David McKinnon on answering when opportunity knocks

David McKinnon

David McKinnon, co-founder, chairman and CEO, Service Brands International

During my 30-plus-year entrepreneurial business career, I’ve learned that great opportunities never come at the so-called “right time.”

In 1983, I owned a successful business in Toronto when the chance to acquire the franchise rights for Molly Maid in the United States became available. My family and my wife’s family lived in Toronto, and our business was going well. The idea of selling our growing business, moving to the U.S., and betting on Molly Maid wasn’t popular with most, including my family.

Even though I knew that I could have been quite happy with the status quo, my God-given entrepreneurial instincts told me that bringing Molly Maid to the U.S. had more potential than anything I had contemplated yet. I felt I just had to do it.

With decades of experience regarding new opportunities, I look back at lessons learned and know that with any risk there’s always a price to pay. In my case, it has meant following my gut instinct and leaving something secure and predictable for something I knew had potential to be even better.

In 1984, the choice to stay in Canada and continue to grow my former company would have been easy. That choice, however, would have left me wondering what could have been, and having regrets was not the way I wanted to live. Somehow, I convinced my wife to relocate our family four hours away to Ann Arbor, Mich., and chase our dream, which has been better than anything we even imagined at that time. Looking back, I realize that move defined me as an entrepreneur and not as a businessman. An entrepreneur is a person who will take the opportunities presented, and the businessperson will stay and continue to run his or her business.

In 1998, we added 1-800-DryClean to our business holdings and then the opportunity to add the Mr. Handyman brand presented itself. We were busy and overstretched, and it seemed like the worst time to get involved in another business, though I’m thankful we did. Opportunity and timing are typically at odds with one another, and despite the many reasons not to, we brought on Mr. Handyman and it has consistently dominated the home repair and maintenance industry. Service Brands International has even added a fourth franchise business, ProTect Painters, which is growing nicely. We are still based in Ann Arbor, and have successfully launched, built and subsequently divested other brands as well.

To this day, I continue to be amazed at how an outsider — though it needs to be the right observer — can often see things that an insider doesn’t see. That’s why we use a board of advisers to help us see what we might be missing. If you are not using a board of advisers, financial advisers, nonprofit experts, etc., in your business or even in your life, I couldn’t recommend anything better for helping you create a better future than you could on your own.

As I reflect on more than 30 years as an entrepreneur, I believe the secret is that good opportunities find you, not the other way around. You can’t wake up one morning and say you’re going to go out and find an opportunity — it just doesn’t happen that way. If you are a true entrepreneur, you have to live your life, which is full with family, friends and business, but still remain willing to choose and accept the right opportunities when your gut tells you it’s good — no matter how bad you think the timing may be. That’s because good opportunities never come at what you think is the right time. 

David McKinnon is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean and ProTect Painters. For more information, visit www.servicebrands.com.