Teamwork Helps Michigan Plumber Become an MVP

Mr. Rooter Franchisee of the Year relies on support network to achieve business success.
Teamwork Helps Michigan Plumber Become an MVP
Mr. Rooter of Mid-Michigan team members include (kneeling, from left) Amanda Sims, Angelina Reniff, Piper Glossip and Brad Sims. Standing (center row, from left) are Brandi Earl, Arianna Sims, Chace Biniecki, Aaron Rogers, Molly LaBelle, Jennifer Whiting and Lucas Walton. Pictured in the back row (from left) are Roger Moore, Dan Biniecki, Robert Jameson, Alain Shannon, James Small, Scott Breedlove and Les Butler.

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On their own, Brad and Amanda Sims operated a small drain cleaning business covering a single county in central Michigan and making just shy of $200,000 a year. As part of the Mr. Rooter family, they’ve grown their business considerably. In 2015, the workload in an expansive 11-county service area brought in $1.6 million of revenue and led to the company being named Mr. Rooter’s Franchisee of the Year.

It wasn’t the first time the company has received such an honor. In 2014, Amanda was named Mr. Rooter’s Woman of the Year, and in its first year as part of the franchise the business was Rookie of the Year. The honors signify the company’s dedication to the Mr. Rooter system, which the Sims say is a big reason for their success.

“Mr. Rooter wants you to succeed, so they’re willing to help you in whatever way they can,” Brad says.

“We followed the system and did our best to not recreate the wheel,” Amanda adds. “Simply doing that has helped us improve where we were in our lives and the business.”

THE EARLY YEARS

In the late 1990s, Brad worked for a Mr. Rooter franchisee in the Detroit area. That experience left a good impression on him. When he was running his own business, Brad’s Drain Cleaning Inc., a few years later and visited the Mr. Rooter booth at the Pumper & Cleaner Expo (now WWETT Show), it didn’t take long for him to decide to go the franchise route.

“I always thought it was a good concept and seemed to be really smoothly run,” Brad says. “All the technicians were clean and well dressed. It just looked like something you could do really well with. We started talking to them, one thing led to another, and a couple years later we were signed up under Mr. Rooter.”

As Brad’s Drain Cleaning from 2003 to 2007, the business was a one-truck operation that specialized in only drain cleaning for Mecosta County and did about $180,000 in annual revenue. During the first year as a Mr. Rooter franchisee, the company expanded its plumbing services beyond just drain cleaning and did twice that amount in revenue. The growth continued from there. The company now has 13 employees and eight vans on the road daily in an 11-county service area that encompasses most of central Michigan. The best single year revenue-wise has been $1.7 million.

“There is no way we could have grown like that without the Mr. Rooter name,” Brad says. “Everyone knows it and they just flock to it.”

THE BENEFITS OF FRANCHISING

The nationwide marketing power of Mr. Rooter has helped, but it’s the other types of support the company has received through the franchise system that have really aided the growth, Brad says.

“When I was Brad’s Drain Cleaning, I was pretty much tapped out,” he says. “I could do the work really well, but the business side was totally new to me. I had no idea how to go about it. I didn’t come from a business background and none of my family had either. With Mr. Rooter, I just started running what they already knew, and they knew a lot. And I also started talking to a lot of other Mr. Rooter franchisees. They had a lot of information and were very willing to help.”

Amanda says the most valuable part of being involved in a franchise system is those networking opportunities with fellow Mr. Rooter businesses.

“There’s always someone out there who has either been down the same road you’re on or is currently on the same road. You always have someone you can network with and bounce ideas off of,” she says. “That’s one of the best things we’ve received out of the franchise system — being able to spend time with other people doing the same thing we are and actually talk about it. You can’t do that with your competition.”

The Sims attend regional and national conferences where they meet other members of the Mr. Rooter family, who remain just a phone call away. The Sims did exactly that when they needed to hire a new master plumber. Unsure how to begin, they reached out to their fellow franchisees and ended up receiving good advice from a Mr. Rooter out of Pennsylvania.

“He pointed me in the right direction and told me pretty much how to do it,” Amanda says.

TRAINING THE MR. ROOTER WAY

In addition to the substantial support system, Amanda says being a Mr. Rooter franchisee is largely about training. From how the office staff answers the phone to how technicians enter a customer’s home, there’s a system in place.

“When we bring a new person on board, if they’re a technician then they’re training with another technician. If they’re office staff, they train in the office,” Amanda says. “We train them until they’re comfortable being on their own. We spend a lot of time in the very beginning just working with them on how to follow our systems. I do a lot of flowcharts and they get a binder with all that information and everything else they need to know.”

When the Sims started with Mr. Rooter they were assigned a franchise consultant who coached them in the Mr. Rooter methodology. That remains available to them to this day.

“We talk at least on a monthly basis and sometimes more than that,” Amanda says. “There’s a site visit every year and then at conferences we always spend a little time together. They’re always there if you’re having an issue or need help finding training opportunities.”

Mr. Rooter supports various training seminars where owners and employees of franchisees can come together to continue their education. A business can travel offsite for a seminar or bring the training to them. The Sims hosted their first such three-day seminar in September.

“It was called Advanced Customer Experience training,” Amanda says. “It was focused on the technicians, but also the owners to teach them how to go back and train their own people. And then on the last day we did training on the latest software we’re using. A lot of the training is about creating a good customer experience.”

The Sims say they would encourage anyone to go the franchise route.

“If you want to expand, meet more people who do what you do, and have literally hundreds of other businesses out there available to help you, there’s only one way to do it,” Brad says.

Adds Amanda, “I would suggest investigating your franchise first to make sure it’s going to benefit you. If you’re not aligned with the values and the systems they have, then it’s not going to work. But if you are aligned, there’s a definite benefit.”

CHALLENGES REMAIN

Although Mr. Rooter’s time-tested systems have ensured success for the Sims, there have still been challenges to overcome. One is finding qualified plumbing technicians.

“We now have eight vans on the road on a daily basis and could probably do more, but you need a trained technician in the van,” Brad says. “It’s not easy finding good, qualified people who want to work in the trades.”

That’s why the company doesn’t always rely on experience when making a new hire. Amanda says taking precedence is a simple desire to work with your hands and a personality that is at least somewhat outgoing. From there, training can fill in any experience gaps.

“The experience is kind of an added bonus,” she says. “And we’re a family-oriented business, so if you have a family, we look for that too. We know that if you have a family, you’re probably going to have values in line with what we are looking for.”

Another top challenge is specific to the company’s central Michigan service area. Because the territory is so expansive, technicians often have lengthy drives between jobs. Compounding the problem is only three counties in the 11-county area have supply warehouses. The solution is to keep the vans as well stocked as possible.

“Other companies in a big city area may only have to drive 10 or 15 minutes to the next job. Most of our drivers are taking 30 to 45 minutes, if not two hours, to get to the next job,” Amanda says. “It really enforces that the guys have everything they need with them.”

“We can probably do about 90 percent of what we need to do at a house with what we keep in stock on the vans,” Brad adds.

The company maintains a fleet of eight GMC vans. Each van contains a jetter (Easy-Kleen), an inspection camera (mostly RIDGID and Hathorn), two types of Spartan drain cleaning machines, a variety of different pipe and fittings, an array of hand tools, and various other items that may be needed like sump pumps, toilet floats and check valves.

Gauging what equipment and materials to keep on the vans has been a trial-and-error process, Brad says. Over the years the company has determined what is most often used for its service area, although there are still times when a job can’t be completed on a single visit.

“It’s hit and miss, but we try to stock what we use on a daily basis,” he says. “About the only thing we don’t keep on the vans are toilets and faucets because there are too many different options for the customer.”

In that situation, someone at the home office in Mount Pleasant will deliver what is needed if the technician is in an area without a supply warehouse. Otherwise an appointment for the next day is set up for the customer.

THE FUTURE

Looking ahead, the Sims have a fairly precise plan for their plumbing business. In 12 years they’re going to call it quits and move on to a new endeavor. They’re going to invest in some real estate, something they’ve already started doing with a laundromat and a few storage units. Again, they point to the franchise system as the reason they’re able to devise such a long-term master plan. Would they be in a similar position had they continued as Brad’s Drain Cleaning?

“Not to the extent we are now,” Amanda says.

“We’ll just keep applying the Mr. Rooter system,” Brad adds. “That will help us do what we need to do.”


Executing the Mr. Rooter model

When Brad and Amanda Sims were operating as Brad’s Drain Cleaning a decade ago, they charged between $125 and $150 to clean a line. Now, as a Mr. Rooter franchisee, they charge between $250 and $300 for the same job. There’s no big secret to the change in pricing strategy. Under Mr. Rooter, they just finally learned the right way to price services, Brad says.

“We actually know what we need to be at to be profitable,” he says. “Before we were a franchisee, we just kind of guessed at what we should be at. We had no idea how to properly calculate it. Mr. Rooter actually has a price calculator. You put your costs in and it tells you what you need to have price-wise. It’s not a huge profit, it’s more moderate, but it shows you how to best calculate those numbers. If you’re losing money on a certain task, it also shows you if you’re underpriced for your area.”

Pricing is among the operational changes that have benefited the company since making the move to a franchise system. Before joining Mr. Rooter, the Sims relied on QuickBooks and paper and pencil. Now they use ServiceTitan software to better organize their scheduling and bookkeeping. As Brad’s Drain Cleaning, they didn’t give much thought to how the phone was answered. Under Mr. Rooter they’ve been trained on a different approach for that first customer contact.

“Before, we just answered the phone with the name of our company, got their information, and hung up,” Amanda says. “Mr. Rooter helped us improve those soft skills so when we answer the phone we can try to be more empathetic about the situation, make the customer feel better, and set up some expectations for them about what’s going to happen when a technician comes out.”

When a technician arrives, there’s a 14-step approach centered on creating a good experience for the customer.

“It’s all about working your way into actually doing the work,” Amanda says. “We don’t charge anything to come out. We come out, assess the situation, and then give the customer a price before we do any work. That way we’re able to look at the situation, see what’s going on, and be professional about it rather than just giving them some price over the phone that may not end up being right.”

Not long into their tenure as a franchisee, the recession hit. Amanda says it helped to have the Mr. Rooter model in place.

“It gave us something to hold on to,” she says. “We had a system and we knew if we followed the system we’d be OK.”



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