Kathleen Kuhn, President, HouseMaster Home Inspections
Kathleen Kuhn's intense desire to stay ahead of challenges and opportunities has helped HouseMaster thrive. She strives to creates a culture of trust and satisfaction with HouseMaster's owners and inspires confidence by making herself accessible to her team and owners.
Listen to the full interview here or download the mp3 version.
Did you know? Kathleen Kuhn is one of Franchise Business Review's Top Franchise Leaders of 2017!
What services does HouseMaster’s Home Inspections provide?
HouseMaster’s primary business is property inspections with a focus on residential, although we do commercial properties as well. So generally our market place is when somebody is in the process of purchasing or selling a property although we do property owner inspections as well.
What is the revenue opportunity with HouseMaster’s Home Inspections?
The revenue sources continue to grow because consumers do even more due diligence. We go well beyond the standard home inspection with services such as mold testing, sewer scoping, and in depth chimney inspections. We therefore offer quite an array of additional services that are in demand by consumers and growing.
Why is there a trend of consumers asking for a lot more services?
There’s more availability of information and frankly liability is a factor too, so the advisors that work with people who are in the process of purchasing properties advise them to do as much due diligence as possible. Also, people do remember that purchasing a home or purchasing a property is an investment and they’ve got an opportunity to do as much due diligence as possible. They want to understand as much as possible before they make a commitment.
What is it about HouseMaster that makes it stand out from others in the space
HouseMaster is the oldest brand in the industry. We’ve been in the business since the early 70’s, so we’ve been very much pioneers in the industry. What really makes HouseMaster stand out is our unique approach to the process. Although the end result of a property inspection is a detailed comprehensive report on the findings of the inspection, we really focus on the overall customer experience and process. We really take the time to educate our customers. We focus everything we do on their experience. Again, it does tend to all be a bit exciting and stressful because they are generally making the largest financial commitment of their lives. Frankly, we’re trying to help them make an informed decision, but at the end of the day they’re also responsible for protecting their investments. So, again we take a very educational approach to not only just provide them with what’s wrong with the property, but also understand the property. The other really big thing that makes HouseMaster different is our level of accountability. We’re the only national provider of property inspection services that guarantees our work and it’s a guarantee that we stand behind. It’s not a third party program. As a result, we really offer the highest level of accountability on the quality of our service in the industry and that is the kind of thing the professionals we work with and our clients want. They want to feel confident that they can trust somebody in our role who is going to help them make a very big decision.
Do your franchisees have to come to you with a certain amount of knowledge or do you train them in everything?
Training is the core element of our business. HouseMaster franchisees never pay for training so as they grow and hire, they can send their teams to classroom training at no additional cost. We do this because A. we encourage hiring and B. because we know training is essential. Some of our franchisees don’t actually do inspections. We probably have more executive models, owners who don’t do inspections, in our system than others. They hire inspectors who usually have a background in either construction or remodeling, it’s really quite varied. We actually have a separate training, certification program called the National Institute of Building Inspectors for inspectors that’s a state approved vocational school. Our inspectors go through the classroom training and then have to be recertified each year. To be recertified, they have to test out each year and not just take a class. It’s our way of helping our owners ensure that their inspectors are not only properly trained, but that they’re keeping up to date.
Are most of your franchise owners not actually doing inspections?
Most of our owners do start out as inspectors and then grow beyond that. We have some though that never do inspections. We can accommodate somebody who views the opportunity as their next career and does not want employees as well as a business owner who says, “Listen, this is a smart business model, it’s very low overhead, it’s a reasonable investment, it’s scalable, there’s no receivables. I want to focus on managing the business and business development.” Since growing the business is obviously a large part of what an owner has to do, it’s not uncommon for the owners of our top performing locations to not do inspections and just focus on operating and growing the business.
In addition to training, what kind of support do you provide to your franchisees?
When we are first onboarding a new franchisee, they go through pre training that’s always a combination of the technical as well as operations and marketing. So they’re really going down a parallel path. Even our non-inspector business owners go through the entire technical training. They’re doing webinars and as I mentioned earlier, we have a full online training program for the technical aspect of the business through the National Institute of Building Inspectors. We start our franchisees t right off the bat on something we call Right Track that’s an interactive to do list and so the franchise owner has full visibility of what we’re expecting of them and we can guide them through the things they need to do, not only to open but also through their first year. It can be very overwhelming for a new business owner. Our Right Track system gives them a lot of confidence. It alos allows our support staff to be monitoring and be responsible for making sure the franchisees hit the particular marks that they need to as they get on board.
Do the franchisees also receive a lot of support from each other within your system?
They really do. One of the things I’m really most proud of is the camaraderie of our franchisees. I think it’s a result of a couple of things. Number 1: our business model. So our franchisees don’t compete with each other, they have exclusive territories. They don’t really see their competitors as their fellow franchisees, which is very helpful. Number 2: We have built a family culture. My father started HouseMaster, my husband is a HouseMaster franchisee, my brother-in-law works at headquarters, my brother-in-law is a HouseMaster franchisee, my son is now in the business and frankly the average tenure of a HouseMaster franchise is over 12 years. As a matter of fact, about 12% of our franchisees are either second generation or former employees of an existing franchisee. There’s just this great culture of support. Franchisees on their own will visit other franchisees. They absolutely bend over backwards to help each other and I think when you first start franchising, now for us it was decades ago, you don’t realize that part of building a successful franchise company is that you’re also expanding your support network exponentially. It’s a very positive influence.
How do you help your franchisees jumpstart their business?
We do weekly coaching and have found that accountability is a big factor. When our franchisees leave training, they’re very pumped up and we really want to capitalize on that momentum. For the first six months and sometimes longer, we do weekly coaching to really keep our franchisees on track and keep them accountable. They have a combined business and marketing plan that they’ve committed to that we help them keep on track. We do usually do a field visit with them or we coordinate for them to go in the field with a neighboring franchise owner. We also waive our first year franchise conference fee since we know that it’s really important to get that first year franchisee to the conference. We also invite new franchisees to our top performer dinner, which we host the night before our conference kicks off. So all those added things to welcome somebody in to the system, have them take advantage of the support and keep them accountable is very helpful in insuring their success.
What are some of the things you hear from your franchisees regarding their HouseMaster experience?
Well one of the things about a HouseMaster franchise is that it really is a very personal, rewarding business. We really are in the business of helping people at a time when they are going to make a very large decision. It’s very rewarding and every day is different. Being in a 104 degree attic from time to time is not fun, but in general it is a very enjoyable business. Our culture, our mission, our vision actually is all about having pride, being profitable, and committed to our craft. Our owners take such great pride in what they do and they have fun doing it. Ours is a relatively straight forward business model. You’re not signing a long term lease, there’s no receivables, so it’s an easy business to run when you have all the tools and support at your fingertips.
Where are you going to take the company next?
Even though I’ve been here longer than I want to even admit if you do the age calculations, I’ve never been more excited about this company’s future. We’ve built this fabulous business on basically gaining a customer and then after we deliver our report never seeing the customer again or hoping they call us 10 years later when they buy another house and in the next decade. We’re really looking to extend the lifetime value of our customer by bringing value to them after the very important step in their lives where they purchase the home. We want to actually help them navigate homeownership. We’re looking to have our relationship with our customer not end at the point of report delivery, but actually start there.