This article was originally published on March 25, 2014.
is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email.
For Erika Herman, love and marriage go together like franchising and carpet cleaning. The CFO of Cornerstone Chem-Dry, a carpet cleaning chain, found love at a company convention after meeting Randy, a fellow Chem-Dry franchisee who owned franchises in Seattle. Two years later, the duo married in front of over 50 Chem-Dry friends and family in Hawaii. The duo continued to run both enterprises together until Randy decided to sell his territory to focus on growing Erika’s franchise in Dallas. Today, they operate 14 licenses in two states along with a call center, and take great pride in all they’ve accomplished together.
Name: Erika Herman
Cornerstone Chem-Dry in Dallas/Ft. Worth; Chem-Dry of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.
How long have you owned the franchise?
Twenty years at Cornerstone Chem-Dry and one year at Chem-Dry of Oklahoma.
I've always wanted to have my own business rather than work my way up in a corporation, and franchising seemed like the perfect way to control my destiny and build a business for myself. I chose franchising rather than starting my own independent business because I thought that being part of a proven system, with an established business model and a recognized and trusted brand was just a smarter way to go and would give me the chance to be more successful. And it was absolutely the right decision – not just franchising, but Chem-Dry. It’s allowed me to utilize my entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic to focus on running a business that I believe in. I enjoy being my own boss while also having support from a network of peers and experts in the industry to help me grow my business and achieve my goals.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I had just graduated college with a BBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of North Texas and was working for a software sales office. I’ve always been intrigued by the thought of growing a successful business on my own and wanted to use my degree to become a successful entrepreneur.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
My ex-husband worked for a Chem-Dry franchise as a technician. We both had discussed owning our own business in the past but nothing ever came of it. When an opportunity became available to purchase a Chem-Dry franchise, we started considering the possibility of pursuing the dream of owning our own franchise.
We were watching the Super Bowl in a rental home and my ex-husband tossed something at me, spilling my drink all over the white carpet. I was frantic about it staining, and to my astonishment, the stain just bubbled to the surface because he had just cleaned and protected our carpets. I was amazed and decided Chem-Dry was a brand that I was interested in being a part of long-term because I truly believed in the product.
The more research I did, the more I liked what I saw – like the fact that it offers a patented process and has the highest customer loyalty in the industry, which gave me even more confidence that I could differentiate myself in my market and build a strong customer base. It’s also a large and growing category, both residentially and in commercial locations, so I knew that the business would always be there if we offered a great product and great service.
As I look back on my decision, I believe everything happens for a reason and I can't image my life without Chem-Dry. I would never have found the love of my life or discovered my passion for serving others and making a difference in the lives of those we serve, both as customers and as employees.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I opened my first Chem-Dry location 20 years ago and really had no money to speak of. We bought a used van and some equipment, and then put as much money as we could back into the business continually for marketing. I would estimate we spent about $10,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
In any industry, it's important to have a support group and people that you can learn from and turn to as mentors. Before I made my final decision, I met with several Chem-Dry franchise owners to find out about their experience and success. I also consulted with my mentors, past classmates and professors to find out if they thought a service-related industry like Chem-Dry would be a good fit and a good investment opportunity, and they agreed that it was. It’s important to do extensive research on the specific brand and industry when deciding if franchising is the right path, but when you find a concept you believe in and have the drive to succeed, everything falls into place.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
When I first opened my franchise, I thought customers would be lining up for our cleaning services. But the reality in most new businesses is that getting the phone to ring when you first open is a pretty common challenge. As a new business owner, I quickly learned what my strengths and weaknesses were. Instead of trying to fix my weaknesses, I embraced my strengths, which included customer service. I've always been a compassionate person and I truly find joy in helping others, so I focused on going above and beyond to please the few customers I had. When you appreciate your customers and focus on providing quality service, you gain their personal respect, which leads to referrals, customer retention and lifelong clients.
The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to manage a business and employees all at once. As a young business owner in a male-dominated industry, I realized that you need to lead by example because appreciation flows from the top down. Always find ways to let your employees know how important they are; in return, you will gain their respect and they will naturally have a higher regard for your customers. Learning how to effectively manage the people in your business and the money will make or break you as a business owner.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
FOLLOW THE PROGRAM! There’s a reason why Chem-Dry has been around for 35 years and we’re the No. 1 brand in the category. This concept has been tested and proven over the years and the bottom line is that it works. That’s the beauty of buying a franchise from an established business with a well-known, trusted brand name like Chem-Dry. You not only have the brand recognition that gives you credibility in the market place, but you can also avoid a lot of the mistakes and pitfalls that independent businesses experience because you’re capitalizing right from the start on all of the best practices that have worked for other franchisees for more than 30 years. The initial training, the ongoing business coaching and the traditional and internet marketing support you receive, which are key to helping you start and grow your business, are all top notch.
The other thing I’d say is to work on your business - not in your business! Do what you do best and hire people to do the things you aren’t as great at. You can’t wear every hat in your business and do it all successfully. Find people to be a sounding board for you by attending training meetings and conventions. Surround yourself with the people who are successful and who you can learn from to make yourself as successful as you want to be. Don’t ever stop growing and keep your eyes on your business – the numbers and the people. The last thing I’d say is always, above everything, run your business with integrity.
What’s next for you and your business?
2013 was an amazing year for us. We received the Chem-Dry Franchise of the Year award, expanded across state lines into Oklahoma City and bought our first building in Dallas. Our overall business grew by almost 30 percent, and we foresee 2014 as being an even better year! Our Oklahoma franchise should double to triple in size over the next 12 months and we are estimating that Cornerstone Chem-Dry in Dallas will grow by 20 percent due to our great service, hard work, dedicated employees and a focus on growing both commercial and residential sales.