Bob Moore is the vice president of development and operations at United Water Restoration Group. The Florida-based franchisor is on track to pass the 100-unit market shortly, with a goal of adding another 60 to 75 units in the next two years.
R&R: What is the background of UWRG and your role?
Moore: We were founded in 2008, during the horrible recession then, and also one of the most active hurricane seasons in Florida. We are a Florida-based company with our first location in the Daytona Beach area. Our two founders were two gentlemen from Hungary who didn’t know each other in Hungary, but met when they came to the States. There’s a pretty robust Hungarian business population in the Daytona Beach area, so they crossed paths over here.
They had been in different home services and were exposed to restoration. They thought it was a great business to be in. They formed the company, filled a van with equipment and started knocking on doors. It grew pretty quickly.
Over the next four years, the business went from one to about 12 offices across Florida. At one point, there were 15. They added another business partner and in 2015 they started franchising the concept.
R&R: Why the move to franchising?
Moore: One of the founders’ brothers saw how successful he was and wanted to get in the business. Then, a corporate employee was moving out of the area and wanted to open an office. Right around the same time, the owners bought a Mr. Rooter franchise of their own. The combination of those events made them think they should franchise the concept.
We have 20 franchisees with 83 territories. We have two more in the onboarding process. When they open, it will be 86 territories.
R&R: What is the appeal for the franchisees?
Moore: It’s a recession-resistant business. All the news about the economy — interest rates and inflation — makes us very appealing. Also, there’s still a lingering fear that COVID lockdowns could come back. Restoration is an essential business. We were able to stay open and serve customers.
A lot of the interest also comes from people who are in the home services field, some of whom are doing work for other restoration companies. They’d rather do all the work. It helps stabilize their business if they’ve been doing remodeling if that slows down.
R&R: What services do your franchisees offer?
Moore: We’re a full-service restoration firm. Some of our locations do bio, but not all of them. Some also offer reconstruction, but not all of them.
Water is our main line of business. At our corporate locations, it makes up 60% - 65% of our work. For our franchises, it’s only about 55%.
R&R: What are the criteria for getting a franchise?
Moore: We’re an emerging brand, so we have a lot of open territories. Twenty-five franchises is a very small footprint.
[Potential franchisees] have to be financially qualified. Beyond that, we vet them to make sure they understand the restoration business and what they’re getting into. It is a 24/7, 365 business. You don’t have normal business hours. As we talk to projects, we make sure they fully understand that. And we make sure they have a good business plan.
We have some people who come into this as owner/operators. They are going to be very hands-on and do a lot of the work. And we have others who come into it knowing they are going to hire a staff that does all the heavy lifting while they focus on scaling the business.
R&R: How do you recruit new franchisees?
Moore: Like most other brands, we’ve done online advertising and we’ve gone to the trade shows. But the biggest change we’ve made as business to further our growth plan is to partner with Raintree, which is a franchise development company. They have a successful track record of helping to grow emerging brands.
We went through their process. They interviewed us as closely as we interviewed them. They only do one brand in each concept. We are very pleased with them and how they go about franchise development.
We have a proven business model. We’ve proven that we can teach people how to do this business. But we just haven’t had the right people for franchise development. So we went to a proven source.
R&R: How do you compete with the larger restoration franchisors?
Moore: Right now, one advantage we have is we have a lot of territory. [Potential franchisees] may want a firm with more brand awareness, but there are no available territories. But they like the concept.
Being small and nimble is a competitive advantage. Our owners still have 13 corporate locations where they are still earning a living, just like our franchisees. When COVID hit, people didn’t want anyone in their homes. We asked how long that was going to last and started to focus on COVID cleaning. We did a quick call with the franchisees and started to market that service.
For 25 franchisees, we have seven support people. That ratio is very high.
R&R: What is the future of the corporate locations?
Moore: We’re probably going to pare those down. We’ve already done some re-sales of our corporate locations. I’ve been in franchising for 30 years. I’ve been with Domino’s Pizza, ServiceMaster and Dunkin Brands. Any franchisor I’ve been involved with, when you have corporate locations, they tend not to run as well as the franchise locations.
We’ll keep a few of the larger corporate locations because the owners still like being in the restoration business. They don’t want to sell them all. They still show up to the office every day.
It’s a real advantage. We have a very robust website that franchisees can piggy back onto. We also offer them a standalone website. Having that authority on our main website, we have a lot of franchisees that open up and start showing up in Google searches right away.
Also, having the corporate locations, we come up with new ways to solve problems. For example, we found a payment app that sends a link to the homeowner so they can pay us and any vendors on the claim. We have an in-house programmer who builds app and other features to our website. We can test all that out corporately before we roll it out to our franchisees.
R&R: How does the company’s background in Florida help franchisees when dealing with extreme weather events?
Moore: The Texas Big Freeze is a great example. We have four franchisees in Texas. Very quickly, our experience with hurricane benefited them. Any extreme weather brings more work than any restoration firm can handle. That event will cause you to fill your schedule for weeks, if not months. That’s very hard to handle.
Because of all the hurricanes in Florida, we have internal processes in terms of taking calls, getting them on a waiting list, rotating through the leads. Our franchisees in Texas forwarded their calls to our corporate headquarters and our corporate support staff became a call center for them. We also sent a tractor trailer full of equipment to them.
R&R: What are your growth plans?
Moore: In the past year, we’ve added seven franchisees. That was a little better than we thought we would do. My goal is 125-130 territories by the end of 2023.