Looking for a Career Change? Signing on With Franchise Provides the Help

Franchise ownership provides Houston entrepreneur an opportunity to get three businesses started quickly with proven methods.

Looking for a Career Change? Signing on With Franchise Provides the Help

Mr. Rooter of Houston service technician Steven Smith, front, talks about a sewer line with service manager and master plumber Jonathan LeBron, at a home in the Heights neighborhood in Houston. The home was estimated to be around 100 years old, and the line was made from clay pipe.

Rich Vigil never intended to enter the plumbing industry. But faced with a career crossroads several years ago, the entrepreneur did some due diligence, weighed his options and eventually decided that a plumbing franchise would be the path best taken.

Today Vigil, 61, owns three Mr. Rooter Plumbing franchises that stand under the Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Houston business umbrella. Their territories include Houston and surrounding Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties. The franchises turned out to be a great fit for Vigil as he navigates the last phase of his career and his experience with this sometimes polarizing business model offers insights for plumbers who are thinking about buying a franchise.

There are many reasons why Vigil chose to go the franchise route. One chief motivator: investing in the franchises instead of building a company from scratch allowed him to hit the ground running with immediate cash flow. At the same time, it gave him the opportunity to utilize operations skills honed during stints as an executive at several large companies.

In addition, the franchise system provided Vigil with a solid safety net in terms of job security — no small consideration as he watched friends and colleagues his age lose jobs during several of the most recent oil-industry downturns. Those sobering experiences prompted Vigil to ponder his own future as he nears retirement after spending more than 30 years in the industrial, oil and gas industries.

“I started looking at small businesses involved in something I thought I’d enjoy doing,” Vigil says. “We ran across the plumbing franchises and it looked like a good fit for us — the right size and the right purchase price.

“Because I was starting this later in life, I wanted to minimize any business risks. I also wanted a system in place so I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Plus I’m a hands-on kind of person and enjoy working with my hands, so the plumbing industry seemed like a good fit.”

PROVEN TRACK RECORD

Vigil and his wife, Dannet, invested in the franchises in August 2019. (Mr. Rooter Plumbing is one of 28 home-service franchise brands owned by Texas-based Neighborly company.) What made him think he could succeed with no plumbing experience?

“I have a lot of experience managing teams, so I wasn’t too worried about the business side of things,” he says, “but I also have an apprentice card and plan to become a master plumber so I can hold my own business plumbing license.”

One of the appeals of the Mr. Rooter franchises was the brand’s solid reputation in the industry. Another plus factor: The franchises use ServiceTitan, a cloud-based business-management system that does everything from revenue reports and digital invoicing to monitoring the return on investment for marketing campaigns and dispatching/job scheduling.

“ServiceTitan provides you with proven business processes that are fairly easy to learn,” he explains. “Having that system already in place was instrumental to our decision.”

Furthermore, the Vigils also were swayed by the company’s code of values and an established customer-service process for technicians called the 14 Steps. This system helps ensure quality of work in much the same way that some well-known fast-food chains maintain consistency of products and services across thousands of stores nationwide.

“The code of values struck close to our hearts,” he notes. “And the 14 Steps explain how technicians operate from the time they arrive at a customer’s home or business to when they finish. It provides great guidelines and obviously was already successful because it’s been around for quite some time.”

ONE STEP AT A TIME

The 14 Steps provide detailed guidelines for handling service calls. They instruct technicians on a wide range of items, including where to park (in the street, not on a driveway); where to walk (on sidewalks, not on lawns); how to greet and break the ice with customers; wearing shoe coverings; putting down tarps and towels in work areas; providing a thorough diagnosis of a problem; and providing a price for a job before work begins.

“It serves an internal purpose, too,” Vigil says. “It puts all employees on the same level. When we hire new people, we can hand them the 14 Steps, which helps them develop sound work habits. Nothing but good comes out of developing good habits.”

The company’s code of values essentially centers on the old golden rule, which advises people to treat others the way they’d want to be treated. More specifically, the values center on four main categories: respect, integrity, customer focus and having fun in the process.

“I simplify it by telling people that if they do the right thing, they never have to worry about the outcome,” he says.

How does Vigil make what’s often a dry and forgettable document actually live and breathe? The values are read at the start of every weekly training meeting and Vigil makes a point of citing examples of their value, based on technicians’ actual experiences whenever possible.

“I try to pick out something that happened recently with a customer or a technician to show how these values are applied in real life,” he says.

For example, at a recent weekly meeting, Vigil cited a complaint from a dissatisfied customer to illustrate the value of respect, which includes acknowledging that everyone is right from their own perspective.

“The customer said the work area wasn’t left as clean as it could’ve been,” Vigil explains. “The response from the technician was, ‘He’s always a difficult customer, and I left the area just like I found it.’”

He continues. “That provided a teachable moment. We talked about how we want to do better than that — how we should clean up an area beyond customers’ expectations and convert them from ‘difficult’ customers to great customers.”

EQUIPMENT COUNTS, TOO

Along with consistent customers processes, good equipment is essential to providing great customer service. To that end, the company owns about two dozen drain-cleaning machines, mostly manufactured by Gorlitz Sewer & Drain, with a few more made by Spartan Tool.

The franchises also rely on two water jetters: One trailer mounted Model 4018 made by U.S. Jetting (4,000 psi at 18 gpm) and a Brute jetter built by Jetters Northwest (4,000 psi at 9 gpm) and mounted in a Chevrolet Express service van.

In addition, Vigil has invested in 15 RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline-inspection cameras, two RIDGID NaviTrak Scout pipe locators and 12 service vehicles: five Chevrolet Express vans, three Ford Transits and four Nissan NV 2500s.

Technicians generally use Milwaukee Tool power tools, Vigil says.

SO FAR, SO GOOD

When Vigil first bought the franchise, he heard that it wouldn’t be unusual to lose half of the employees. But no employees resigned, which gave him confidence that things were moving in the right direction.

Over the years, low turnover rates underscore the importance of creating and maintaining a supportive corporate culture, he notes.

“We emphasize transparency and communication,” he says. “I have an open-door policy and I try to talk to all of our employees every day — take the pulse of the company. Maintaining a great environment is an ongoing challenge, along with continually improving our processes and making sure we get a good return on the money we spend on things like equipment and advertising.”

Of course, there are times that employees leave the company for various reasons. Vigil says he recently lost three technicians, two who moved out of the area and one who decided to make a career change — but no one left because they didn’t like the company.

“If people leave for those kinds of reasons, then we’re doing something right,” Vigil says.

When the company needs to find more employees, a referral-bonus program — in which employees get $500 if someone they recommend for a job gets hired and stays on for at least six months — is helpful.

“I’ve always felt that if you have a good organization, a good environment, a good reputation and good employees, your employees will be your best recruiters,” he says. “And that’s how it’s been working here.” In fact, three apprentices hired within the last year were referred by one employee, he notes.

“We even had two ex-employees that left the company under the prior ownership come back and we’re happy to have them on board,” Vigil adds.

GROWTH POTENTIAL

As Vigil looks back on his decision to invest in the franchises, he says he has no regrets. He finds the work gratifying, challenging and interesting, especially aspects such as team building and employees’ professional development.

“I like running a good team and helping people grow,” he explains. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. I always say that if you’re doing a job you like, it doesn’t feel like work. And this doesn’t feel like work to me.

He adds, “I also like working for myself. I haven’t had a boss this good for a long time, even if he is pretty demanding.”

Looking ahead, Vigil sees room for growth.

“This franchise once was more than twice its current size,” he points out. “So I know there’s a good opportunity to be at least twice as big as we are now. So that’s my goal for the next three years.” 



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