Dodging bloodsucking mosquitoes in your living room is unpleasant enough, but carting screens to a
for repair is just as enervating.
Screenmobile, a franchise with an easy solution for screen repair, is banking on an era of home ownership in which convenience is king.
The 25-year-old franchisor based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is enjoying a renaissance thanks to a time-strapped society that's overwhelmed by big-box home improvement centers.
In addition to its existing 98 franchises, Screenmobile expects to sell about 24 franchises annually, potentially doubling its presence in only four years.
Modernizing A Good Idea
When an exasperated customer asked Monty Walker, who ran a screen repair service in his garage, to drive 40 minutes to pick up a door-sized screen, repair it in his shop and drive it back, Walker saved time by repairing the screen on-site. He immediately recognized the value of the concept and sold his first franchise in 1984.
The company grew slowly, adding between two and five franchises per year. In 1996, Walker passed the torch to his son Scott, and business began to change. "When you have younger eyes, you will take more risk and have more time to recover from that risk," says the younger Walker.
This June, Scott Walker teamed with Dick Rennick, a nationally recognized franchise consultant, and developed a growth strategy for Screenmobile that includes marketing the company as an add-on business for owners of existing home improvement businesses, such as handyman services and remodeling.
"We knew we had to improve some foundational pieces in order to build," explains Walker, who attends professional training programs, upgraded his computer system and hired a branding company to adapt the franchise to a growing market.
Replacing Mom and Pop
Mobile companies like Screenmobile fill the need for services such as screen repair and glass cutting, formerly the domain of local hardware stores before they were replaced by big-box home improvement centers, such as
The demise of local stores in an era when dual income homeowners are too time-strapped for a trip to the strip mall or a DIY repair project is also increasing Screenmobile's appeal. "Leisure time is so valuable now," Walker explains. "People don't want to spend it doing home improvements."
Furthermore, contractors who are already providing other services to homeowners use the franchise as an additional revenue stream. "I'll be working on someone's lawn and notice they have a torn screen," says Chris Kimball, a Des Moines, Iowa-based franchisee who also runs a lawn care business. "It creates cross marketing opportunities."
Rescreening large doors that are mangled by dogs or children are the most common type of repair, says Kimball, who charges $39 for the job. Repair jobs can range from $18 to $30 to rescreen an existing window, to over $200 for a custom-built sliding door.
Budget for Hibernation
Whether they own multiple businesses or depend on Screenmobile as their sole income source, all franchisees must prepare for winter, when nobody thinks about screens. Spring, summer and fall bring in steady business, but given the nearly $60,000 in start-up costs, it's important to be preemptive for colder weather.
Even California resident Lori Rech, who owns a Screenmobile franchise in Auburn, budgets each year for a slow winter. "You work very hard during the warmer months, but the winter is a time to unwind," she says.
Some franchisees attract income during the winter by establishing relationships with non-homeowners who require year-round services, including larger builders, rental properties and property management companies, says Walker.
Rech, who purchased her franchise from another franchisee, has also learned from her predecessor's mistakes. He lived on the outskirts of the territory, she said, which meant a one-and-a-half-hour drive to business contacts. The Rechs moved out of their home in the Sierra foothills early during their ownership because shipping companies wouldn't deliver supplies via narrow, unpaved roads.
Rech cautions all franchisees to be aware of competitor pricing and quality and keep an eye on retailers such as
About 7% of franchises are mobile, according to a 2006 survey conducted by FRANdata, an Arlington, Va.-based franchise research firm.
Suzanne Barlyn is a writer in Washington Crossing, Pa.