Brian Pahl launched his remodeling franchise at the worst possible time, just as the bottom fell out of the housing industry
Some might call it the perfect storm. Brian Pahl had lost his job and was purchasing a DreamMaker Remodeling franchise when seemingly overnight the U.S. plunged into the Great Recession. One day the banks were handing out loans and the next, lending was gone, Brian said.
All of his hard work up until then, including the construction of his own new home, was going up in smoke, testing his marriage and his faith. The Pahls ended up selling their home and fighting to keep their new business alive with help from the team at DreamMaker headquarters.
Their tenacity was inspiring. At a time when a lot of other remodeling businesses folded, Brian stayed the course, and he has since built a bustling remodeling business in the West Bend, Wisconsin, area. He won an award for Personal Achievement at the 2014 DreamMaker Reunion, and his faith and marriage are stronger than ever. In fact, the business is now strong enough that his wife, Karen, may soon leave her teaching job to help manage their growing DreamMaker franchise.
This is Brian’s story:
What were you doing before purchasing the DreamMaker remodeling franchise?
I was a national sales manager for a couple of different companies. I worked for a couple of years at a trucking company. Later, I sold outdoor health and fitness products, including first aid kits, repellents and other gear to big retailers like Academy Sports, Bass Pro, Cappellas. I did well. That was until the economy began to slow down, and I was let go.
Why did you lean toward remodeling and design?
I grew up building cabinets, remodeling and designing alongside my father. I always enjoyed the work. But my parents thought it was best for me to achieve a four-year, college degree. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. When I lost my job, people began calling to ask if I would take on remodeling projects for them. I remember calling my dad and asking if it was possible that this is what I was supposed to pursue.
How did you choose the DreamMaker Remodeling franchise?
My father was thinking of retiring at the time, but he scrapped those plans and asked me if I wanted to form a partnership instead. We considered a franchise that focused only on the installation of countertops, and that’s when we found DreamMaker. My father asked me why I would do just countertops when I had a passion for remodeling. Why limit ourselves? We began the interview process with DreamMaker right away.
But things didn’t go as planned. What happened next?
The timing was awful to purchase a franchise. We started negotiating with banks in June and July of 2008 when they were easygoing about lending money. I’ll never forget in September 2008 when we were supposed to close. One day they were ready to lend, and the next they wouldn’t say a word. [This was when Lehman Brothers collapsed into bankruptcy, triggering the financial meltdown of 2008.]
Luckily, the franchise fees with DreamMaker were a lot less than expected, and my parents were able to bring money to the table to get us started. At the time, the thought was that the recession would last about 6 to 9 months.
One saving grace is that homes in Wisconsin didn’t lose their value as badly as they did in other parts of the country. Still, we had to sell our home to stay above water.
I had been making good money as a sales manager, and we built a really nice home. We held on for about a year after opening the franchise, and then we were faced with the decision to either hang on to the business or the house. We ended up taking a hit on the sale of our home, and we moved in with my parents to try to make ends meet. My wife was pregnant at the time.
It took a toll. There were times when I was frustrated and I wanted to walk away. One day I told God that maybe this business wasn’t for me. I told Him that if you want this work, take it, it’s yours, and somehow it’s been doing well ever since. By the end of 2011, heading into 2012, business started picking up, and the rest is history.
How was DreamMaker corporate to work with at this time?
They were fantastic. DreamMaker Vice President Amy Mosley was my franchise coach at the time when my wife and I were contemplating selling the house and closing the business. Our marriage was really struggling.
Amy would call, and the first thing she would ask was how my wife and I were doing. The business came second to the needs of our family. That was huge for me. Most franchise companies would have been trying to cover their bases during an economic downturn. Instead DreamMaker worked with me to make ends meet.
What helped turn the corner for you?
Obviously, being able to downsize enough was key. I also got into a mindset that helped me not appear desperate for the next remodeling job when meeting with customers. DreamMaker’s Franchising Coach Greg Friebel came out and helped me implement a new sales system, which helped me to achieve this mindset. It was a different approach, and it has really helped. For example, I used to cut margins as thin as possible just to get the next job and to make the next mortgage. Once the sales system was in place, I was able to produce better estimates while being careful about numbers, and earn better margins. In 2012, we were getting our feet wet again. In 2013, we grew, and 2014 has been even better.
Greg has been my franchise coach now for almost three years. He let me set times to communicate with him, and at first, we talked once a week. It was Greg who forced us to look at our budgets and to use the franchise tools that were available, which we had been neglecting. We had to be humble enough to go through the learning process, or we would not still be in business.
How is the DreamMaker Remodeling franchise different from other franchises?
There are so many positives. If I need to talk to somebody at corporate, they will be in touch with me. They are always available. They are also quick to provide vendor agreements or marketing materials.
I spoke to a guy who owns a different franchise last year, and he told me that they didn’t get any support. The most their franchisor does is a product electronic-blast about once a quarter. Other than that, there is no relationship there. That was sad to hear because the guy had paid a lot of money for the company. They are basically just buying a product.
With DreamMaker, all the systems are there. Plus, they are constantly providing new marketing materials, new vendors are constantly being rolled out, and they are always there to help you.
How are things different now that the business is on track?
In summer of 2010, I went for a run because I was so stressed out. I knew we were going to have to sell our house. I just kept running and running, and I’m not really a runner. I was praying, and I remember God telling me that it was going to be a hard time, but that He would pull me through.
I was a believer before then, but I feel like that was the day I really gave my life to Christ. I don’t know, maybe He kept us around to help others, and we have. We have even brought some customers to our church. And now we have a foster child who has been with us since July, which has been a blessing.
Today, I take my business one day at a time. I am very cautious with all aspects of the business from purchasing to marketing. We utilize established trade partners to handle different aspects of our remodel projects. We have one part-time employee that we are trying out as our internal lead carpenter. I am interviewing someone else to be a carpenter’s helper.
I am still doing all the selling and project managing, which is what I really love. I absolutely enjoy talking to customers and talking about what they want.
What do you like about your customers and the work you do in their homes?
Our customers become our friends. We were finishing out a basement for a customer who called in September of last year. They called back and asked if we would be interested in remodeling their bathroom. We created a master suite out of an attic space. From there, we remodeled another bathroom and part of the kitchen. My wife jokes that they have me on a lifetime retainer.
That customer relationship has turned into a friendship. The wife has gone to church with us; she’s a great person. We have been really blessed with the customers we get.
Customers also say we are professionals. We clean up. There’s no swearing. The overall experience is very different from what they’ve had in the past. I tell my guys you never know who is in the house, and you certainly don’t want to get a call from me that a customer’s grandkids heard the wrong music or foul language. I’ve never had to make that call.