Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein
Dina Dwyer-Owens has led The Dwyer Group Inc. as chairwoman and CEO since 2007 and has guided service brands — including the iconic Rainbow International nameplate— to impressive growth during tough economic times.
The company, founded in 1981 by her father, Don Dwyer Sr., operates six other franchise businesses as well that provide cleaning, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, landscaping, appliance repair, glass repair, and related services through 1,600 franchises in nine countries.
Dwyer-Owens has worked for the Waco, Texas-based company since its inception. She recently talked with Smart Business about how she grew up in the company and how she has propelled The Dwyer Group’s franchises over the past six years to success in a sluggish economy.
Q. What did you do before you came into the company?
A lot of different things. Before The Dwyer Group, my father had his own car wash businesses. So at the age of 13, I was working at his car washes. I pumped gas and sold polish waxes. Then he had restaurants he was thinking of franchising. I worked in the restaurants and did a lot of catering. I worked in a full-service restaurant, and I was the hostess and a waitress. This was all in high school. There are six kids in my family, and we all worked from the time we were 12 or 13.
Q. What made you decide that this was what you were going to do, to rise through the ranks and take over the company?
I wasn’t sure when I first got out of high school. I attended Baylor University. My father wanted me to go to school for networking. He knew education was important. Going to school full-time and working for him full-time, I knew something had to give. It wasn’t fun doing both. I wasn’t getting the best out of either one of them.
I went to him one day and said something has to change. He said why don’t you just take the semester off and come work side by side with me.
I’ll never forget the day a franchisee came up to him at a convention and said, ‘I want to thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me. It has changed my life. Our family is doing things we only dreamt of doing because of this opportunity.’ I listened and thought, wow, I get what he means by his mission statement, which was very clear. Since we were kids, he always told us what his mission was, which was to teach his principles and systems of personal and business success so that all the people he touched could live happy, successful lives.
It’s not just about business success and making a lot of money. It’s what do you want out of your personal life, and how is this business going to help you with that? Working full-time with him for one semester, I learned more than I could have ever learned at school.
Q. What franchise did you work with originally?
It was Rainbow International, our flagship brand. Today it’s a restoration and cleaning company.
Q. How did you decide which opportunity to pursue?
When I worked with my father side-by-side during that semester, I was involved in the real estate division. I was doing stuff with the franchise companies. I was teaching new franchisees how to telemarket. And I traveled the world with my father being an ambassador for the company. He was doing that on purpose. He wanted me to know all of the things he knew.
Then by the mid ’80s, I was running the real estate company. I had a team of 28 people and ran about a million square feet of real estate, and still worked closely with him in the franchising part of the business.
I got involved in franchise sales. I generated a lot of leads. I was the top salesperson in ’83. My father kept me by his side and let me have the freedom to run the real estate division. At the same time, I traveled a lot with him. I loved learning and being part of that. Some of my other siblings weren’t as interested. They preferred to stay home. I spent a lot of time with him.
We went public in ’93. I was on the board of the public company. He started to have me sell off the real estate. He said, “I really need you full-time on the franchise side. Let’s get the real estate sold.” He died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1994, a year after taking the company public.
Q. Did you step in right away then?
Well, I was still selling the real estate division off, and we were building properties in the Cayman Islands. Seven Mile Shops was a property we owned there. I was responsible for leasing it. It was a new business we were building. I wasn’t the right person at the time to step into the CEO-president role.
A brother-in-law of mine who had been in the business since he was 16 really knew the franchise business and the development side better than I did, and he stepped into that role with the support of my sister, me, and a handful of professional management team members that my dad had surrounded himself with. He was very entrepreneurial.
After doing that for four years, I was VP of operations. The board knew it was time for a change. The president at the time was great, but he was a real franchise developer, not the best guy to do the day-to-day business.
They did a little shifting and asked if I would be willing to come in as the acting president and CEO. I was 35 at the time, and I knew there was some risk with the shareholders putting me in charge. I accepted the position of acting president, and got some push-back from some top franchisees that I wasn’t the right person for the job. I said, “Look, I get it. I’m not a plumber. But I don’t need to be. I’m the customer. Who better to run this business than the customer who understands what we should be doing for them?”
I said, “Give me six months, and if I don’t prove myself, I’ll be the first one to step aside and say find someone else.” In six months, the one guy who kind of led the bandwagon saying she’s not the best person became my biggest cheerleader.
Q. How many brands did you have?
We had six at the time. Today we have seven brands, and a software company. We have a buying group which is a wholly owned subsidiary. And we have handful of company-owned stores.
Q. How do you look for opportunities for those brands to expand?
First of all, it goes back to our mission. We’re very clear on how we can help our franchisees achieve the things they want in life, and we make the franchise the vehicle to help them do that. We attract team members who care about the franchisee’s personal success as much as their business success. It goes hand in hand. It’s organic.
Q. Can you give us some details about the investments you’ve made in training?
When you think about the business we’re in, the competency to train is a constant. You have to keep training the franchisees to create success for them. It’s such a big part of what we do. For most of our brands, it’s teaching the business side of the business. We have a lot synergies. We have seven different brands, so we can pool the best of all those brands and bring it into one training program.
We have a training facility in Waco where we do all of our core training. I teach the very first class to all the new franchisees. All of my key team members usually teach a class the first couple days of training. We pool the talent we have, and we can do the same classes for all seven brands, and they then break out to specific things.
Q. What matrixes do you use to measure performance?
The most important matrix is the net promoter score. We have a wonderful system that we have automated where we do the follow-up with the end-user customer on behalf of the franchisee. We will make the call to the customer after the service provider has been there to find out how the service was. It’s a 30-second survey. The most important question is “Would you refer us to a friend or family member?”
The scores range from negative 100 to positive 100. Our franchisees on average score a 74. This is home service. It’s kind of like paying someone to fix your car. Our franchisees are doing a great job taking care of the customer. Some companies are higher, but the average is 74.
Q. Do you put rewards or incentives in place for the franchisees?
You bet. We have what we call our Top Gun club. It represents the franchisees that not only do the most in revenue but fit a handful of criteria: profitability, leadership, and helping other franchisees grow their businesses. There are individual awards too. If you’re awesome at net promoter score or a team member, we will highlight them. The recognition from corporate headquarters means a lot to our franchisees.
How to reach: The Dwyer Group Inc., (800) 490-7501, www.dwyergroup.com
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The Dwyer-Owens File
Chairwoman and CEO
The Dwyer Group Inc.
Education: Baylor University
Dwyer-Owens on communication: I’m taking communicating to a new level now. It’s called connection. It’s one thing to communicate, but it’s another to connect with your franchisees. We have a lot of methods of doing that. The most important method is we have franchise consultants who are really responsible for helping you grow your business and achieve your personal dreams.
Dwyer-Owens on training: We have lots of training events. There’s a lot of best-practice sharing. We have a leadership summit where we go away for four days every year. We bring the top folks from all seven brands. We have the best of the best, who then go back and educate the rest of the franchise family on what we’re doing, why you need to be involved in it, and how it’s going to make a difference in your business.
Dwyer-Owens on change: A couple of years ago, we found our franchise development was slipping. We weren’t keeping pace with new franchise units. We were not hitting the numbers that we were accustomed to hitting. So we totally re-engineered our franchise sales process. We brought people in from the outside who had expertise in managing complex sales, and we totally changed our process. We really had to shake it up, and we shook up the whole franchise development team. And we have already seen great results.
Dwyer-Owens on innovation: I sometimes drive people crazy, I think, because I’m so open to new ideas and innovation that sometimes they have to tell me to wait — aren’t we doing enough already? But I love the whole creative side of the business and doing things differently. It’s really my team that innovates. I may come up with an idea or two, but the team really makes things happen.