Franchising in the New Normal

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Recently, Mechanical Hub spoke with Mike Fowler, franchisee of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning in Charlotte, NC., about his business, COVID-19 and what it’s like to have the backing of such known company and brand.

Now that the country had “reopened,” are there any different procedures in place for the company

FOWLER: In Charlotte, North Carolina, the reopening of the economy is in full effect. Our servicemen in the field are continuing to implement the safety procedures required by the CDC and our company, and those measures will be in place indefinitely. As we prepared to reopen our office for our office staff, there were a lot of things to consider. The call center and dispatch teams make up a large portion of our employees. We had to invest in plenty of materials to ensure the office staff could safely return.

Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, Franchising, Franchises, franchisee, plumbing, heating, HVAC, COVID-19

A Benjamin Frankling Plumbing employee displays the PPE used on the job.

We created new layouts and seating arrangements to ensure social distancing is observed, we have thorough cleanings daily for all high touch points, and we allocated a larger budget to purchase hand sanitizer, soap and paper towels since frequent hand washing is required. Our employees in the field have been practicing these safety protocols for months, so our employees in the office are now our primary focus as we adapt to the new normal. Our main priority is the safety of our employees, and throughout the process we strive to ensure they each feels comfortable and safe coming back in.

What protocols or procedures did Benjamin Franklin Plumbing implement as a result of COVID-19?

FOWLER: The health and safety of our customers and employees is paramount, so we implemented stringent protocols and procedures based on the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By mid-March, we rolled out more strict guidelines to help ensure the safety of our staff and those we service. Since that time, we have required all employees to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks and gloves, as well as practice social distancing and regularly wash their hands and sanitize, especially when it’s required for us to enter a home to fulfill a project.

Since we are entering our customers’ homes, we require our employees to wear PPE the entire time they are working. We continue to supply all PPE to our staff members, so they’re fully equipped with safety gear while they’re on the job. We have asked all of our customers to inform us immediately if someone in their home becomes sick, and we’re being flexible and understanding when service appointments need to be rescheduled or cancelled due to illness. Thankfully we already had contactless payment options throughout our system, so the biggest protocol update in terms of customer interaction was utilizing FaceTime and videos for consultations and moving all of our documents to be signed and completed digitally.

Were there any advantages to being a franchisee during these uncertain times?

Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, Franchising, Franchises, franchisee, plumbing, heating, HVAC, COVID-19FOWLER: Absolutely. While we were deemed as an essential business and could continue to operate while many businesses could not, there were a lot of necessary changes and we were still impacted. Our franchisor, Authority Brands, is the parent company of seven leading home service franchisors, America’s Swimming Pool Company, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, The Cleaning Authority, Homewatch CareGivers, Mister Sparky Electric, Mosquito Squad, and One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning.

The corporate team has always excelled in providing strong marketing, technology and operational support to our business, and over the past few months, their exceptional leadership and guidance helped us stay afloat.They kept us up-to-date with everything going on throughout the pandemic, from COVID-19 safety procedures and regulations to guidance for applying for government relief such as the Paycheck Protection Program. We’re grateful to have had ongoing communication with them over the past few months, and they continue to play a big role in keeping us informed and providing us with knowledge and resources.

What do some aspects of the business model blueprint look like at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing?

FOWLER: Being part of a franchise system and being surrounded by a strong network of business owners across the United States proved to be invaluable as we all navigated through the unknown. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing already had a Franchisee Leadership Team (FLT) established prior to the pandemic, and it exists to continuously improve our brand as a whole with systemwide collaboration and ongoing communication.

The motto ‘working for yourself, but not by yourself’ is echoed from all aspects of the Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise, and forming relationships with both the home office and fellow franchisees, in addition to the support of my family and the communities we operate in, continues to propel my business forward.

I’ve been a franchisee with the company since 2003 in Charlotte, North Carolina and I’m proud of how we’ve molded the proven business model from Benjamin Franklin Plumbing to fit our community. Everything starts with marketing. We have a dedicated marketing staff that executes monthly initiatives to ensure the call center receives calls.

We take training very seriously, and every new hire—whether it be as a marketing team member, accountant, a dispatcher or a service plumber in the field—goes through intensive training to ensure our customers experience a seamless process from start to finish. We’ve needed to change how some things are done over the past few months, for example conducting interviews through FaceTime, but with a strong structure for our business already in place, we’ve continued to provide services locally with the support of our franchisor.

What types of investments are being made by Benjamin Franklin Plumbing to ensure better success and continued growth?

FOWLER: Through the FLT, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing is always listening to its franchisees and implementing enhanced operational procedures as needed. They invest in the tools we need as franchisees to operate our business successfully.

For our business in Charlotte, we like to invest in our community both by giving back through charitable efforts, but also investing in the next generation of the workforce through our best-in-class training programs. With the unavoidable shortage of plumbers, we’re always working to educate those looking for their next career about the opportunity to join our team.

Our services were deemed as essential throughout the pandemic because, put simply, our community needs us as much as we need them. With the support of our franchise system and our dedicated employees, we continue to grow.

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