John Andreas’ passion for woodworking led him in a surprising direction: first-time business ownershipJohn Andreas, left, received the Rookie of the Year Award at Kitchen Solvers’ annual convention.
John Andreas of Greer, S.C., bought Kitchen Solvers of the Piedmont in January, and his franchise near Greenville has thrived, earning him Rookie of the Year honors at Kitchen Solvers’ annual convention. The former journalist, public relations professional and marketing pro is one of the millions who lost their jobs during the heart of the financial crisis, and he has used Kitchen Solvers to get his career and life back on track.
What were you doing before Kitchen Solvers?
A long time ago, I was a journalist. I was business editor at the Tampa Tribune. I graduated from college in 1975, then spent 15 years in journalism. Afterward, I went into PR for a time, working for a hospital in the Tampa area. Then I got involved in the promotional products industry. I worked for a pen manufacturer in Hanover, Pa., that did logo printing. Pens are a great giveaway. I did that for about eight years, then in 2006, I joined Carolina Manufacturing and was vice president of sales and marketing. It was a textile company that made bandanas. It was doing $12 million a year in bandana sales, and I was head of promotional products division. We did bandanas for Harley, Budweiser, Miller, the Green Bay Packers, the Cincinnati Bengals, and for smaller customers. Then the recession hit — and bandanas are not a must-have item. We lost our biggest account, Michaels, and when you lose a million-dollar account, you have to make cutbacks. I was in one of the chairs that was making good money, so I was laid off in January of 2009. I went 2½ years with one job interview. I’m a self-taught woodworker, and have been building things for 30 years. I can design and build my own furniture. It was something I have always enjoyed and it helped relieve the stress when I was in newspapers. It was something I could do to relax and be creative. Through the years, I’ve had people say that I should do this for a living. After 2½ years of no work and one job interview, I think the Lord was telling me, “John, you dummy, I’ve given you these talents and abilities, why don’t you use them to support your family.”
How did you find out about Kitchen Solvers?
When I lost my job, I was contacted by a franchise recruiter who found my resume online. We talked and I told him I wasn’t interested in owning my own business. No one in my family had ever owned their own business, so I didn’t have that model to follow. I was confident in my marketing skills and expected to be able to find a job. That didn’t work out. He said: Tell me about some of your hobbies. He said, “If I can find you a franchise related to this area of interest — woodworking — would you be interested?” He came back with one of Kitchen Solvers’ competitors, which got me looking. As I explored, Kitchen Solvers came up. I met Gerry Henley, started talking with him and liked what I heard. The rest is history. I bought an existing franchise in Greenville, S.C. The franchisee had been in business for 16 years and had subcontractors in place. We had lived in Greenville from 2005 to 2009 when I was at Carolina Manufacturing, and we liked it there.
What do you like about the job?
Everything. I’m enjoying the sales side, which has been a surprise. I thought I would enjoy the hands on installation side the most. I know that with sales oftentimes you don’t have control. Appointments are mostly in the evening. But I’ve come to enjoy the sales part as much or more than the installations. I believe in the product and the company, and when I go to see people who have an interest in what I’m selling, I’m selling a dream for some of these people who’ve always wanted a new kitchen. You can tell they have a passion for the kitchen project and it’s fun to be involved in that. “What do you like about your kitchen? What don’t you like? What would you change?” To listen and be able to turn those thoughts into reality — it’s something that I enjoy.
Who makes a good Kitchen Solvers franchisee?
I think you have to like people. I think you have to want to help people. You have to appreciate what a kitchen means to most people. It is the center of the home. You can’t look at it as just a job. It’s the hub of any house. It’s the room where memories are made. Every holiday, the family is gathered around the kitchen. We still tell stories about holiday meals in my family — the time mom burned the buns and smoke was everywhere and the smoke alarms all went off. It’s the most important room in the house. It’s more than just cabinets and appliances. You see that when you talk to people. They get passionate about it. They get passionate about what it is going to look like and what it’s going to be. You have to be honest and fair. My own personal take — I’m not out to make the most money that I can. I want to give them an exceptional value for a fair price. Kitchen Solvers allows me to do that. I’m a very strong Christian and values are a big part of my business. I have priorities beyond money. I won’t sell a kitchen that doesn’t reflect people’s needs. Kitchen Solvers lets me run the business the way I want to run it.
How large is the opportunity?
I would say the vast majority of people you meet would like to change their kitchen somehow, some way. In Greenville there is a lot of opportunity. There are a lot of subdivisions that were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s and the homes have not been updated. I think the potential is limitless, and attitudes are starting to turn. People are realizing that the real estate market will take a long time to come back and they will need to stay in their house, and they are deciding to make their house the house they want it to be.
Who are your main customers?
I’m looking at anybody 50 and older. That’s who my customers have been — the lion’s share. It’s important to keep the customer in mind, and to listen. I did an estimate for one client recently and it was a little much, so we looked at ways of lowering the price — I talked about getting rid of the rollout cabinets and they were like, “No, no, no.” They needed it because she and her husband were having trouble bending over, so they were willing to give up a lot of other things in order to keep the rollout cabinets. Different people have totally different priorities.
How much craftsman experience did you have?
When my daughter got married, I designed and built her a bedroom suite with a headboard, a nine-drawer dresser and matching nightstands — all in cherry. I built my son a really cool TV stand and some matching shelves made out of cherry. I redid my own kitchen before I got involved with Kitchen Solvers. I refaced the cabinets in oak and made 19 raised-panel doors. On doors 4, 5 and 6, I was all gung-ho, but by 17,18 and 19, I’d had my fill. Now, with Kitchen Solvers, you can just buy them and the quality is excellent — better than what I was able to do on my own.
What would be a big and a small job, in terms of the bill?
The biggest one I’ve quoted is $25,000, and it involved moving a wall. The smallest is about $7,500.
What does your typical day look like?
Installation days are very different. Today I have a 5 o’clock appointment to present a pricing plan, then a 7 p.m. sales call. This morning, I would normally review pricing for the job tonight and get a presentation package ready. I would also prepare myself for the sales meetings, making sure the car is loaded with all the samples I have. There is plenty to do during the day — the paperwork side of the business.
This week I’m out every night making sales calls. I thought that would bother me when I first started, but it really doesn’t. Because of the age group that we work with, I will get people who can meet during the day. I drive up to an hour, hour and a half one-way to customers.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t before?
It’s a little too early to tell. I’ve been on an unplanned retirement for 2½ years, and owning Kitchen Solvers has given me hope and pride again in who I am and what I can do. To go nearly three years without a job and with only one interview, it hurt emotionally and financially. I didn’t get depressed, but as a country a lot of people have. Having Kitchen Solvers and being successful has given me hope for the future, and proves that I do know how to do good work and what I do matters to people. I’ve got no complaints. I literally can’t complain. It’s just great to be back in the game. I am 58 and I expect to be working when I’m 68. And I don’t mind that. I have a whole lot more pride in my job than I ever did before, because I own it. I’m proud of what I build and I’m proud to be a Kitchen Solvers franchisee.
Would you recommend a Kitchen Solvers franchise to someone else?
I would recommend them for anybody who wants to open a business unless they want to open it in Greenville! If they want to get into this business, they need to do due diligence to make sure it’s a great fit. I would never tell anyone to only look at Kitchen Solvers, but I’m confident that if people do their homework and look into it, Kitchen Solvers will win more times than they lose.