Thrill of sales, enjoyment of work keeps Kitchen Solvers kitchen cabinet franchise owner happy
Fran Rainey, 52, has owned the Kitchen Solvers franchise in Rochester, Minn., for 13 years. Rainey focuses almost exclusively on cabinet refacing and enjoys the flexibility Kitchen Solvers franchise ownership gives him.
What were you doing before Kitchen Solvers?
I was a moving consultant for Allied Van Lines. I did that for about five years, and I found out about Kitchen Solvers from my neighbor who was, at the time, the owner of the franchise here in the Rochester area. We golfed together. Hale Evans was his name. He had purchased another business that was taking up a lot of his time, a vacation business, and he knew he couldn’t manage both, and he asked if I was interested in Kitchen Solvers.
What made you interested?
I had always liked woodworking. And I liked the idea of owning my own business. This is my first business. This is strictly what I do.
What do you like about the job?
One thing would be the positive feeling you get when you go into a home and can create a vision for the homeowner that earns their down payment — the good feeling you get that they have faith in you that you can make things great for them. I like the sales part of the business a lot — meeting folks and communicating with them. Sales is an interesting business. You certainly get plenty of rejections, you don’t sell every single job, but that really good feeling you get when you walk out of the home with trust — it’s kind of like winning a ballgame.
What’s your approach to sales?
I agree with the consultant approach that Gerry (Henley) recommends. I don’t see myself as a salesperson. There are so many clients who are misinformed about products or how things are done. Some competitors aren’t truthful or don’t provide all the information they should to the client. I see myself more as an information provider than a salesperson. I ask a lot of questions about how they want the kitchen to look, and I help them make the right decisions and help them get the right look when it’s all done.
What sets Kitchen Solvers apart?
For me, at this point, it’s probably longevity in the market. We’ve been in the Rochester area over 25 years. We have a national presence with franchises all over the U.S., and when you can show that you’re part of a large company that provides an edge. We have a corporate office that’s there behind us to ensure quality.
A Harvard research institute is projecting an uptick in remodeling. Have you started to see it?
Absolutely. This year has been completely different than last year. Part of that is the real estate market. I’ve had a decent number of clients who wanted to sell their home and couldn’t sell it for enough to buy a new one, so they’ve decided they’re going to use their money to fix up their current home by fixing up the kitchen, fixing up the bathroom, adding a porch on. This is definitely the busiest fall I’ve had — by far — since the recession hit. There’s a positive feeling at the home shows that I attend. A lot of people are walking around and want to know what we can do for them.
What does your typical client look like?
The majority are 55 and older. I don’t do a lot of new cabinets, and I don’t market in that direction — I lean more towards fixing up what the client has, which has been a more appealing option for older people. Even the advertising I do lends itself toward an older clientele. I advertise on easy listening stations, and the home shows tend to attract older clients. I actually get a fair share of widows where the husband never wanted to remodel, and after he dies, six months later, she’s ready.
Did you have craftsman experience before owning the franchise?
Not specifically. I just did some odd jobs around the home, but I didn’t have any decent woodworking tools. I was a woodcarver, which is far different from building cabinets and cutting crown moldings.
Do you operate from home?
Yes. I have a pickup that I use to visit customers. I’ll ask a customer a little bit about what they like so that when I visit, I take them samples that fit their tastes. That way, I don’t walk into their home with 12 different door samples. Most people have thought about what they want their kitchen to look like, and they have a pretty good idea whether they want lighter or darker wood or mission-style or shaker-style doors, or something more formal.
How long do most jobs take?
For me, a standard reface without new drawer boxes or new cabinets takes two to three days.
What would be a big and a small job for Kitchen Solvers, in terms of the bill?
On the small end, and I do a fair amount of this, it might be just $3,000 to $4,000. That’s when the cabinet boxes are still in great shape and the homeowner liked the color, just not the style. I can get matching brand new doors and drawer fronts to match the existing framework in the kitchen, and those jobs just involve replacing the doors and drawer faces and hardware. It can update the look of a kitchen dramatically. I can do that in a day/day and a half. A lot of contractors are fearful of the stain matching, but Walzcraft, which Kitchen Solvers uses for refacing supplies, can take a color sample and produce a door with the perfect wood type and stain — it’s a perfect match. A larger kitchen with rollout shelves and and recovered cabinet boxes might be $6,000 to $7,000.
What does your typical day look like?
If I’m doing an install, I’m at the job between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and will work there until between 4:30 and 5, then I’m gone. Depending on the time of year and the client, if someone calls and wants an estimate, I might swing over at lunchtime, especially if it’s someone who is retired. I do a fair share of evening appointments, also, especially in the spring and fall. Winter slows down a bit until the home shows start. My busiest time overall is March, April and May.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t before?
I would rather be happy on the job that sit behind a desk and do things you don’t want to do. You also have flexibility when you own your own business. If I hear that the walleyes are biting up in northern Minnesota and I don’t have anything on my schedule, I can head out. If my grandson is sick and needs someone to watch him, that’s an advantage. For me, deer hunting is coming up and if we get a nice afternoon and I get done with an install early, I’ll go work in my tree stand. Being able to do things like that — the flexibility when you’re a business owner — is wonderful.
Would you recommend a Kitchen Solvers franchise to someone else?
I would. I see so many people who are woodworkers or cabinet guys, but they have absolutely no sales experience. You can be the best carpenter or best cabinet maker, but if you can’t communicate that to a client, you’re not going to get a job. I had quite a bit of sales experience coming in and had to grow into being an installer. Some people are great installers but struggle with sales. Those are the folks who would better off hiring a salesperson to go out to clients. The folks at Kitchen Solvers pay attention to that, and Gerry, with his experience, knows how to evaluate strengths and weaknesses and work with owners to ensure that they take the steps they need to succeed.
To learn more about Kitchen Solvers, including its low startup costs and how it can be operated as a home-based business, check out our research pages at www.KitchenSolvers.com. To read what our customers and franchise owners have to say, check out our blog. You can learn even more, and start a conversation about whether Kitchen Solvers is the right business for you, by downloading our free franchise report.Back