01 Nov 2013

Home inspector Lee Blackstone has owned his WIN franchise for 10 years

Business is bursting at the seams for Lee Blackstone’s WIN Home Inspection franchise. The former JC Penney sales management professional commands about 80 percent of the home inspection market in Madera, Merced, and Chowchilla, California and surrounding areas. After 10 years of franchise ownership, Blackstone has designed a secure lifestyle in which he can easily carve out time for spending time with his two grown sons and granddaughter. He also enjoys touring the western states with his wife on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This is his story.

What were you doing before WIN?
Before I purchased my WIN franchise I was a Snap-on Tools franchisee for 12 years. I did well at it, but it got to be a grind. I needed a change in scenery. When I was with Snap-on, I really didn’t know anyone other than my field manager and his direct manager. At WIN, I was on a first name basis with the entire staff of the company after my first week of training, and it’s been that way for 10 years. They are truly there for you. One of the first things that the president, Steve Wadlington, does is give you his cell phone number. That floored me.

How did you find out about WIN?
I was at my brother–in-law’s house in Sacramento, and his house was in the process of being inspected by Geoff Wilson, a WIN inspector in Sacramento. I asked Geoff a few questions. Within 10 days I was speaking with the home office about the opportunities available.

The thing that appealed to me most about WIN is it gave me more personal responsibility than my previous work. I would be more accountable to myself rather than depend on other people in a long supply chain.

What sets WIN apart?
WIN is concerned about more than selling you a franchise. They are also very concerned about ensuring that it’s a right fit for the franchisee. I appreciate this aspect of WIN much more now than I did at first. When I first started in 2003, I wanted to jump in and get started. I appreciate that they saw something good in me that would be a good fit. It was a very smooth transition for me, and WIN helped along the way.

I have fewer worries with WIN. If I was a completely independent business owner, I’d have to worry about so much more — the legality of my inspection agreements, my marketing plan, etc. With WIN, the headaches of these types of things are gone. Granted, we pay our royalties, but it’s worth it. From a legal standpoint, WIN’s got our back. From a marketing standpoint, I don’t have to worry about making sure I’m No. 1 on Google. I don’t have to worry about my presence being known through email blasts. My biggest worry is about what makes my business go — the home inspections. I know a lot of independent business owners who can’t devote themselves to the core of their businesses because they have to worry about so many things. I don’t. All of it is taken care of by the franchise.

What kind of person makes a good WIN home inspector?
You need to have a people mentality, and you need to become a good sales person. You will basically be selling two things — yourself and a brand name. If you do these two things — and believe in yourself and in the company — your sales will come. You need to follow the format of what WIN trains you to do, and you have to work hard. Success will always follow.

Some people get disillusioned after 90 or 100 days if their growth isn’t immediate, but they just have to keep pounding. In this type of referral business, it takes a little time to build trust. Real estate agents are very leery of recommending a home inspector unless they know they are competent. When it comes to inspections, we have to be right the first time on the calls we make, and the real estate agents have to have the comfort in knowing we are going to be right the first time. The trust building only happens through networking and marketing. They have to see what kind of a person you are.

Although having a background in construction can be helpful for some WIN home inspectors, I don’t think it’s necessary. I am very handy by nature, but I didn’t have a construction background. I actually think having a construction background can sometimes be a hindrance because you can get too technical.

What don’t people understand about home inspections?
In California, we are narrow in the scope of things we can do. I can’t talk about mold, pest inspections or appraisals because everything has a separate license in the state. I can’t deal with septic or well tests. If you are good at what you do, this narrowness is not a problem.

Part of our job is to educate Realtors of the importance of home inspections. When I first presented our narrative style report, it opened up a lot of eyes. At first, Realtors were somewhat afraid of it because they thought it contained too much information. But there’s no such thing as too much information if it helps assure a buyer. A home inspection is not all about bad information. The typical report is 30-35 pages long and contains objective information about a house. It’s like a punch list of things that need attention to one degree or another.

How large is the opportunity?
In most markets I think there’s always room for a good inspector. WIN does quite a lot of research before they decide on their designated marketing areas. If you work with WIN, do your own marketing research correctly and call around to your expected competition — you will know if the opportunity is there or not.

What do you like about the business?
I like the interaction with the people. I encourage the clients to be there at some point during the inspection, whether it’s towards the end or the entire time. I really enjoy when they are a part of it. Eighty percent of the issues we see are similar issues. What changes in the business are the people you get to deal with.

I can strike up a conversation when I’m doing an inspection. I’m talking about the house, but I’m also finding out about the client’s backgrounds and expectations. You get a good understanding of who you are dealing with. It can often help you make a more intelligent report.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
It frees up time to do more of the things you want to do. You can make your schedule so that it includes family time. Because you’re in the franchise, you don’t have to worry about the other minutia that goes along with being in business. Between government regulations and taxes, you are busy enough. WIN gives you an incredible safety net with support for marketing, IT or other technical issues you may have. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I will still call our technical advisor about once a month. When I have little glitches here and there, I’ve been able to solve them with a single phone call.

Would you recommend this franchise?
I’m 56 and in the last month I’ve seen three of my contemporaries lose their jobs with small and large corporate America. Some of those jobs have been in sales. When I was starting out and things were slow, I would have done anything to get back into the regular workforce. But now I look back and I feel sorry for these people because they really don’t have control of their own destiny. I can’t control the real estate market — and it can be like a roller coaster at times — but I can control the things within my real estate market. I’m at the point where I can’t handle any more business without hiring an employee. You can ramp up this business as much as you want and control it as much as you want. If you work at it, you can be as successful as you want.