After 30 years with IBM, Skip Wyatt was enjoying his retirement. One day, he’d play golf; the next, he’d read a book. And, though Wyatt wasn’t a natural handyman, he wanted to update, repair, and remodel certain parts of his home. That’s when the clock-watching began. “My wife and I got sick of waiting all day for service providers who never showed up on time and usually did mediocre work,” he says.
The former corporate executive started thinking and soon realized the potential for someone with business skills—such as himself—to bring professionalism to the industry and fill a hole. He decided to open up a home-improvement-services company for small projects and remodels.
Like any good businessman, though, he began his venture by researching. He read that franchise models have a higher success rate than start-ups, so he contacted a broker, reviewed three franchise options, and found a partner to help him start Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County in 2004. Wyatt bought that partner out in 2007 and has since watched his company grow dramatically. What started with 3 employees, 1 van, and 0 customers now has 79 employees, 39 service vehicles, and 13,000 customers. Read on to understand how the franchise got there.
Q&A with Skip Wyatt
How does your experience in corporate America help you in the handyman business?
I’m not out on job sites doing repairs. I leave that to the technicians, and we focus on hiring the best people possible. I use my time to make sure we run the business in a way that lets us serve our customers on time and complete quality jobs to their satisfaction.
It can be a competitive space. How do you stand out?
I’m always interviewing to make sure we have the right people with the right skills. I interview about 10 people to fill one position, and I don’t hire anyone with less than 20 years of experience. Almost all of our business comes from repeat or referred customers. A happy customer pays you great dividends in almost every respect.
What makes a handyman good?
I joke that they should be like MacGyver because they should find creative ways to solve a customer’s problem. Beyond good technical skills, we look for the ability to do a little bit of everything but be really good at a few things. They need to be smart, passionate, and creative, and they need to communicate well.
What trends are you seeing out there?
People are asking for more eco-friendly or energy-efficient features. They are also more focused on function than on impressing their neighbors. They want good value, so we look at things like materials and methods that help us provide cost-effective solutions.
On the home-improvement side, Wyatt now has two designers on staff who consult with clients to develop a project vision and then work with technicians to deliver fully remodeled kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County has been doing these sorts of jobs since its founding, and it has also worked on attics, carpentry, decks, doors, drywall, floors, outdoor spaces, painting, tile, and windows.
The franchise was built on remodels and renovations, but it really took off in 2010 when Wyatt convinced his son Lorenzo to come aboard. The younger Wyatt created Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County’s other two divisions—home-energy audits and energy upgrades—and not long after, the home-energy business became one of the largest in the state of Connecticut. The two new divisions now account for about 65 percent of the franchise’s business. Integral to that success has been CMIT Solutions, providing IT services to Wyatt as he grew the company.
Conducting a Home Energy Audit
1. Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County receives a call from a customer who has a complaint or problem, usually related to their home being cold or expensive to heat.
2. Audit technicians arrive on the scene to complete a series of diagnostics.
3. They perform a blower-door test, using a fan to depressurize a room of the home and create a 17-mile-per-hour draft that will expose air leaks and energy loss.
4. Once the room’s air leaks are identified using an artificial smoke pen, the technicians seal as many leaks as possible using caulk, weather stripping, etc.
5. Next, the technicians, armed with infrared cameras, hunt out other cold sources and test the integrity of the home’s air ducts and other systems.
6. They also install more-energy-efficient light bulbs and suggest upgrades to inefficient appliances and heating systems.
7. Lastly, Mr. Handyman of Upper Fairfield County measures its improvements through a statewide program called Energize CT to determine total energy and cost savings.
8. Once the audit is completed, trained building scientists work with crews to address issues and provide solutions for additional problems such as blown cellulose insulation.