Jim Dainty explains how he carved out a hefty local market share in this WIN Home Inspection franchise review
Jim Dainty and Greg Johns completed 830 WIN home inspections in 2013.
Jim Dainty, a 15-year veteran of the WIN Home Inspection network, runs one of the franchise’s most successful units. Jim serves Cookeville and surrounding areas in Putnam County, TN. The long-term success of his WIN Home Inspection gives strong testimony to the economic power of a well-populated “micropolitan” region — a small town or city with an urban core of 10,000 to 50,000 people. These cities typically serve thousands more people than their core population because they are surrounded by small towns and communities that need access to their service businesses. On the surface, micropolitan areas might not appear to have the economic importance of large cities, but often they can be significant centers of industry and great places to grow a WIN Home Inspection franchise. That’s certainly the case with Cookeville. The college town has about 31,000 residents, and it’s also close to smaller towns and tourist areas with vacation and second homes.
Although the first couple of years of Jim’s WIN franchise ownership saw him hustling for customers, his business eventually took off in a big way. Jim, who has completed more than 6,000 home inspections, is a star in the WIN network and is also seen as a business leader in his own community, where he is active in the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and several Realtors and construction industry-related groups. The Better Business Bureau presented him with its prestigious Torch Award for Business Ethics in 2008. In 2012, Jim took a new step in growing his franchise. He hired his son-in-law, Greg Johns, to fill the role of a second full-time inspector. In this WIN Home Inspection franchise review, Jim talks about his 15-year journey with the company.
What were you doing before you bought your WIN Home Inspection franchise? I was working in the building supply industry. I didn’t see a future in it. I was really tired of driving from Cookeville (TN) to Murfreesboro (TN) every day. It was a quiet trek. I happened to go online and just look to see what else was out there. There was a small business seminar in Nashville, and I decided to attend. I went to the meeting, and I spoke with the gentleman who represented a number of franchises. We started the process of finding out what kind of franchise might be a good fit for me. There were certainly a number of franchises that were appropriate — from sign shops to retail to the home inspection business.
What stuck out about home inspection as a career choice? For one thing it wasn’t heavily laden with startup costs. I contacted WIN during this process of discovery, and then I did a little research on some other franchises. WIN was the one franchise that really responded to my inquiries in a timely fashion. They seemed to be as interested in me as I was in them, so we moved forward. The other franchises virtually did not communicate with me. They sent an email response that pointed me to go to franchise website. I actually talked to the people at WIN. They were very receptive and seemed genuinely interested in my questions and my desire to learn more about their business. I traveled to Seattle to WIN’s main offices at the time. I came away knowing that WIN was the way to go for me. I took the plunge.
That was 15 years ago. Has the home inspection field changed during that time? When I started out, about 20% of the houses on the market had a home inspection. There weren’t many of us. We basically clamored for business, and because I was the newer guy, I had a harder row to hoe. I had to work hard to establish myself as the person to call. Now close to 80% of the homes sold have a home inspection. I haven’t done the exact math, but I think we have close to 50% of the market share in our territory. We inspected 830 homes last year.
Can you give us a little perspective on how WIN has evolved over that 15 years? A lot of it has to do with people. Tom and Diane Knapp started the company, and they certainly had a vision. People bought into that vision because they were so accessible and available to the Strategic Partners. We could call the office and actually talk to Tom Knapp if we needed to. As WIN continued to grow, more administrative people came on. Each of them brought something new to the company.
I have to say I’m more excited than I’ve been in a long time about the administrative lineup WIN has had for the past three years — from Tom and Diane to Steve Wadlington to Jimmy Rocchetta. These folks have a common vision, and it’s really strengthened the backbone of our business. In the past few years, there have been tremendous efforts (from the home office) in marketing and in developing programs and relationships with vendor partners. Now we have so many relationships to draw upon, and it makes our job a lot easier. We can go about doing our daily business.
WIN Home Inspection is a well-known brand in Putnam County, TN. Owner Jim Dainty says his local market share is 40%-50%.
Do you think it’s better for a WIN home inspector to have construction trade experience? Well, I did, but one of the best inspectors that we have in the WIN network has no building background. We’ve got people representing all kinds of professions. I think it is really important to be a people person. That is a big, big part of it, and it means being able to relate to different kinds of people. Not just the real estate agent, but their clients who then become your clients and, of course, the homebuyer. Sometimes there are even relationships with ancillary people like home sellers. There are times when you are doing an inspection and you find a bunch of issues with a home. That particular seller will end up calling you to get clarification. It’s your job to put them at ease, letting them know that these issues are not the end of the world.
What is Greg’s background? How did you decide to work together? Greg has a master’s degree in English composition. Before he moved to Tennessee he was working in Boston, going to graduate school and working as a personal trainer. Greg and my daughter wanted to move back to Tennessee, so we decided to test him out as a home inspector. It wasn’t a guaranteed job for him because I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with what we do. I was comfortable with him as a son-in-law, but working together is a different thing. Greg shadowed me for about six months, and I got to be very comfortable with his mannerisms, his demeanor and his way of talking to clients. I was able to discern that he was a really good inspector. He has a really keen eye and is very articulate — both great qualities for a home inspector. We continued with the process of formal training and licensure. He came on as an actual inspector in April 2012. It’s turned out great. Here’s someone with no background in the homeownership and home maintenance field. He has really embraced it and become a real student of the trade. Last year he did more than 400 inspections.
Do you think your son-in-law will want to buy the business? Well, it’s certainly an option, and we’ve talked about it. I’m 61, and Greg’s almost 33. There are days when I am ready to retire immediately, but I realize that the timing isn’t there. My wife is a college professor, and she is probably geared to retire in 2019.
What sets WIN apart from competitors? I honestly don’t see anybody that has a more user-friendly report. I was recently able to review another inspector’s report, and I was really struck by how much easier ours is to understand. It’s much more comprehensive, too. WIN’s technology platform, WIN Connect, is outstanding. I absolutely love it. You hit a button, and your orders are all done — all the emails automatically go out, contracts are signed and the payment is taken care of. It works out really well.
What would you say to somebody who is considering buying a WIN franchise? There’s a lot of personal power and flexibility that can come when you own your own business. Not enough can be said about pride of ownership. Plus, WIN provides a very viable income. Last year I probably took close to a month off as far as vacation time. We took a family vacation to Disney World, and we went on a cruise. When you’re looking at a business or a career, the ability to have that kind of flexibility, and the ability to put your family first, is really a plus.
How big is the opportunity in the home inspection business? It’s pretty substantial. I know there are territories around me that are available. There are times when we have to turn business down. I think the demand will continue to increase.
What’s the secret to your success? One of the reasons that you buy a franchise is because it has a proven system of marketing. From the beginning, I have pretty much stuck to the program. I’ve done what was prescribed. My business grew incrementally because more and more people were requesting inspections and more and more Realtors were recommending inspections.
Learn about starting a home inspection franchise
The WIN Home Inspection franchise provides extensive training to help Strategic-Partners understand the technical skills needed to be a great home inspector. In addition, the people skills to help you relate to home buyers and Realtors, in order to earn their confidence and ensure you are delivering a great experience to your customers.