Corporate Refugees In Niche Firms

September 24, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — A former human resources manager and a former pharmaceutics firm officer say autumn is time for homeowners to undertake numerous preventive maintenance chores on their homes.

So, what do these two guys know?

Well, they and their wives are ordinary folks like the rest of us who from time to time have encountered winterization problems: The first northwest gales disclose a furnace on strike; or the wind springs storm door hinges; or a chimney flue is packed with squirrels’ nests.

But what makes these two couples different is that now they can do something about it very, very quickly.

That’s their business.

Mark and Diane Woods and Mike and Dori McKelvey are the owners of the community’s first two Mr. Handyman franchises, firms that specialize in residential and commercial fix-it jobs that are too small to interest most contractors.

The Woods are owners of the eastern Grand Rapids Mr. Handyman, and the McKelvey territory is western Kent County and Ottawa County.

The two families purchased the franchises and started the businesses in March because Mark and Mike were weary of the corporate grind and wanted to “do something entrepreneurial.”

According to Diane Woods — the commercial business marketing vice president for the eastern Grand Rapids Mr. Handyman — the most popular services Mr. Handyman offers are generally dry-wall repair, broken window replacement or repair, and painting.

But she said there’s much more.

Other services range from faucet repair and installation to weather sealing and insulation, from tile and floor installation to basement refinishing, and from childproofing to building garage and utility shelves.

Mr. Handyman also installs railings and ramps for handicap access.

And yes, they’ll put up Christmas lights in autumn and take them down in spring.

Woods said each franchise has a set of full-time employees who do nothing but the odd jobs that homeowners and commercial firms need done but have difficulty finding firms to do.

Mr. Handyman is a national service company with more than 60 locations in 30 states.

Woods told the Business Journal that Mr. Handyman caters to homeowners and commercial customers who don’t have the time, the skills or the tools to, say, replace a ceiling fan or install a mounting floor seal for a toilet.

Likewise, she said, the company can help a homeowner who cannot do certain household jobs because of age or infirmity.

She also said that because one of the eastern Grand Rapids staff is a licensed electrician, the firm also can deal with more sophisticated tasks such as wiring in a hot tub or new major appliances.

Appropriately, the franchise owners refer to their handymen as technicians.

She said the employees are experienced, bonded and insured tradesmen.

“And, if something should happen on the job (such as) one of them is injured,” she added, “then it’s our insurance that pays for treatment and lost earning time — not your insurance.”

She said that if a client doesn’t like a particular technician, the franchise will honor a request not to send the same technician back for a second job.

“But the thing we’ve been getting,” she said, “is that a customer will like the technician and ask to have him back for the next job. We can accommodate that, too.”

Her husband indicted the technicians arrive for jobs in a clearly marked van, wearing a clean shirt sporting the Mr. Handyman logo.

“Jobs are booked in one-hour increments with most averaging three hours,” Woods indicated.

“The company standard is for technicians to have one scheduled appointment per day, which means they arrive on time and stay until the job is done.”

Though the firms just began operation last spring, both the Woods and the McKelveys say they already are becoming busy. 

“There’s a true need for these kinds of handyman services, not only in Grand Rapids, but everywhere,” Mark Woods said.

“These are the jobs the larger contractors or subcontractors don’t want to take on. We’re filling the niche in the market that contractors are stepping over.”

McKelvey said that whether the project is big or small, or for a homeowner or commercial firm, Mr. Handyman can handle it promptly.

“Mr. Handyman can complete over 95 percent of all household or commercial maintenance and repair projects,” McKelvey added.

“We employ well-trained professionals with customer satisfaction being the ultimate goal. No job is too small for our technicians. They are committed to handling any job and

doing it right the first time.”

Woods said the companies’ bottom line is “We’re striving to satisfy every customer to a point where they won’t hesitate to call Mr. Handyman in the future.”

He and McKelvey say the early response from customers has been extremely positive.

“We’ve had some great feedback so far,” Woods said. “The comment we keep hearing is ‘Where have you been?’ I see that as a very good sign.”

McKelvey said he is very optimistic about the company’s future in Grand Rapids and in the Holland and Tri-Cities areas.

“Based on everything I’ve witnessed so far, I’m confident Mr. Handyman will be embraced with open arms and will be very successful here,” he said.

McKelvey spent the last six years at LDI Inc., an automobile supplier, where he served as the company’s human resources manager. For the past five years, Woods served as a pharmaceutical sales specialist with AstraZeneca, the third largest pharmaceutical manufacturer in the world.

The Woods’ office is located at 2215 Oak Industrial Drive NE.

McKelvey’s offices are at 4211 Clyde Park Ave. SW in Wyoming.

Dori McKelvey is a CPA in a corporate practice, and she also serves as the financial officer of the McKelvey franchise.

Mr. Handyman is one of several new companies launched recently by Service Brands International (SBI), the parent company of Molly Maid Inc., an Ann Arbor-based residential cleaning service.

John Eggenberger, an executive spokesman, said SBI believed that home-handyman services represented a sensible extension in the home service industry. 

Mr. Handyman arose in part from the founding business model and investment by Massachusetts businessman David Lavalle, who established the original company in 1996. Service Brands International acquired the rights and trademark to the company in March of 2000.

For more information, one may reach the Woods at 559-0035 and the McKelveys at 531-8804.

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