Furniture Medic

Furniture Medic JAY 7584

Furniture Medic expands its service portfolio. 

By Tim O’Connor 

Furniture plays an important role in the look and feel of a home or office, as well as in how people use and identify with these spaces. To an outsider, an end table might look like just a lamp stand or a place to collect coffee cup rings. For the owner, however, it may be a cherished family heirloom or a favorite recent purchase.  

When furniture becomes damaged, the easy course of action is to replace it with something new and unblemished, but there’s no way to recover lost sentimental value. Replacing can also be expensive while repairs can extend the life of a beloved chair, grand piano or dining set for another generation at a fraction of the cost. 

It’s a problem that a furniture repair franchisor has been solving for 25 years. “Our big value proposition with our organization is the repair versus replace decision that a customer is making,” Senior Director of Franchise Operations Ian Strelsin says. “We specialize in the repair and restoration of wood components.” 

Growing Brand 

Furniture Medic started in 1992 after its founder, Joe Lunsford, moved into a new home and discovered that pieces of furniture were damaged in transportation. After having a difficult time finding a service provider to repair it, he decided to start his own company. It was an immediate success, drawing interest from home service provider ServiceMaster, which acquired the business in 1996 and relocated it to Memphis.  

ServiceMaster has been building the brand ever since. Furniture Medic’s foundation was in moving-related repairs, but ServiceMaster helped its efforts to enter the commercial space by leveraging water-based products that did not leave a residual odor, making them friendlier to repairs done in an office environment. At the time of the acquisition, the company also got involved in disaster restoration services, adding repairs to kitchens and cabinetry affected by fire or water damage. Furniture Medic was able to quickly add those services by applying the Furniture Medic Fact Boxsame tools and techniques operators used for basic furniture repair to more advanced jobs and new customers. 

ServiceMaster used its resources and bargaining power to increase Furniture Medic’s capabilities. It introduced national programs such as partnerships with insurance companies to provide furniture repairs for covered losses. 

Furniture Medic is one of seven brands in the ServiceMaster family of companies, five of which are franchise-based businesses. Although they operate independently, the companies occasionally encounter customers with needs that carry across multiple brands’ specialties, creating opportunities for ServiceMaster to pull from different service brands to provide a complete service package.  

For example, ServiceMaster Restore is focused on restoring homes and businesses damaged by fire, water or natural disasters. ServiceMaster Restore often will enlist Furniture Medic to repair the cabinets and other wood components in affected kitchens. “The relationships we are able to develop with our sister companies are very valuable,” Strelsin says. “In many cases, we can streamline an insurance claim by doing work in parallel with the work ServiceMaster Restore is doing.” 

Operators can benefit from the parent company’s national account relationships, increased business leads and multiple ServiceMaster brands. “We encourage it, we incentivize it and we’re seeing more and more owners operating multiple ServiceMaster brands,” Strelsin says. 

Furniture Medic has grown to more than 300 locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Across its U.S. network, Furniture Medic franchisees registered more than $28 million in sales in 2016.  

Building that large a network was possible because of the personal care and dedication Furniture Medic gave to each of its operators. The company offers a range of support services to help its franchisees start their businesses and be successful.  

Before each franchise opens, a business development consultant is assigned to serve as a central point of contact. That person helps the operator develop a business plan, create bids for large jobs and build marketing plans. The company also provides lead generation through national programs and relationships with insurance carriers that cover wood restorations. 

Through ServiceMaster’s lending arm, ServiceMaster Acceptance Corp. (SMAC), the company can even provide financing for franchisees to cover most of the initial fees and opening costs. SMAC can also provide additional financing to help established franchises fund the next phase of growth for their businesses. 

Franchisees can take advantage of ServiceMaster’s size by leveraging the parent company’s buying power to obtain tools and supplies at a lower cost. Although Furniture Medic gives operators the flexibility to choose their own equipment and purchase materials from outside the company, all equipment and materials must meet brand quality and safety standards. However, ServiceMaster encourages the adoption of certain kinds of tools and products through reduced prices. “Franchisees have some flexibility, but any products used must meet our brand standards for quality and safety. Accordingly, we educate our franchisees on why we have chosen a certain brand or product,” Strelsin says.  

Quality Training 

Furniture Medic’s franchisees come from a range of backgrounds and operate their businesses in a variety of ways. Some have brick-and-mortar locations while others have dedicated spaces on their home properties. Either setup allows customers to drop off furniture. In mostService Master JAY 5473 cases, however, Furniture Medic’s franchisees actually complete the repair work on-site. On-site service is especially valuable to commercial customers, such as restaurants, that need their furniture spruced up without interrupting their business. 

Because it is one of the few furniture repair businesses that operates on a national level, many of Furniture Medic’s competitors are local mom-and-pop shops. Furniture Medic’s advantage is in its resources, national programs and standards for quality. Many of those mom-and-pop owners eventually realize they can leverage those programs and turn from competitor to a Furniture Medic franchise. Other operators are individuals who have done wood restoration as a hobby or small side business and want to turn it into something more. 

Even though many of its franchisees have experience in the industry, Furniture Medic has its own quality standards. Every operator must attend three weeks of training at ServiceMaster’s training center in Memphis.  

The training occurs in a classroom session with workstations and shop spaces where the franchisee can receive hands-on experience with various tools and repair techniques.  

Even operators who do not intend to do the repair work themselves must still attend to ensure they can step in if something happens to their skilled employees. “If we know that we’re selling a franchise to someone who will have others run the business for them, we still want them properly trained,” Strelsin says. 

Although the upfront training is extensive, the introduction of new kinds of equipment and processes means there is always more to learn. To keep franchisees up to date on the latest repair methods, Furniture Medic holds monthly webinars on technical skills and other topics, such as business operations, marketing and social media outreach. The company also hosts advanced performance seminars (APS) where it sends an expert from its home office or enlists a highly trained franchisee to teach operators at their own Furniture Medic stores. 

The company has an online Furniture Medic University that provides a web portal through which franchisees can receive further training. 

Those continuous educational efforts culminate at Furniture Medic’s annual convention. The convention offers franchisees an opportunity to network and develop strategies for their businesses, while also providing breakout sessions, business training and information on new national account programs. 

Despite all that training, there are still times when an operator comes across something he's never seen before or needs a refresher on how to proceed with a repair. In those cases, franchisees have two options: call Furniture Medic’s technical center to talk through the issue with the company’s head trainer or leverage the franchise network's discussion groups and informal relationships.  

Shifting Strategy 

For the past 25 years, Furniture Medic has built its business on the strength of its single owner operators. As the brand expands into more national account and disaster restoration work, Strelsin said the company plans to focus on working with its franchisees to expand their businesses, adding staff and broadening their reach into more communities. “As we expand our network, we are interested in appealing to new franchisees who want to hire people and grow their businesses,” Strelsin says. 

Franchisees who add staff will be better positioned to add new services, take on larger volumes of work and participate in national account programs. Because revenue is driven primarily by labor hours, those that don’t add staff risk hitting a ceiling as they work to expand. “Our extended coverage areas and professional franchisees allow us to offer better value to customers with larger volumes of work,” Strelsin explains. 

The strategy ties into how Furniture Medic locates its franchises. Instead of giving each operator a protected geographic area, it sells territories in terms of counties or zip codes divided into regions of roughly 100,000 people. Franchisees can actively market their businesses within that territory, although they are also welcome to accept customers who come to them directly from outside that zone. 

Some single owner operators, however, may not participate in the full range of Furniture Medic services, which include residential, commercial, national programs, moving claims, cabinet refacing and insurance claims from fire and water damage. Shops that are one-Furniture Medic JAY 3412person operations might offer only home repairs or fix water damage, making it difficult to serve commercial or insurance customers who are part of a national program in that area. Focusing on recruiting franchisees who hire additional employees will likely lead to more franchises that offer the company’s full suite of services, helping to standardize the company’s operations and increasing the value of national programs. 

Although its strategy is evolving, Furniture Medic is not leaving its existing franchisees behind. Rather, it is helping guide them along the path to increasing their services. For those whose businesses don’t include any of the other service lines, Furniture Medic provides incentives to increase their capabilities over time. “We offer, from a franchise perspective, the ability to diversify their business model,” Strelsin says. 

To drive the adoption of services, Furniture Medic introduced a program that each year identifies an innovative service offering. During that year, the company produces targeted training and marketing materials, while also offering a lower royalty rate for those service jobs. The hope is that by the end of the year participating franchisees will have become proficient in that service and are ready to make it a permanent part of their operations. “Sometimes you need that carrot in order to gain traction and we’ve been successful with that the last couple of years,” Strelsin says. 

Consolidating Technology 

Shifting its strategy to franchisees that want to expand their businesses will drive Furniture Medic’s growth, but the company’s embrace of technology will sustain it. “We’re putting a much heavier focus on leveraging technologies to drive efficiencies in our business,” Strelsin notes. 

The company is in the midst of rolling out a new system that will consolidate everything from customer relationship management to accounts receivable. The system will give Furniture Medic’s corporate leadership and franchisees better insight into performance to allow for better allocation of support to operators who need it.  

The cloud-based system is in operation at about 15 percent of U.S. franchises as of August and Strelsin expects it to reach 25 percent adoption by the end of the year. The gradual rollout is necessary because operators must transfer their business data from their existing systems to the new technology. “What we’re attempting to do is provide a standardized, centralized offering in how we drive best practices for how we’re operating our business and various service lines,” Strelsin explains. 

Franchisees ultimately benefit from those standardizations through better efficiencies and brand recognition, and Strelsin says his team also becomes energized by operators’ individual success stories. “I love the opportunity to help people start their own businesses,” he says. “It’s more than just putting food on the table. In a franchise organization, you as a business owner are the one selecting what you want to do because you are making that investment.”

 

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