18 Dec 2013

Q&A with James Price, National Guard veteran who owns the WIN Home Inspection franchise in Lubbock, TX

James and Jessica Price started their WIN Home Inspection franchise in 2012 in Lubbock, TX, with help from a WIN for America grant.[/caption]

James and Jessica Price started their WIN Home Inspection franchise in Lubbock, TX, in 2012, just as James’ stint in the National Guard was ending. James joined the service in 2007 and served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. He was stationed at Camp Bucca, a base near the Kuwait border where he helped maintain the truck fleet that moves supplies for the Army. He discovered WIN Home Inspection while researching business opportunities through VetFran. At 26 years old, he has one of the fastest growing franchises in the country, and is proof of how quickly the business can grow.

What led you to WIN Home Inspection?
I was looking at starting my own business. Right after I got back from Iraq, I decided to get a degree in business administration — I recently earned my bachelor’s degree from Wayland Baptist University. I looked into franchising because I wanted to be part of a proven system and have some support, and I looked at a few different businesses — an ATM business, a restaurant. My overall goal was to start a small business, and I knew I didn’t want to take out a $250,000 loan to do it, so I was looking for great businesses with an investment under $100,000. As I was searching for opportunities, I found WIN, which has a low startup fee. When I talked to Keith (Mathias), he mentioned that WIN was doing something very special for veterans — WIN for America. I decided to apply for the program, and got a big discount. I put together a business plan, got a bank loan, got training and got started!

Did you have any construction or real estate industry experience before starting your franchise?
No, but home inspection looked like a great opportunity, and I wasn’t intimidated by it. I’ve always been the guy who would lend power tools and lawn mowers, so I figured I could learn the technical part of the business. The hardest part was getting my inspection license. The state of Texas is probably the most difficult state to get your home inspection license in, which is one reason there are only about 2,300 home inspectors in the entire state of Texas. That’s not very many.

The state has an official trainer for the license exam, and WIN works with him. He’s a wealth of knowledge, and I took classes with him at the Champion School of Real Estate in Dallas, which is about a 6-hour drive from Lubbock. I took as many classes online as I could, then drove into Dallas 7-8 times for 10-hour days in the classroom.

What sets WIN apart?
WIN gives you the tools to be the most professional home inspector there is. A lot of home inspectors are great at their job technically, but when it comes down to it, Realtors and customers want your knowledge, but they also want someone who knows about customer service. A lot of people in the industry don’t know the basics of customer service — even little things like answering the phone with the name of your business instead of just “hello.” Also, we dress nicely. And we have consistency. Customers will always be greeted by an inspector in a clean shirt, driving a clean vehicle, and being professional. There are a lot of small things they make you aware of that take you a long way. If you were on own, you’d have to figure it out on your own — or never figure it out. WIN’s training and systems have helped me get where I am now.

How is your business performing?
When I did my business plan, I had three-year projection. I figured I’d be getting 30 home inspections a month every month by Year 3. Well, at 6 months I started getting 30 a month, and I haven’t stopped getting at least that many since then. I’ve jumped far past all my projections — and tripled them. It’s really exciting to be part of a fast-growing business. It has challenges, too. A business that grows very fast is almost as hard as a business that doesn’t grow at all — sometimes I feel like I have enough work for 10 people, and so I’m already thinking about hiring employees.

What do you like about it?
It’s really interesting to see how a home is built and how repairs have been done over the years. I also really enjoy working with the customers and passing on knowledge that they’ll need in their new home — especially first-time home buyers. A lot of them don’t know anything about their house, like the fact that they need to change air filters every month. You’d be surprised how many home buyers don’t know they needed to do that. I teach them how to to maintain their house, by keeping the roof in good shape, making sure the ground stays sloped right to keep water headed away from the house, keeping it painted. And I alert them to any issues, too. For most people, this is the biggest investment of their life, and they want to know a lot, and I enjoy teaching. It can be a little different since I’m so young. A typical home inspector is 45 to 55 years old, and I’m 26, so I have to win people over a little sometimes, but it’s exciting, and I’m being taken very well.

What have you done to grow your business so quickly?
WIN has a marketing plan that has taken me a long way. I followed it to the book, and it has worked. That speaks volumes, because WIN Home Inspection has never been in West Texas before, so we were growing the brand here. What’s really been effective for me is, I like going to sales meetings with real estate agents, and I’ve gotten to know the Realtors in my community very well. My wife has also helped me a bunch. She now takes care of a lot of the marketing and keeping the bills paid. We’re a husband-wife team, and it’s worked out great. I’m very fortunate to have her help, because I didn’t imagine the business would grow as fast as it did. She’s going to school now, majoring in English, and I figured I’d bring her on a year or two down the road once I started hitting my numbers, but I had to recruit her to the business side of it pretty quick. It’s great for me, because after I put together inspection reports, I have her read through them, and since she doesn’t know inspection jargon she helps me keep the language accessible. If she says something is confusing, I rewrite it. That helps a bunch.

How large is the opportunity?
The opportunity in this industry is great. One of the classes I took pointed out that there there are 115,000 real estate agents and brokers in Texas, and just 2,300 home inspectors. That’s why some inspectors here can get away with not having great customer service. If you come into Texas with a franchise system, you are set up for success. There’s potential to make a lot of money.

What is a normal day like?
I like to stay up late and sleep in a little. I’ll wake up at 8, go to the gym, be in the office at 9. That’s when I look at the inspections I have for the day. I start doing inspections at 10, and keep at them until 5. Then I come back and spend an hour finishing reports. I try to be done by 6, but when you’re a business owner it’s very easy to get caught up in the business and looking at different ways you can grow. I might be thinking about whether to sponsor a golf tournament for real estate agents, or meeting with clients who want to have a consultation because they couldn’t be at the house for the inspection.

The average home inspection takes me three hours. Sometimes in older houses it takes a little longer — I might have to crawl under the foundation and look around, which isn’t something you can do with newer slab foundations.

Would you recommend this franchise? Why?
Yes, definitely. Anybody looking to start a home inspection business would be making a great choice. WIN helps teach you how to inspect, how to market, and how to develop your business. The pre-made inspection sheets and order forms have helped me, and the software has a checklist of everything I should be inspecting. WIN has legal documents that I can use. If I wasn’t part of WIN, I’d have to hire an attorney to help me manage some of those things.

They also help train you to deliver a great experience. A lot of people who go into home inspections are introverted. They’re technically gifted, but they don’t interact well with customers and Realtors. For a lot of them, the only thing between them and having a successful business is having a franchise that can help them with social skills and networking opportunities. I’m kind of half and half. I enjoy the technical side, but I also like getting to know people, spreading my name around, passing out business cards, going to sales meetings and trying to learn everybody’s names.