A renewed growth of the number of U.S. HVAC franchises is expected to last over the next few years, as the entire HVAC industry regains its pre-2008 recession vitality.
The franchise option, while not for everyone, has been proven to be a viable option for business owners seeking help with growing their service businesses, and who want to take advantage of the management benefits and advice that the franchise model provides.
Mark Baker, president of franchising for Clockwork Home Services, owned by Direct Energy Services — says the growth of its major franchise brands — One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Mr. Sparky, and Benjamin Franklin plumbing is strong.
“For the last two years, Entrepreneur magazine has ranked our One-Hour franchises as the number one HVAC franchise in the U.S,” Baker reports. “Mr. Sparky has been ranked number one for the past two years as well.” The survey considers key factors such as financial strength and stability, growth rate, and size of the franchise system.
Good news like that is vital to the growth of franchising, which can often be stifled by the uncertainty of would-be franchise owners.
“This year, we’ve sold 59 new franchise territories among the three brands — Mr. Sparky, One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Typically, we do between 50-90 new franchise sales per year. We see our top line sales for the franchisees going up year after year.”
According to Baker, prospective franchise owners have slightly different “hot buttons” on why they want to join a franchise.
“We offer training — both online and in-classroom training —where we train franchisors to improve on customer service and related business basics. We offer field support, in which franchise business consultants look at the numbers and advise owners where to adjust labor costs, and focus on how to help them grow their businesses.”
Clockwork Home Services’ marketing support for franchisors includes a ‘Marketing Toolbox,’ an online resource for digital radio, TV or print advertising materials. Franchisees can go online at anytime and download the materials to their printer, or send them to the local print shop “We have proprietary software that you can be used to help manage the business, and we also offer buying groups and rebate opportunities,” Baker explains. “The advantage of a franchise network, is being able to talk to the people and share ideas — it’s the power of being part of a network.”
Caring Beyond the Brand
It’s no secret that a variety of skilled trades are in dire need of new workers, to replace the numbers of baby boomers that will continue to retire into 2020 and beyond. For that reason, more and more companies — whether they be franchise businesses or independent contractors — are hearing of the need to train existing employees, and assure new prospects that they too will be entering careers they can build upon.
Direct Energy’s efforts to build the trades workforce include a new partnership with Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” program. In 2008, Rowe launched a campaign designed to reinvigorate the skilled trades. Since then, he’s testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, and in 2014 he launched “Profoundly Disconnected,” a new initiative focused on technical recruitment.
Baker says the impetus to support Rowe’s efforts came when the labor challenge began to hit home.
“One of the challenges we faced in 2015 was getting good qualified employees and skilled labor. When we were looking at developing our advertising campaign for 2015, one of the things we wanted people to understand was that there are great jobs out there for skilled tradesmen. Also, our businesses and franchisees are all about trust. The Mike Rowe partnership and commercials are all about growing the skilled labor force and elevating the conversation about it,” Baker says.
Baker estimates the advertising campaign will generate more than 2.5 billion impressions, through radio, print, TV and digital advertising. The year before, the Mike Rowe advertising campaign generated over two billion impressions.
Clockwork Home Services has also partnered with the Mike Rowe Works Foundation — profoundlydisconnected.com/foundation/). It offers scholarships to the trades to bring people in. They’ve made a $100,000 donation.
“It’s all about recruiting new people to the trades, building the experience with the consumer, and working with his foundation,” Baker says.
Technical College Outreach Promotes Careers
On ground level, Clockwork Home Services is engaged in outreach at Suncoast Technical College, Sarasota, FL.
“We’re figuring out a way to get more people into the trades and how can we help people understand that this is a good paying job,” Baker says. “We’ve initially just partnered with the HVAC program and have offered a scholarship to the students. To qualify, the students have to meet the same entry requirements that the college requires; they have to have a background check, drug test and a motor vehicle record pull. They conduct a panel interview with a couple of our folks and then we pay for their tuition, we pay for $1500 worth of tools, we buy uniforms for them, and we give them special training as they’re going along the five-and-a-half-month long course. Then, we guarantee them a job offer when they graduate. It’s a way to get people into the business. We pay for their costs, and guarantee a job offer when they graduate,” he says.
Following a June 2015 graduation, every HVAC student received a job offer, and went to work for a company store or a franchisee. Three classes will begin again in fall, for HVAC, plumbing, and electric.
The scholarship program will be expanded in late 2015/early 2016.
“Here, in Florida, we have a couple dozen franchisees and company-owned stores. Our goal is to offer this throughout the United States at local technical schools. We’ve already talked to our franchises and company-owned stores around the country and they’re very excited for us to do that. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and we’ve already identified a few technical schools to work with there, and plan to scale across the country in the next year or two.
Making Miracles for Children
Clockwork Home Services is showing itself to be an organization that has a heart that beats for children, too. In April, 2014, it partnered with the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), which raises funds for children’s hospitals across America.
“The idea is that all dollars donated in the local area go to support that local hospital. So you can put a face with a name. All dollars here go to the local hospital in Sarasota. The idea is to give back to the community. Everybody has a kid, was a kid or knows a kid,” Baker explains.
“If you’re a parent or a sibling, there’s nothing worse than watching a child who is sick. So, a bunch of our franchisees and local stores support CMN.”
Clockwork’s goal was to become partners with community hospitals, and to provide comfort to sick and injured children. The corporate team made a donation, but franchise owners also became involved. Since starting this program the corporate team and Clockwork Home Services franchise owners have collected and donated toys, made care packages for children and parents, donated critical equipment to hospitals and raised money from bowl-a-thons, golfing tournaments and in-home donations from our customers. Their efforts include dialogue with local hospital staff to determine what are their greatest needs.
To kick off the partnership, each brand donated $1000 to CMN Hospitals on the day the partnership was announced in April, 2014. Franchise owners also donated their time during the annual convention to make more than 1,000 overnight kits with essentials for parents who have to stay a CMN Hospital while their child is receiving care.
Over time, Clockwork Home Services employees in more than 50 cities raised more than $105,000 in donations, and volunteers gave an estimated 1,000 hours of their time to prepare and pack toys, books and other necessities for hospitalized children.
In 2014, Children’s Miracle Network CEO John Lauck recognized Clockwork Home Services for its efforts.
“He recognized our brands as being the most productive franchise network. We just finished a drive last month where we were looking to have over 100 businesses contribute to CMN. We’ve almost doubled our participation rate in the 18 months we’ve been doing this,” Baker says.
“It’s really interesting the stories that people have. When we first announced this, everyone knew someone that had a relative or a child that had been helped by a Children’s Miracle Network hospital.”