02 Jan 2014

Mike Hankins bought his WIN franchise in 2007, just as the Great Recession began. How is he holding up? Well, business has tripled.

When most people think about franchising, the first thing they think about is restaurants, so it’s not without irony that when Mike Hankins grew tired of the long hours and staffing challenges of the restaurant industry, franchising provided him a way to a career outside of the dining world. Mike discovered WIN Home Inspection, and has used his management skills and work ethic to build a multi-territory home inspection franchise based near Nashville, TN.

This is his story.

What were you doing before WIN?
I was in the restaurant business for 25 years. The last group of restaurants that I owned was part of a group out of Atlanta called Stoney River Legendary Steaks. I was a managing partner and minority owner, and when Stoney River was bought by O’Charley’s, I stayed aboard for about four years before they bought me out. That’s what brought me to the Nashville area — I’m originally from Texas. I got a nice payout and started looking for what I wanted to do next, and I knew I wanted it to be something that would let me be home in the evenings. The restaurant business has a tough schedule, and I had young children. I wanted a business with somewhat normal hours that would let me do Little League and stuff like that.

I used to work Tuesday through Saturday, and be there from 11 to 9, getting home around 10. I’d get kids off the school in the morning, and then I wouldn’t see them again. It worked okay when they were really little, but once they got to school and started having a lot of activities, it was tough. They are 14 and 12 now, and I’m loving having a better schedule. I’m usually back at the house every day by about 3. The first year, you’re working like a mad man, but if you do the job right and build good relationships with your real estate agents, once the business gets going it rolls along pretty well.

How did you find out about WIN?
One of the original franchisees who had started the business in Nashville was ready to retire. I got a good deal because of the timing — we were headed into the recession. I was sure I’d be able to handle the technical part because I’ve always been a handy person — when you work in the restaurant business, you’re used to working on equipment and working with contractors. There was a big learning curve, but things seem to have worked out alright.

How did you pull off the transition to performing home inspections?

WINspect software streamlines the home inspection process and makes it simple to quickly produce thorough, professional-looking inspection reports.

I’m a true believer that anybody can do anything with the proper training and work ethic. You go through a lot of training, and then you have people you can ask questions when you get started. After about 200 inspections, you start to feel pretty comfortable. Those first 200, you’ll probably feel a little nervous. I didn’t ask for a lot of help, but when I did they were very available and accommodating.

What might people need to know that they don’t already know?
In this business, it’s really important to have a good relationship with Realtors. They refer you to clients and hopefully if they do six deals in a year, they’ll use you to inspect all of them. When you work with a homebuyer to look for any issues with the house, your job is to provide a great inspection and also be very professional, because the agents’ reputation is affected by how you act and perform. And you need to know how to present issues in a way that people understand, but that doesn’t scare them. You don’t want to be the person who kills a deal for something that shouldn’t have caused the deal to go south. At first that can feel a little like a balancing act, but eventually you realize that you’re just there to inspect — you don’t kill deals, houses with a lot of issues kill deals. If you just represent the issues in a non-threatening manner and let the chips fall where they may, Realtors and buyers are happy.

How busy are you?
I keep growing. I have three inspectors plus myself. We’ve tripled the number of inspections we’re doing since I first started. Over the years, I have gobbled up some territories. Now I own marketing rights in Clarksville, part of Nashville, Brentwood and Murfreesboro.

What sets WIN apart?
There are not many professional companies doing home inspections. The industry is probably split 80/20 — 80% independent guys who used to be contractors and got too old for the physical labor and decided to become inspectors, so they stuck a new sticker on their truck; and 20% big companies like WIN that are more professional and use standard vehicles, systems and branding.

Our professional processes and better software for conducting inspections and providing reports — that’s really our advantage. Home inspectors are kind of like Realtors. There are average Realtors who do three or four deals a year with their friends and family, and there are hungry full-time Realtors who do three or four deals a month. Those folks are professional, and they want to work with professionals. That’s what WIN brings to the table. We are always on time, we look good. Our clients feel like there is a bigger company behind this guy to hold accountable if there’s a problem — it’s not some Joe Blow who could change his phone number and disappear forever. I’d rather work with the professional Realtors who do 30 to 40 deals a year.

WIN also provides great marketing materials, and they have honed the marketing process so you don’t waste a lot of time or money. You can get unfocused: oh man, I need to do a radio spot or buy a billboard. You don’t need to do that, just focus on relationships with Realtors.

What kind of person makes a good WIN home inspector?
If you want to be successful, you have to have a personable demeanor, enjoy meeting people and like developing relationships. You also have to like the technical aspects of the job — routines and checking off checklists. To be a good home inspector, you have to be very consistent in how you approach your job. You have to be serious and focused. It can be hard to find someone with those two sides to their personality, they can be technically skilled, but terrible with people, or great with people, but terrible with the details. The first one will never grow a business, the second one can wind up being sued if they’re negligent.

How large is the opportunity?
I’m doing very well, and I only take about 3% of the market share in Greater Nashville, with plenty of room to grow, so there is plenty of opportunity.

What do you like about the business?
Our job is to help protect people from making a bad investment in a home. I enjoy that responsibility. I enjoy being an important person in that person’s life. I enjoy being able to have a flexible schedule. I’m so busy at this point that it’s not as flexible, but I’m still home every day usually at 3. I have hired an office staff to take some of the back office work away from me. When you first start, you’re the office manager, the phone answerer, the inspector and the marketer — it’s definitely a full-time deal. You can’t be a part-time inspector if you want to grow a business.