your life. I had 100 percent control. The real reason I left banking for Chem-Dry was the control, the fact that I didn’t need to consult other people to make a decision.
What sets Chem-Dry apart?
What set it apart for me was that there wasn?t a very high cost to get into it. I was taking no more risk than I would?ve by playing the stock market. It gave me confidence that Chem-Dry has a really good product because they have a number of patents and have the highest customer satisfaction in the industry, on top of that the fact that they’re willing to finance it. The other thing is, it’s a flat license fee, not a percentage of sales. I actually looked at Chem-Dry six years ago, along with industries like auto parts, frozen treats, lawn and garden care, and even a couple of restaurants. I was looking for franchise systems with differentiators in the field they were in, a differentiator I could exploit. With Chem-Dry, it’s the drier process with no soap. People accept steam cleaning because that’s what they grew up with, but I knew it was just a matter of explaining the difference to people for them to see how much healthier and more effective Chem-Dry?s process is.
What kind of person makes a good Chem-Dry franchisee?
I think you have to be a self-starter and a little bit of a risk-taker. I’m a risk-taker; look at what I did! You have to be good with people, someone who can be both tactical and strategic. Tactical is the day-to-day: how to deal with customers, the team you need to manage and the services you perform for customers every day. Strategic is, where do I want to be six months, one year, five years from now? It’s not like mom-and-pop carpet cleaning because you?re working with a known brand and industry leader and have all kinds of support. I plan to grow this business over the long term and have a nice retirement nest egg. The fact is that there are a lot of good carpet cleaners, but not a lot of good carpet cleaners are good businesspeople and that?s where the value of being in a leading franchise like Chem-Dry comes into play. They give you a better chance for success.
Is there a misperception about the carpet cleaning industry?
Absolutely. It’s not really viewed as a trade or skill but it is. And the people who do it are not seen as well-educated but that?s a misperception. We have a lot of very savvy, experienced owners who have joined the Chem-Dry network and done very well. It?s true that many of the independent carpet cleaners don?t present themselves as professionals and many of them try to do whatever it takes to maximize each job they have, where it?s about a one-time sale, not repeat business. Chem-Dry franchises are run by smart owners who employ very professional and well-trained technicians, which is why we have the highest customer repeat rate in the industry. That?s one of the big things that sets us apart is our customer loyalty that?s driven by our focus on taking care of the customer.
I show our guys videos on etiquette and appearance, and we focus on listening to and understanding the customer?s needs and then providing outstanding service that exceeds their expectations. I take pride in that, and I try to show our techs how great customer service plus a good attitude means more sales and more commissions for them. It’s in their best interest to look good, act professionally and really delight our customers.
How large is the opportunity?
I blew away my initial business plan, meaning I surpassed my first year projections by about 80 percent. I doubled that my second year, then went up 100 percent again the next year, and now we’re holding steady. My two main competitors just went out of business, so I?m booked up three or four weeks out. For me, the opportunity is limitless, because my competitors in the area where I work do restoration work, tile, hardwood, they have a side cleaning business. They?re into too many things, so they can’t be experts at anything, and I keep everything dead focused on our core business of carpet and upholstery cleaning and stain removal. It?s a decision I made early on. My focus and positioning myself as an expert in my field has helped me simply and better manage my business and allowed me to secure a number of really big carpet cleaning contracts.
Who are your main customers?
I would say females. My wife is a people person, so she answers the phones. Families, too. I would estimate that most of my customers have household income of $100,000 and up. Because Chem-Dry is a superior service, people are willing to pay a little more for it because they know they?re getting a deeper cleaning, faster drying and overall healthier cleaning than they could get elsewhere.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn?t do before?
I think there is a lot of flexibility, but I can’t really say I make my own hours. I could have a lot more flexibility if I wanted to but I like to be in control so I choose to stay very close to and involved in the day to day business. Running the business this way suits me and is how I know I?m reaching or exceeding my long term goals.
Would you recommend this franchise? Why?
Yes, and I have, because you can control your own destiny. If you have the ?get up and go? and the will, then yes. If it’s more important to you to have weekends off or nights, then no. You have to understand all aspects of the business, not just cleaning carpet: scheduling, understanding your costs and business drivers, marketing and its impact, how to measure ROI, and it helps to be at least a little bit mechanically inclined. And people skills because at the end of the day, this is about giving our customers a great experience that no one else can offer. You can’t get anywhere without people skills. With the awareness of the Chem-Dry name, the superior cleaning method, the great training and ongoing support in areas like marketing, it?s been a great decision for me and my family.
Chem-Dry has been helping people start and grow businesses since 1977 and is the world’s largest carpet cleaning franchise. In addition to low startup costs, we offer direct financing, which allows entrepreneurs to bypass banks that are still slow to lend to small businesses. To read about our franchise owners ? both new additions and veteran operators ? check out our blog. Interested in starting a Chem-Dry franchise? Let?s start talking. Fill out the form on this site and download our free franchise information report with detailed information about costs, earnings potential, history, equipment and more, and we’ll be in touch.