Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning Franchise Review: Ruth Backhaus of Hartford, Conn.

Former IT pro gets off to great start with world?s premier carpet cleaning franchise

Ruth Backhaus opened Charter Oak Chem-Dry in Hartford, Conn., Oct. 1.

Ruth Backhaus opened Charter Oak Chem-Dry in Hartford, Conn., Oct. 1.

Ruth Backhaus, 50, was looking for a small business opportunity after her corporate job dissolved, and Chem-Dry?s now 25-year presence on Entrepreneur?s Franchise 500 list and positive reviews from customers and other franchisees made her look Chem-Dry?s way. Since opening Charter Oak Chem-Dry in Hartford, Conn., Oct. 1, she?s surpassed her own sales goals and built the foundation of a solid customer base.

What were you doing before Chem-Dry?

I spent the last 15 years doing IT work for major corporations, most recently The Hartford, where I was an operations analyst for nine years, and before that MassMutual. Before that, I was a library director back when the earth was still cooling [laughs], from the late ’80s to mid-’90s. They restructured at The Hartford back in March, so I had to make a decision whether to stay in the field or change careers and do something completely different. I was looking for work in my field, and it became apparent I wasn’t going to get back into my field at a comparable salary, so I began looking at franchises, figuring I could leverage the cash I had and start a business for myself.

Then in May, I was reading Entrepreneur magazine, their Top 500 Franchises issue, and I saw Chem-Dry mentioned a number of times. I did some research on some IT franchises, food services franchises, but I kept coming back to Chem-Dry because of the great reviews they got from other businesses and franchisees ? the infrastructure, their longevity as a company, their infrastructure for supporting franchisees, training, marketing, branding. They really have it tied together. I?ve been in business for myself before, and I know what it’s like to do work, advertise the work and run the business.

What sets Chem-Dry apart?

In looking at various franchises and small business opportunities, Chem-Dry has consistently gotten top ratings from Entrepreneur, a publication I respect, and customer reviews I found online were consistently positive. I find it provides the best balance between a franchise and a startup small business, where it’s not a cookie-cutter business, but you have more robust support from the franchise system than an independent or other franchises would. It strikes a good balance between franchisor oversight and flexibility for the business owner. For example, they devise the logo and marketing materials for me, but I get to decide how to use them.

What qualities does a good Chem-Dry franchisee have?

Charlie Erickson, Chem-Dry's QuickStart coach, helps first-year franchise owners develop long-range business plans and other keys to successful businesses.

Charlie Erickson, Chem-Dry’s QuickStart coach, helps first-year franchise owners develop long-range business plans and other keys to successful businesses.

You need to be good with people. Whether you?re out there cleaning carpets or meeting business owners to network or individuals who want the carpet in their homes cleaned, you have to have a certain warmth in dealing with people. Also, you have to have the big picture of the business, to not just be thinking about today but five to 10 years ahead, so when you run into some lean times, you?re not going into panic because business is down in a slow season. Harris Research is very good about that. In your pre-training packet, they include information on how to sketch out a five-year plan, plus they have online courses on setting up marketing plans. Then at training, I had the opportunity to show Charlie (Erickson, the company?s coach for first-year franchisees) my plan and ask, ?Is this realistic?,? and he offered advice that was tremendously helpful.

Is there a misperception about the carpet cleaning industry?

I think many people are fuzzy on what carpet care involves. The average consumer probably thinks of the carpet cleaning industry as a confusing array of options ? shampoo, steam cleaners, all that ? and people may try to save money by going with the cheapest option, and they end up making the problem worse. Most people don’t understand the technology of dirt, for lack of a better term, and what chemistry actually gets carpet clean.

One of the things I like about Chem-Dry is its emphasis on problem-solving and communicating that to the customer. We’re not just coming in to clean your carpet. We have the ability to explain carpet care and what you have to do and how Chem-Dry can be part of that, and that represents an opportunity to build a long-term relationship, because we’re the ones they turn to when they need help. It may sound corny, but that’s really what happens. I?ve talked to many a customer who?s still angry about the last carpet cleaner who came to the house. They did a bad job, or it was a hit-and-run job, so they?re viewing me with some skepticism at first. And then you show how professional you are, that you?re not just there to clean the carpet, that you genuinely care and want the job to turn out right, which, with Chem-Dry?s products, it invariably does. Then you?re friends by the time you leave. For me, that makes for a good day at work.

How large is the opportunity?

To me, it looks limitless, when you?re talking about the amount of carpet and upholstery fabric there is to be cleaned in this country. People ask me sometimes whether I?m taking a chance by starting a business in a bad economy, and I tell them, ?Well, this is the kind of business that can succeed, because in these days, people are cleaning their things rather than replacing them. So even in a bad economy, we’re still cooking.? Plus, carpet isn’t the only thing we clean. We clean upholstery, wood, tile and stone. It’s a very flexible, versatile type of business.

Who are your main customers?

They?re primarily women, mainly between 34 and 70. Most of them have children or grandchildren who spent time in the home. Most of them have pets, mid-range income. Most are homeowners. We?ve had a few rentals, but they?re mainly people with the responsibility for upkeep of the house. Usually, when it comes down to brass tacks, it?s people who have more money than free time and need somebody to help them out, and they?re looking for a quality product ? not necessarily the cheapest price, but the best product and results.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn?t do before?

We have a collection of rescue animals, four dogs and a cat, and a couple of them are physically handicapped. It helps to be able to, even if I’m not home all the time, to be able to check on them and let them out, things like that.

Would you recommend this franchise? Why?

Yeah, I have already recommended it to a couple of people. The opportunity is particularly good in the eastern part of the country, where Harris Research is trying to build out. The training and support are head and shoulders above any other similarly priced franchise. In a perfect world, I might want to open a Subway or Dunkin? Donuts; I’m a customer, I like the business model, but I can’t afford ’em. Chem-Dry is not as big a name, but they’re international, with lots of national and international accounts, so there’s credibility there. And the product just works. I wouldn’t be part of something I didn’t believe in, and we’re amazed all the time when we go to houses to watch the product at work. Those factors combined really make it a good choice.

Learn more

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.

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