Chem-Dry Cleaning Franchise Review: Q&A with Asa and Tish Johnson
Former retail store manager, radio advertising executive, talk about their Chem-Dry cleaning franchise.
Husband and wife team Asa and Tish Johnson are the proud owners of AJ Chem-Dry in High Point, North Carolina. With backgrounds in retail and corporate marketing, Asa and Tish brought a lot of insight to their business and have enjoyed working together to make their cleaning franchise grow. Recently, during our Annual Convention in Las Vegas, we sat down with Asa and Tish to get their take on what it means to be a Chem-Dry franchisee.
What were you doing before Chem-Dry?
Asa: I was in retail management for 13 years or so and decided to look at other opportunities for my life — because I decided that I wanted to have one! That’s what brought me to Chem-Dry: the freedom of setting your own schedule and having a life outside of work.
Tish: I am a manager for six radio stations in the area that we live in. I take care of and manage the offices and also do a lot of marketing.
How did you find out about Chem-Dry?
Asa: I had a friend that was in the business, and I worked with him a couple of times on bigger jobs. He eventually left the area and sold his business. I was looking for other options and felt so confined that I thought it was as good a time as any to join Chem-Dry.
Were you and Tish married when you started your business?
Asa: No, but she is definitely the best addition I’ve made to our team! She knows about marketing and how to reach your demographic, so she plays a key role in planning and executing marketing campaigns.
Tish: We got married on September 20, 2013, and actually met from doing some business together.
How is it to be both business partners and husband and wife?
Tish: Well, I still work in corporate America, which is great because I can bring that knowledge home to AJ Chem-Dry. Working together doesn’t cause any added or unnecessary tension between us.
Asa: And it’s been good for both of us. We feel confident investing our money and time in Chem-Dry; we get to collaborate and build this thing together.
How is Chem-Dry different from your previous professional experience? How do you use those skills to better your business now?
Asa: It’s like everybody says, you need to experience working in the food and retail industries. You get a better appreciation for the stores you walk in. In retail, I was salaried, so I spent a lot of my life in those places trying to make them better for our customers. At the corporate level, it’s hard to be appreciated for all that you do because they’re looking at the big picture. It was just time for me to move on from that. Chem-Dry has allowed me to run my own business and make my own schedule. I have the life that I wanted, but my retail experience has given me a lot of advantages as a franchisee. I know a lot about customer service and how to sell a product. I don’t know everything and I have a lot to learn, but it was a springboard to boost me out a little faster than some others. Chem-Dry has provided us with a good life so far, and I hope it will be even better in the years to come.
Tish: Well, prior to being the business manager at the radio station I was as a sales rep for 11 years, so I am familiar with marketing demographics and how to target an audience. That’s a lot of what I still do in my job at the radio station. I have done on-air advertising, so during that time, I was selling an intangible product, which was really hard to do. People couldn’t see or touch it, so it was challenging to get them to buy it. I have been able to bring those sales skills to the business and give him lots of advice on how to interact with his customers.
Tish, how do you balance your day job with Chem-Dry?
Well, I spend a lot of time at work. I’m not on the job sites all the time, but I’ll help him if he needs it. I finish at the station, put on my Chem-Dry polo and head to my “second job”!
What sets Chem-Dry apart as a business opportunity?
Tish: Chem-Dry is a well-established brand in our market. Before I knew him, I knew about Chem-Dry. This is different from other franchise opportunities. We are able to have our own identity and still get the great support from Harris Research. AJ Chem-Dry is who we are and how we market ourselves in our area, and we offer a service that no one else can. The hot carbonating extraction cleaning method blows my mind. I can’t believe you can actually drink the solution, and it is so effective in getting up the worst stains that you can imagine. I have seen it in action and am always impressed. There have been a few times that we’ve walked in to a job and I’ve thought, “Can we really get all this out?” and we can.
Asa: For me, it’s about offering our customers a drier, cleaner, and healthier home. Promising members of the community that we use effective, green cleaning products is the major focus of my marketing campaigns. I also love the franchise family. I know I can come to Convention every year and see other franchise owners I’ve gotten to know. I get the most benefit from bouncing ideas off of them, and everyone is so helpful. They’re quick to share what worked for them or what didn’t and why. It’s a great group of people.
What do you like about Chem-Dry?
Asa: A lot of things. Firstly, the cleaning power that we have. We have a great team at corporate headquarters always working to develop new products for us. They’re always going the extra mile and improving products and staying ahead of our competitors. I think it’s a great thing that we are never complacent, and the products we develop are powerful and effective. We can walk into customers’ homes and make a huge difference. In the four years I have owned the business, I have not had a customer that hasn’t been happy and satisfied with the results we’ve given them. It feels great to have a track record like that. Personally, Chem-Dry has allowed me to have a life outside of my job. If I need to take a day off to do something with our church, I can. I can do things without the pressure of having to make things happen every single day.
How large is the opportunity?
Tish: The potential for growth is limitless — it’s all about what you put into it. The harder you work, the more you do, the better customer service you offer, the better the return. All of these things play a major role in your growth potential.
Who are your customers?
Asa: Mostly women between the ages of 35 and 55, or the person who handles most of the cleaning and maintenance in the home.
Are there any misconceptions about the carpet cleaning industry?
Asa: Price. We may be a little on the higher end of the price range, so I have to explain to customers why that is. We aren’t going to do $20 a room. You get those people who come to your house, do poor work and act unprofessionally who will do $20 a room, but they won’t do what we can. You get what you pay for, and we guarantee that we’ll do the best job and offer you a 1- to 2-hour drying time. Those aren’t things you’ll get from another provider. And I make myself available to my customers. I’m there for them in emergencies, and I am on on-site on jobs so I can develop a relationship with them. Anybody can clean carpets once they are taught the process, but Chem-Dry’s goal is helping people in my position succeed.
Tish: Another misconception comes from our name. Customers automatically think “Chem” stands for “chemicals,” so we have to explain that it’s short for “Chemistry,” because that’s how all of our products are developed.
Asa: Yeah, we have to educate our customers. We tell them we are not using harsh chemicals on your carpet, but green, healthy products. They’ll put us to the side unless they know, but once we’ve educated them and they’ve seen what we can do, we ask for customer referrals. They can explain the process to their friends and family because they got to see it in action.
What are your biggest challenges?
Asa: When I first started, I took a step back and asked myself, “How am I going to get a piece of the pie when there are 100 carpet cleaners already in our area?” I was going up against a lot, so I had to set myself apart and make a name for myself. I joined networking groups, started going door-to-door and leaving cards. I tried all different to avenues to build awareness, and then it was all about finding and marketing to my customers. You have to be willing to try a lot of avenues. Some are going to work and some are not, but once you figure out what works for you, your sales will start increasing.
I’m still learning, and I’m learning from other franchisees. I pick their brain on why something did or didn’t work for them, and then Tish can help me decide if that’s something that would work in our market. I also followed the HRI model closely until I figured out what worked for me. It was a challenge at first, but once you get established and connect with your customers, you can start to grow.
Tish: Another challenge is that a lot of people expect immediate response (with their marketing tactics), but you have to remember: you are reaching people at different points in the buying cycle. They may not need their carpets cleaned right now, but in six months when they do, they’ll remember AJ Chem-Dry because they keep getting these fliers in the mail.
Would you recommend this franchise?
Both: Absolutely, we definitely would.
Asa: It’s a life change. You have to put in some work, and it’s not an easy road, but it will be rewarding. As long as you do the right things and follow the HRI model, you are going to succeed.
Tish: We can define our own success, and that is freeing.
What advice do you have for someone considering a Chem-Dry franchise?
Asa: My advice to whoever is considering Chem-Dry is do your research and have an understanding of who your demographic is. Have an advertising budget established before you even go into it. You’re going to need some capital to get yourself off the ground. Without the money set aside for marketing, it will be a slow start. Also, choose marketing tactics wisely. It’s important to find the right avenues to get the word out.
Learn more about the Chem-Dry cleaning franchise
Chem-Dry is the world’s largest carpet cleaning franchise with more than 3,500 locations that serve 10,000 homes a day. It is Entrepreneur magazine’s top-rated carpet cleaning franchise and one of its Top 10 choices for low-cost and home-based franchises. Our hot carbonating extraction process delivers a faster-drying, deeper, healthier clean that appeals to homeowners and business owners — and the process can be used to clean tile and stone, upholstery and other surfaces besides carpet.