Michigan remodeling franchise owner says DreamMaker systems and support helped him get through recession, enjoy a strong rebound
Mike Fischer has owned a DreamMaker remodeling franchise for nearly 10 years. Before he joined the DreamMaker family, he owned an independent firm — Michael Fischer Builders — which he still operates. He joined DreamMaker in 2005 because he wanted to earn more kitchen and bathroom remodeling work. This is his story.
What were you doing before DreamMaker?
I had, and still have, my own remodeling and general contracting company. I was doing some kitchen and bathroom remodeling even before I started with DreamMaker, and customers liked the fluidity of our designs, our customer options and our custom cabinetry. The more we became known for that kind of work, the more I wanted to feature it, so I started looking for ways to promote it. I knew that building a showroom would be a great way to attract customers, but as a small local builder I quickly realized that it would take a lot of time, effort and extra money to identify vendors and build relationships with them. I thought, “There has to be a better way than completely reinventing the wheel.” I was beginning to research options when I bumped into DreamMaker. As I learned about its core values, I was impressed. It aligned with what I was trying to do to set myself apart. When you don’t have a ton of money as a small business, the things you can control are how you act, your professionalism, your values and your integrity. Those things make a huge difference for customers, and they make the business one you can be proud of.
How has being part of DreamMaker made a difference?
DreamMaker has helped us hugely improve our profit margins, which allows us to hire and keep great employees, deliver better service and earn good income. This is where the guidance and programs from DreamMaker — in addition to our own drive — has really made a big difference. I am part of a Next Level group. [Next Level is a program DreamMaker coordinates that brings together franchisees to evaluate one another’s businesses.] We have seen great success holding each other accountable as business owners. We make suggestions to help streamline operations and improve business. I went through the evaluation early, and it was a huge eye-opener to me. Nobody wants to feel like they are failing, and when your weaknesses are held up, it makes you dig deep. I tell people I have grown more as a businessman in the last four years than I ever did the prior 15 years of my career. DreamMaker helped. We came from a place where we were going the wrong direction, and if I hadn’t done something about it, the business probably wouldn’t have survived the recession. In the last three to four years, we have streamlined the business and improved our numbers. We doubled our gross profit margins over the last three years.
What lessons did you take from the downturn?
Sometimes if things aren’t going well, you start grasping for straws. But we were lucky enough to have DreamMaker’s guidance and the ambition we needed to turn it around. My staff and I dug down. Everyone is held accountable — including me — by every one of my staff, and I need that.
When the economy initially dropped, and dropped quickly, we turned to operating lines of credit to keep the business going, but I very quickly made adjustments so we would not need to tap into credit to maintain operations. We learned to work within our cash flow.
We had to really delve into our operating expenses. You start to realize you don’t necessarily need all the things you thought you did. You also have to be right up front with your staff. If I thought there might be a layoff, I let people know well in advance so they could plan, and I made it clear that as soon as things were better, they were back on. I also talked with all my vendors to reduce costs. We made some hard choices and were up front with staff about them. For instance, we had to suspend the matching contribution to retirement plans for a couple of years. We dealt with these issues as a team. We also learned to be much more efficient.
Now that business has picked back up, we’ve found we can handle more revenue with half the staff we used to have. That not only improves everyone’s job security and the profitability of the business, it also really gets you to understand the capabilities of the individuals you have on staff so you are allowing them to use their talents to their maximum. I have a great team, and everyone has been very proud to contribute to the growth of the company. Nobody got rich during the recession, but we held in there, and our team became very close.
You opened your showroom just as the recession hit. How did that affect your business?
I bought and remodeled a 150-year-old building in the Old Town District in Lansing. It’s a destination location, and that made it easy for people visiting that part of town to see what we offer. We have an interesting showroom — not overly large, but unique. DreamMaker was a big part of helping us establish the showroom, which I saw as a big part of taking our business to the next level. We didn’t start remodeling the building until 2007. It’s a nice showroom, and it wasn’t a small amount of money to remodel the building. We finished at the tail end of 2007 and opened it to the public in early 2008 — right when people were really freaking out about the economy.
This is where divine intervention comes into play. I prayed, and the Lord said this will do more good than harm. From October 2007 to the end of that year, I saw half a million dollars in work that was in my pipeline disappear. Fortunately, the showroom was a new tool I had never had before. When remodeling slowed way down, I had this showroom tool that created new interest and a different flow of customers. The showroom buffered us against the downturn. We gained jobs from clientele that we probably wouldn’t have been able to get without that showroom. That was the first major way DreamMaker helped me, and the Next Level groups and support built upon it.
How are things today?
We are having our best year ever, which is great. What’s even better is we have become much more lean and much stronger, which allows us to generate much stronger gross profits on that revenue. The core team has been with me through the recession — there are four of them — has been incredible. I also have added two people in the past year as we have been growing. Having been through this experience, once of the great things about the team is that they are committed to the success of the business, too. When we bring people in for an interview, I interview them intensely, but our group interviews them, too, to make sure they are a good fit for the team.
What should potential franchisees know about DreamMaker?
DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen is not a dictating franchise — they are a supportive franchise. I have never felt they are forcing me to do cookie-cutter designs or do things the same as everybody else. They give me freedom. At the same time, ever since I have been involved, I have a feeling of not being alone anymore, not trying to figure everything out on my own. Their continued support, assistance and concern is a big part of what has given me the courage and drive to come through the last few years and make my business better. Having someone to vent to, to talk to, to ask questions of, to say “It’ll be all right” as long as we keep doing what we need to do — it was huge during the recession, and it’s always valuable.
Who makes a good DreamMaker owner?
Someone aligned with the Code of Values. I think it boils down to people who have deep integrity. Morals are important, but people can weigh morals differently. Integrity is integrity. Do you do what you say you will do? I think it’s also important to be driven and selfless. Sure, I want to make a good living, but I am not in business just to make a living for myself. I want my staff to have a comfortable living, and I want the people who have their lives touched by my staff to have their lives enhanced.
What do you enjoy about the business?
Enhancing lives. If we are improving homes without enhancing lives, that is not as fulfilling. You might not automatically equate remodeling with quality of life, but it absolutely is when it is done right. That’s something I realize more and more every day. I see the impact my life has on the people who hire me.
How do you have an impact on people’s lives?
At the beginning of a job, during the design phase, we’re not just thinking about designs and cabinets — we’re thinking about people. Is the customer of a certain age where accessibility features can make life easier for them? Sometimes the littlest changes can make a difference.
The personal attention turns customers into friends. We have a lot of clients we talk to frequently, and we gets hugs at the end of a lot of jobs. My staff creates relationships, too. When I have a meeting with customers, they’ll have wonderful expressions on their faces when they talk about the experience they have had with the carpenter. You can sense the emotion. Then, when the remodel is complete and they say “This was worth every penny and then some,” it makes you feel great. That’s a big motivator for my staff, too. When they recognize they have touched someone else’s life, they get a great feeling, too.