Leadership Lessons Practiced Throughout an Entire Group of Home Service Brands
Dan Steward, President and CEO of Tampa and Toronto based Pillar To Post Home Inspectors®, says “A home inspection is a crucial step in each and every home ownership story.”
In 2004, Steward took the helm of what is now considered the leading home inspection company in North America. The combination of cutting-edge technology, efficiency, and a stellar reputation among the real estate community, have all come together to put Pillar To Post Home Inspectors at the top of their industry. One of the reasons for this is the company culture. Steward is determined to offer the company’s nearly 600 franchisees spread over 49 states and nine Canadian provinces, quality of life and a secure future for them and their families.
The franchise model at Pillar To Post Home Inspectors allows the franchisee to start small and grow the business at a measured pace to create a larger, equity-rich company that meets the growing concerns of homebuyers and owners. Moreover, Pillar To Post Home Inspectors, whose parent company FirstService Brands specializes in home service franchise brands, has been repeatedly recognized as No. 1 in the Home Inspection Category by numerous publications and associations. The same or similar culture is found throughout the FirstService Brands sister companies.
Surviving and Thriving During a Global Crisis
In a year that began with high expectations, few could have predicted a global pandemic that would bring much of the business world to its knees.
“The year started brilliantly,” says Steward. “We had a year of growth and innovation, and we were charged up for more of the same. We not only added over 50 new franchisees in 2019 but our painstaking and innovative project, the PTP360 tour had finally come to fruition.”
It all came to a slowdown in the third week of March when COVID-19 slammed into American shores and shut down all but the most essential businesses. Real estate sales dropped 8.5 percent in the first month and were widely expected to decline by up to 40 percent over the course of spring and summer.
American consumers, upon realizing that the pandemic was going to mean a likely long stint of working from home, looked for the homes of their dreams while taking advantage of historic low interest rates. Pillar To Post Home Inspectors had to pivot immediately to set up all new protocols that guaranteed the safety of their inspection teams and their customers.
Turning a Negative into a Positive-Making the Company Stronger Against COVID-19
“Like real estate, we are a people business,” says Steward. “Keeping people safe was our first priority, so first in our playbook was devising foolproof safety protocols.”
As the need for home inspections soared, Steward and a taskforce made up of franchisees, real estate professionals and customers devised new safety procedures for keeping people safe and instilling confidence in the home inspection process.
“The bottom line is that health crisis or not, buyers need to know the condition of the home they are buying,” says Steward.
While Pillar To Post home inspections typically include the presence of the agent, and often the buyer, with traditional procedures upended by the pandemic, it seemed easiest to restrict access to the inspector. But franchisees quickly pivoted to Zoom technology to keep customers involved.
“The human factor is critical,” says Steward. “People want to see how the toilet flushes and how much water pressure there is in the shower.”
So, using 360-degree digital technology and strict safety protocols—gloves and shoe coverings, wiping down doorknobs and any other surfaces touched—Pillar To Post Home Inspectors began providing customers with a real-time, personal inspection experience.
Digital copies of the inspector’s report are provided after the inspection so that the agent can effectively negotiate with the seller about any needed repairs.
According to Steward, this touchless sharing of information enables buyer confidence even for those who are buying property far from home. In an industry where reputation is everything, Pillar To Post chooses their franchisees with infinite care.
“Our franchisees are the best trained in the industry,” says Steward. “They come to us from a variety of backgrounds, but they are people who love all things real estate, and who had the desire to own their own business. Some 25 percent of our franchisees are military veterans, and I’m happy to say we have an increasing number of women and couples joining our ranks.”
They are people like Paula Camarena in Huntington Beach, Calif., a 20-year sales manager for technology products who knew, even as she was completing her MBA, that she wanted to be her own boss. A real estate investor with a love of houses, she researched multiple business possibilities. When a real estate agent friend suggested the home inspection business, she began a conversation with Pillar To Post Home Inspectors, and quickly became convinced this was the right business for her.
“When I launched my Pillar To Post franchise in 2018, I challenged myself to be successful, and I am so happy I made the move,” says Camarena. “I feel blessed to be able to help my clients in one of the biggest purchases in their lives, and grateful for the training and company support that has helped to make me so successful.”
In addition, Justin and Shauna Barker, who operated and sold two distribution and transportation businesses before deciding to put their business experience and love of rehab and remodeling to use with a Pillar To Post Home Inspectors franchise. The Kansas City, Mo., couple—who launched their franchise during the pandemic—are thankful they were so well prepared.
“We’ve had exceptional training and support throughout the year, especially as procedures were adapted to meet the COVID-19 crisis,” says Shauna Barker. “This assistance, and the strength of the Pillar To Post brand, have helped us get our business started in a strong and meaningful way.”
Steward takes personal pride in the success of his franchisees, and in how little it takes, beyond conviction and desire, to launch and grow a prosperous business.
“Beginning franchisees don’t need an office,” says Steward. “They don’t need an inventory, or employees. They don’t even need inspection experience. A $30,000 investment gets a new franchisee full training, lifetime company support and unlimited opportunity for success.”
The expert care and expertise of its franchise owners during the health crisis, and the dedication of franchisees to the people they serve, has inspired company-wide growth.
“Between the first of June and the end of the year, nearly every day has been a record-setter,” says Steward. “Activity has increased, and business is up 130 percent over last year.” Perhaps, he notes, that’s because the third factor in the company’s pandemic playbook is individualized support.
“From the very beginning, we’ve been there to provide whatever our franchisees needed,” says Steward. “We’ve helped them locate personal protective equipment, develop effective customer communications, stay in control of their cash flow and whatever else it took for them to thrive and grow during this chaotic year.”