John Rotche

Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

John Rotche: Keep your training wheels on

Start by asking yourself this: Are your employees excited to come to work? Passionate about your company? Do they believe in your leadership team and buy in to your philosophies?

If not, perhaps the reason goes beyond the day to day. Think back to their training.

Training is more than a beginning. It is a foundation. It is a time to teach skills, establish parameters and share company culture. This is your first opportunity to completely control the environment — take the time to truly make your training facility an extension of your company.

Design it from scratch

If you have the opportunity to do this, please capitalize on it. If at all possible, build your training facility on-site at your headquarters, and keep the following in mind: Understand typical class size and plan accordingly. A room too small can be uncomfortable, while a room too big can lose energy. Make the space versatile by utilizing room dividers and multifunctional furniture to reconfigure space for numerous uses. Implement turnkey functionality by installing a plug-and-play AV system that enables anyone to step in and assist with setup — even when the IT person is out. Change it up by creating more than one room for different areas of training — and change the theme, so long as each space uniquely represents your company culture.

At our franchise headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., we built a full-size house to recreate real-life situations in duct cleaning for Ductz. For Hoodz, we built a commercial kitchen to offer the most accurate simulation. Keep in mind, fancy is not a necessity — functionality is.

Focus on environment

If you do not have the luxury of designing from scratch, there are still many things you can do to enhance the training environment. Keep the thermostat steady. Think about the last time you were in a stuffy room with 25 or so other people — it’s hard to focus on much else. Up the tempo by playing appropriate, up-tempo music from the minute trainees walk in the room until the time they leave. Music does wonders to set the tone and keep the energy going. Mind maintenance — little signs of neglect like burnt-out light bulbs and a general lack of cleanliness can leave a negative impression.

Curriculum is core

Assuming you’ve taken steps to create an environment that is conducive to learning, make sure what’s being taught is worthwhile.

It starts with the trainer or instructor – it’s not enough for them to be knowledgeable. You need someone who is thoroughly prepared. If you value your trainees, value their time by not wasting it.

When you do the things above, it shows people that you care enough to go the extra mile. It communicates that you are vested in their success. In my opinion, if you don’t capitalize on this crucial time to make a proper and lasting first impression, you’ve already missed the boat.

Continued training

Although initial training is critical, by no means should it end there. As a leader, you should take every opportunity for a continued training moment. Take, for example, weekly staff meetings. Are you just gathering everyone to share your accomplishments from the past week? You can also work a deliberate message into the agenda — one that enables your staff to walk away with something useful, even if it’s just a reinforcement of your company culture.

Furthermore, make a point to send your employees and franchisees to continued training sessions. Within our organization, those franchisees who invest in their people by sending them to receive advanced training are the same offices with the both the highest success and the highest employee retention rates. So build that solid training foundation and continue to improve upon it every chance you get.

John Rotche is the president of Ann Arbor-based Belfor Franchise Group Inc., a multiconcept franchise system. The company’s two franchise concepts, Ductz and Hoodz, center on the compliance and proper maintenance of commercial kitchen hoods and residential and commercial air duct, carpet and upholstery cleaning services. For more information, visit www.belforfranchisegroup.com.

There seems to be a widely held belief that success correlates to time in the business world. In other words, business owners need to have a number of years under their belt before attempting to expand or branch out. I ask, why? Why not let your experience be a part of your growth?

I look back at the evolution of my duct cleaning business, DUCTZ. It grew from my daughter’s bedroom into the nation’s largest duct cleaning franchise with more than 150 units. Now, along with its sister franchise, HOODZ, it benefits from ownership by BELFOR, the world’s largest property restoration company. All of this in less than five years’ time.

How? Through partnerships, mergers and acquisitions. And most importantly? A forward vision and an open mind from all members of our team.

When I started DUCTZ, I had a passion for what I was doing, but insufficient knowledge for how to share my vision. I needed access to the people and places that needed these new services. Who better to open those doors than the contractors who did have the access? Once you convince key people that you offer a quality service, they will naturally begin to refer you to others. Then, it’s not about how little time you’ve been in the business, it’s about how long of a time they’ve been in the business.

Seeking a way to accelerate my growth, I identified an existing, synergistic franchise with a growing number of units. I reached out to this company. It turns out, the timing was right and a partnership was a great fit. We hitched our wagon to theirs and increased our reach almost overnight. That was step one.

Step two was to seek people or services to fill a void in my current system. I met with a company that helped write the federal government standards for indoor air quality. My recent partnership had afforded me the credibility to negotiate with this new company; we identified our strengths and their needs. Together, we would “have it all” and the merger became a reality. This move, single-handedly, made us the largest duct cleaning franchise in the nation. In effect, I had to give up a piece of the pie, but in so doing, I orchestrated the opportunity for a much bigger pie.

When we established our niche as the nation’s largest duct cleaning franchise, we were given an opportunity by BELFOR to do work for them around the country. Why? Because we were strategically positioned — we had locations in the places where they needed us. This association with BELFOR enhanced our credibility on a local level, which led to increased referrals and contractor relationships. It wasn’t long before BELFOR made the offer to acquire our company. An association with a company of this magnitude opened a new world of opportunity while reinforcing our core model.

Here are some other things to remember about accelerating growth:

Never lose focus on your core business.

Whether embarking on a partnership, merger or acquisition, if you’re not careful you can strategize your way into an entirely different business. Stay open to diversification as long as your core business stays intact.

You cannot be afraid to think outside of the box.

To think out of the box is your job — if you don’t, someone else will. Your competition is strategizing about how to get ahead of you as we speak. My advice is to actively live your role as a strategist — don’t get bogged down in the daily emails and operations — that is not where your time is best spent.

The best strategy? Never stay static — it’s crucial to remain dynamic and to keep moving forward.

John Rotche is the president of Ann Arbor-based BELFOR Franchise Group Inc., a multiconcept franchise system. The company’s two franchise concepts, DUCTZ and HOODZ, center on the compliance and proper maintenance of commercial kitchen hoods and residential and commercial air duct, carpet and upholstery cleaning services. For more information, visit www.belforfranchisegroup.com.

Just as every action sparks a reaction, I can clearly remember the moment that spurred our decision to add a new brand and expand our company. Or, perhaps I should say that we recognized the undeniable need for change, and adding a new brand was the ultimate solution.

In another instance, adding an additional service line was the right answer.

How might your need for change bring you to one of these conclusions? In my experience, there are some key points to consider.

• What are the synergies? Consider whether the new service or brand will complement your core business or detract from it.

• How well can you support it operationally/administratively? Carefully consider the additional time and manpower this new service would require.

• How will it impact the branding or industry positioning of your core business? This is where marketing comes into play and, in my opinion, can play a large part in determining whether you expand your existing service offering or add a new brand.

• What is the long-term viability of the service or brand — is it sustainable? Are you dealing with something that is hot today but could become a passing fad?

• Is there a market for the product or service? An amount of new R&D will be required.

• What will your point of differential be? Again, is it different enough to warrant a new brand or will it better serve as a complement to your current service offering?

• If acquiring a business, how does it fit culturally? If the addition may compromise your culture, you may want to reassess.

After years of explosive growth within our DUCTZ air duct cleaning franchise, we saw revenue begin to level off in specific markets, particularly when the recession hit. We identified a synergistic service in kitchen hood cleaning, which fit many criteria including technical expertise and administrative support.

However, adding the new service would present a challenge in positioning, as the customer base was exclusively commercial and geared toward fire prevention, whereas DUCTZ services commercial and residential focused on indoor air quality. We decided to launch HOODZ as a separate brand, giving franchisees the option to represent both brands. HOODZ actually lent itself to the existing marketing treatment of DUCTZ and, although complementary, it was different enough to warrant its own brand.

We revisited the DUCTZ service offerings to establish a comprehensive solution for our customers. Because a significant benefit of duct cleaning is improved indoor air quality, we sought other services that would do the same.

We found that, second to ductwork, carpet and upholstery cleaning greatly improves indoor air quality. Carpet cleaning alone is a competitive field so it wouldn’t have made sense to launch a new brand, plus we needed to establish a point of differentiation. As the nation’s largest indoor air quality company, we added the service as the DUCTZ Total Care offering, adopting the marketing position, “Improving indoor air quality from the ground up.”

Once you’ve gone through a similar checklist and process and identified parallels and strategic marketing initiatives, ask yourself one more thing, ‘Is it going to be strategic?’ In this case, I would define strategic as accomplishing at least one of the following: increasing your customer base, increasing value-added services to your existing customer base or increasing purchasing frequency from your existing customer base.

John Rotche is the president of Ann Arbor-based BELFOR Franchise Group Inc., a multiconcept franchise system. The company’s two franchise concepts, DUCTZ and HOODZ, center on the compliance and proper maintenance of commercial kitchen hoods and residential and commercial air duct, carpet and upholstery cleaning services. For more information, visit www.belforfranchisegroup.com.