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“The way I describe a franchise is basically a recipe. You know you’ve got to get the recipe down, cause if the recipe doesn’t work, you don’t get cake at the end.”

Interview by Mike Sullivan

 

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Mike:
Hey everyone, this is Mike Sullivan. Thanks for joining us again today on MO.com, where, as usual, we feature small business owners and entrepreneurs to bring you hints, tips, insights, and perspectives on what it takes to be successful.

Joining us today is Tom Lindberg from Sir Grout. It’s a grout and tile cleaning company with a successful franchise model. Tom, thanks for joining us today. Let’s start out by telling us a little bit about your background and kind of leading up to your involvement in Sir Grout.

Tom:
Sure. I started out of college working in the consumer products world. I started with Union Carbide, working on the Prestone brand, and moved up through the sales ranks, national sales manager, and then I moved into the marketing arena, became Director of Marketing and then Vice President of International, went through a couple of buyouts, myself and several other folks that the company bought the Prestone brand and ran it, doubled it in three years. We sold it to Allied Signal, which then later became Honeywell. So my background has been good because I’ve gone from both large corporations, publicly run, on the stock exchange I mean, to a small or medium size company, the Prestone brand was around $300 million to being an entrepreneur myself. The best thing that happened to me along my career was when Honeywell acquired Allied Signal, again all the same people moving through the chain, managing the same brands, I got in their leadership program and got a much more in-depth general management background with my sales and marketing skills, including Six Sigma, which is a quality and process improvement program.

So the last thing I did before Sir Grout, I was President and CEO of a company in Tarrytown, New York, which was also another great experience with a consumer products company. But I sort of was unfulfilled. Financially, I was doing well, but psychologically I didn’t like the direction of the way things were going. It was sort of at odds with the board. So I decided I can only truly be in control of my destiny and my moral compass if I’m off on my own. So that’s how I went from sort of my corporate career to more of an entrepreneur, moving from a product background into a service industry.

Mike:
I briefly described Sir Grout in the intro, but why don’t you give us a more detailed view of exactly what you do.

Tom:
Sir Grout, we’re a grout and tile restoration company. Our claim to fame is we can make your tile and grout look brand new. It doesn’t really matter the age. Then most recently, we moved into the wood renewal space. Our customers kept asking us, we were doing such a fine job on tile and grout, they said, why don’t you help us out with our wood floors. So that’s our latest foray, but primarily grout and tile care is our business.

Mike:
What led to the idea to franchise Sir Grout out to others?

Tom:
The business exploded on us. Coming from my corporate career, one of my goals was to have a little bit of my life back, and that wasn’t happening in the corporate career, and we realized the business was going to take off, but I didn’t want to manage 100 crews and 100 vans and just get into that whole thing. So we realized that our model was scalable, replicable, and we had the recipe. So we just needed to help train and sell that recipe to others. I, in particular, enjoy the coaching and mentoring part of that process. So it made sense for us to franchise. That was the quickest and easiest way for us to grow.

Mike:
How difficult did you find it to take your business model and break it down in such a way that you could franchise it out to others? Is that a difficult process?

Tom:
I wouldn’t say it was all that challenging. There was a lot of paperwork to do and a lot of thoughts to get down on paper. The way I describe a franchise is basically a recipe. You know you’ve got to get the recipe down, cause if the recipe doesn’t work, you don’t get cake at the end. So we were very diligent in refining that recipe to make sure that it worked. So it was repeatable, and it was working for me. It was working for my business partner, but we wanted to make sure for the next guy down the line it would work. So I would say most of the work was there. The franchising part wasn’t hard. As long as you have a good franchise attorney to help you navigate through that, it’s really not all that difficult.

Mike:
Are you actually involved in the training of the franchisees that come in and want to open Sir Grout in their hometown?

Tom:
Yeah, we actually built a home in Florida and that’s our training center. So we fly folks in, we spend a full week with them going over all the aspects of our business, whether it’s operational, sales, marketing, sort of soup to nuts of all the things that we do. So it’s an intensive, week long training, and then my partner and I remain your coach and mentor once you’re done with the training. So we’re available basically 24/7 to all of our franchises. But, yeah, just an in-depth training.

Mike:
What’s your goal or the company’s goal for the number of franchises you have there?

Tom:
I tried to stay away from predicting how many units we’ll have down the road. For us, we’re not trying to be the next 7-Eleven or have 10,000 outlets. It’s really not what we’re all about. We do it one at a time. We do it really well. I’m proud to say we haven’t lost a single franchise, and every franchise except for one has decided to buy a second. So, to me, it’s all about building a really strong foundation. The numbers will come wherever they go. I don’t really have a sign post that will tell me whether I’m successful or not by the number that I own.

Mike:
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom that you could pass on to other entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs?

Tom:
Yeah. There are three main things that I’ve taken with me throughout my whole career that are super, super important. You have to have great people. You have to have great processes, and you have to have great products. You have to have all three of those things. The example that I give to people is, if you’re a great individual, you can overcome a set of processes that are not that good, because you break down barriers. You find ways to win. But if you’re not an A+ individual and you’re working with poor processes, you will fail. But if you have great people, following great processes and using great products, you have got it made. But you’ve got to understand that each one of those elements, none of those three can break down. The key thing that I learned at Honeywell and Allied Signal, some of the leaders of that organization were the folks that worked for Jack Welch at G.E., and he understood those three things and he just burned it into his disciples. I really, really believe in it. Hey, you want an A company, Jack Welch would say, you need hire A people. The other thing I learned was you can take a C to a C+, or a B+ to an A, but never a full grade. I can’t tell you how much that’s happened in my career. So great people, great processes, great products. It’s that simple.

Mike:
If you had a friend approach you and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about starting, buying a franchise or starting a business,” what advice would you give to them?

Tom:
If you want to start a franchise or you want to start a business, do your homework. Understand the market. Understand your competitors. I understand my competitors, I think, better than they understand them. I’m constantly understanding my business model against their business model, continuing to make sure that we outshine and out-market them. I don’t talk badly about them. I just understand them. I think a lot of people get into business, whether it’s a franchise or small business, they don’t understand. They haven’t made the proper assessments before they move forward. So writing a business plan is not a joke. You really have to do it. So that’s probably the thing that I tell people the most.

Mike:
Tom, thanks so much for your perspectives today. I greatly appreciate it. Good luck.

Tom:
Great. Thank you very much, Mike.

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