Chem-Dry Franchise Named Woman-Owned Business of the Year
Indiana Small Business Development Center honors Ann Windell of Ann’s Chem-Dry Carpet, Upholstery & Tile Cleaning
Ann Windell wasn’t looking to become a business owner. Yet, 22 years after starting her Chem-Dry franchise in Southern Indiana, her business has been named Woman-Owned Business of the Year by the Indiana Small Business Development Center. Windell is both honored and humbled by the honor — and she definitely believes in paying it forward. Windell mentors younger women who may be going into business themselves. She also plays an active part in networking and professional organizations for women.
This is her story.
What were you doing before Chem-Dry?
I was working at Texas Instruments as a test technician on radar systems. About two years into my job there, some of my friends bought a Chem-Dry franchise. I started bookkeeping for them part-time to help them out. I knew that I was going to get laid off at TI. My friends at Chem-Dry were able to take me on full-time. I was with them for four years.
How did you become a Chem-Dry owner?
I was a bit homesick in Dallas. After almost 10 years, I was strongly thinking about moving back home. I was able to move back home and I crossed paths with Chem-Dry. I wasn’t looking to become a business owner, but the opportunity was there with Chem-Dry.
My first franchise was in my home territory. It was very rural and I didn’t know if I’d be able to make a living. My next opportunity was in the Louisville, Kentucky, area, which is very metropolitan.
I was the sole employee. During my time in Texas, when I was working full-time for the Chem-Dry franchise I started going out with the crew on weeknights and weekends to learn how to use the equipment. I had the office background, but not the hands-on experience with the equipment. I did that until I moved back home.
For a few months, I got things squared away with having a vehicle and then being ready to clean. I would get my niece to help out with the big jobs. Nine months into the business, I put the word out that I was ready to take on an employee for the bigger days and bigger jobs. My first employee was a stay-at-home mom. Now, I have two vans and three employees.
What sets Chem-Dry apart?
The training really sets Chem-Dry apart from other franchisees. New business owners can go out and get hands-on training. The support among the network from one owner to another, in addition to the support we get from the home office, is awesome.
For the consumer, the cleaning process sets Chem-Dry apart. A lot of new customers find us online and they are attracted by the quick dry time and the green certified cleaning solution. In this day and age, everyone is aware of the chemicals coming into the home.
What kind of person makes a good Chem-Dry franchisee?
I think it’s easier to be a franchisee if you have a head for business. Anybody can learn to clean carpet. The processes are the easy part. You need to crunch the numbers, set up rules with employees and then enforce those rules when necessary.
Is there a misperception about the carpet cleaning industry?
I used to have a videotape of different television segments where there were undercover exposés on the carpet cleaning industries. They showed bait and switch techniques where someone would offer a low price and then it would change drastically later on. That was going on in the industry, so there was definitely that misconception about the industry.
How large is the opportunity for growth?
One of my territories only has two franchises, but there are at least nine available. As far as franchise expansion, there is room for growth.
From a customer perspective, there is definitely room for growth. As some people need less carpet cleaning (for instance, if they have installed tile or hardwood floors), it’s up to us to educate our customers on what else we can do. About three years ago, we acquired the tile and grout cleaning equipment. We also let people know that we clean area rugs and remove stains.
Who are your main customers?
In all three markets, we’re mainly residential. In my rural home base, we have a population of less than 60,000 people. One of those counties is one of the poorest in the state, so it’s slower. Another one of my franchises has a population of approximately 140,000. And finally, Louisville has more than a million people in it. Most of my customers are middle to upper middle class families.
How have you grown? What were the challenges and benefits?
I’ve been very fortunate. When I moved from Dallas, I was able to live at our family farm, so I didn’t have housing expenses that I had to worry about. Since I had been working for Chem-Dry, I knew about the busy times and the slow times. I was able to prepare for that.
I have been able to grow my business by getting the word out. We’re trying to consistently provide good service so that our regular customers have us back in their home. We have a referral program. We reward our customers for telling other people about us. Since 2001, we’ve been giving our customers a folder with a referral coupon they can pass to their friends. When they have a referral that uses the coupon, we reward them with a check. They can use that check for our services.
We’ve also advertised in newspapers and Yellow Pages. Now, we’re moving into a social media presence.
What do you like about the business?
The carpet cleaning part is always enjoyable. We can come into a location that’s totally trashed and make it look really good. That’s a great feeling. There’s a “wow” satisfaction to the job.
My role now is more administrative. The big difference when I got out of the van is that I can do more marketing. I actually have time to think about where I want to market and how. When I hired and trained enough people, I could send the crew out together. Then, I could get out of the van, stay behind and work on marketing. We do postcard mailings to the database we have, which includes repeat business and potential new customers. We also have a newspaper in the Louisville market that publishes residential land transfers. We scour through there to get the names of new homeowners.
I also really enjoy the travel aspect to the business. I get to go to annual conventions in cities that I might not have normally visited. There is also flexibility and freedom in taking time off.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
There is definitely the flexibility of time. If there is something that I want to do, I can schedule myself away from work. I would recommend franchise ownership with Chem-Dry to someone who is business minded.
Chem-Dry franchise opportunity
To learn how you can start your own Chem-Dry franchise, and to find out about our business model, our history, and our franchisees, visit our research pages. For even more, fill out a form to download our free franchise report and start a conversation, or give us a call at 1-877-392-0272.