05 Mar 2014

Former bicycle store manager man bought his WIN franchise in 2001. In a Q&A, he explains — why WIN?

When Mark Rathz started looking into starting his own business, home inspections stood out — until he was told that he wouldn’t be able to compete in the industry. With a background in bicycle retail stores, what did he know about running home inspection business? Then Mark discovered WIN, which recognized that his sales skills, outgoing personality, and mechanical inclination actually made him an ideal candidate for a home inspection franchise.

Mark bought his WIN franchise in St. Louis in 2001, and it’s going strong. This is his story.

What were you doing before WIN?
I sold bicycles. I ran a bicycle company that had eight locations and did $8 million in annual sales. It was a big outfit called Touring Cyclists, and I did that for 18 years, starting in 1984, and I loved it — working with the public, getting people active and helping them change their lifestyles. I owned my own little bike shop prior to that. I didn’t actually make any money — I was too busy racing my bicycle in the ‘70s and early ‘80s! As Touring Cyclists kept growing and doing well, I helped open and managed several stores, but back in 1999 I saw that the business was starting to slow down and I was motivated to move out. The main reason was, I wanted more income. I started looking at businesses because I knew I didn’t want to go to work for someone else. For several years, I had basically been in a proprietor’s position — I knew what it took to run the business, how to read a P/L statement, how to hire and fire, merchandising, all that stuff.


What led you to WIN Home Inspection?
In 1996 we bought a house, and the Realtor insisted I have a home inspection done. The seller was the home’s original owner, and had been there 28 years. I looked at the house four times — mainly to show it to family — and by the time I was done I’d looked the house over pretty well. Well, when the inspector came, he didn’t do a very thorough job, and I was able to tell. That got me thinking — I can do a much better job that this. I asked the Realtor who sold me the house about the home inspection industry. At first, I was told that since I wasn’t already an ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) certified inspector, I wouldn’t be able to get any work in St. Louis, and the message I got from ASHI was that if I didn’t have extensive experience in construction, I shouldn’t be a home inspector. That scared me off for a while.

I explored other opportunities, but saw an ad for a home inspection franchise that was for sale — I think it was HouseMaster. I’d never thought about franchises before, but it made sense: I’d get training I needed, and I’d have more credibility thanks to the brand and the system. I started calling, and the first few franchises I called did not impress me. They wouldn’t return my call! After filling out several inquiry forms online, The Entrepreneur Source contacted me to see if they could help me. I went through an extensive questionnaire with them, and had a couple of interviews with them to learn about me, and then they recommended three franchises to me: ServPro, Merry Maids and WIN Home Inspection. I told them, ‘I’ve looked into the home inspection thing, and I’m not interested!” I nixed one suggestion after another, and my advisor told me to take another look at home inspections because he thought I’d be really good at it. When I reached out to WIN, I heard from them quickly. I looked at a few other companies, still, but the bottom line was that WIN was the most responsive.

How did they help you overcome your certification concerns?
They let me know that they deal with it all the time, and all the training they offer is designed to get you ready for certification. I followed their instructions to a T, became an ASHI member, earned my certification and never had a problem.

Did your lack of construction experience make you nervous?
Running a growing retail chain, I contracted for extensive remodeling three times, figuring out what walls to knock out, and I handled a lot of maintenance and repair. I was the first line of defense. If the AC was going out at a store, the first thing to do was send me out to try to fix it. When there was something I couldn’t handle, we’d call out a pro. If the plumbing wasn’t working or a window wasn’t working, I’d fix it. I also had experience in rental property management. I helped a friend of mine repair roofs. WIN helped me realize that a lot of the skills I’d built up over the years were applicable to my new business.

What did WIN provide, besides the power of the brand, to help your business?
They give me the tools to market myself, and the marketing training. I don’t have to try to fumble my way to the best marketing materials and processes, because they already have that figured out.

Local mobile sites are one example of the marketing tools WIN provides Strategic-Partners.

Are you comfortable with all the networking?
Absolutely. When I ran the bicycle business, one of the ways we marketed it was to hold bicycle tours all over town. One of the hardest parts were the flyers. By the time we were done, they would look cool, but they were a bitch to put together. WIN already had that nailed down, so I didn’t have to figure out which pictures to use, how my business cards should look, what printer to use. That’s all taken care of — I can just go out and sell my business.

What kind of person makes a good WIN home inspector?
If you can’t be a sales person, you’re going to have a hard time in this business, because you have to go out and sell yourself. You don’t have to start out with the technical background. If you follow WIN’s plan and training diligently and stick with the program, you will do well. No matter what industry you’re in and what your background is, WIN can help you be a good home inspector. But you have to be willing to go out and network. For the first two or three years I was in business, I was out introducing myself to Realtors at Open Houses every single Sunday except for holidays or when friends or relatives came into town. That was the Number One way for me to get my name out there. It’s a shotgun approach — you meet as many people as you can. Maybe 90% of them don’t do business with you, but 10% will. If you are willing to hustle, you can make money. If you’re shy, you shouldn’t do this.

What do you enjoy about it?
I enjoy the independence. Most of us are owner/operators. I may bring someone onboard to expand my business eventually. If I want to, I can; if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

I enjoy looking at the houses, whether it’s a big mansion or a modest cottage. I enjoy driving around town, too. After a while, being in the same store day in and day out gets old. I’m so glad I don’t work in an office building every day, going to the same place and doing a bunch of paperwork. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have paperwork to do, but it’s nice to get out.

I enjoy interacting with and meeting new and different people. Seventy-five percent of of my clients are first-time buyers, often younger people. Locating the water shutoff valve may be a detail that’s old as the hills to me, but it’s brand spanking new to them, and it’s nice to see how enthusiastic they are.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I still do quite a bit of bicycling; 20-40 miles once or twice a week. I try to do a 100-mile ride every year.

Would you recommend this franchise?
Oh yeah, definitely. WIN has a strong image: the white vans and consistent marketing are a big asset, because it sets you apart. The training they give is very strong. WIN told me they’d teach me how to do the very best home inspection that can be done, and how to explain it to buyers and agents, and if you can do that, you’re going to get business.

How much opportunity is there to grow a WIN franchise?
Part of your success will come from growth of the market. The bulk will come from winning jobs away from your competition. There are 4,000 homes being inspected each year in St. Louis, and if I can inspect 400 of them, I’m building a solid business.

Interested in starting a WIN Home Inspection franchise?

WIN Home Inspection started in the Pacific Northwest in 1993 and has grown to more than 170 franchises in 27 states. It is one of the fastest-growing home inspection franchises in the country, and is ranked as a top franchise opportunity by Entrepreneur magazine, and by G.I. Jobs.