Four Businesses, One Culture: Outdoor Living Brands
“The vision behind our strategic plan was to assemble a family of related outdoor living orientated businesses under one common umbrella franchise support organization,” says Christopher Grandpre, Chairman and CEO of Outdoor Living Brands.
Outdoor Living Brands (OLB) is the parent and holding company for four separate franchise businesses, all of which share similarities in both their operating models and their customers’ demographic and psychographic profiles. Through acquiring each business from its founders, the commonalities between the four means that a customer of one brand generally also fits the profile of customers of the other brands. This not only creates the opportunity to cross promote and cross-refer the other businesses, but also provides diversification opportunities for franchisees so as they build a business with one brand, they have the option to open multiple territories with that brand, or to add additional brands to their local operation.
A former merger and acquisition investment banker, Grandpre’s previous career was in selling privately owned businesses to private equity firms and strategic players. Transitioning from the banking world into a leadership position with Archadeck in 2006, Grandpre, who initially acquired a minority stake in the Archadeck business from the founder, took on responsibility for bringing fresh energy and ideas to turn it around after a period of challenges.
“When I looked at the business as an investor and potential leader, I really liked franchising as the business format,” Grandpre says. “I also liked the sector Archadeck was in and the consumer trends behind outdoor living.” Explaining that homeowners have a desire to add cost effective, attractive outdoor living space to their homes in ways which fit the architectural style of the home, the topography of the land, and the landscape, Grandpre says, “We wanted to continue to grow Archadeck, but we also wanted to diversify and transition from being a single branded franchise company into a multi-branded company.”
In 2008, OLB was formed to serve as the acquisition vehicle and parent company for multiple franchise businesses. The first acquisition completed by OLB was obtaining control of Archadeck from the original founder. Archadeck specializes in designing and building awe-inspiring outdoor living spaces. Catering typically to residential homeowners, their franchisees design and build decks, hardscapes, outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, and other backyard features to extend the functional living space of their home.
The second business acquired was Outdoor Lighting Perspectives in late 2008. A full service landscape lighting business, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives designs, installs and maintains custom lighting to home facades, landscapes and commercial properties. The business also provides holiday lighting for both residential and commercial properties.
Mosquito Squad, acquired in 2009, is an outdoor pest control business. Working to keep annoying pests off properties so homeowners can enjoy their outdoor living spaces, the business joined OLB as a young system but has grown rapidly from 15 locations to over 135 locations, and is on pace to reach 150 units by the start of 2014. The Mosquito Squad business also caters to commercial properties such as restaurants with outdoor dining space.
The latest business acquired by OLB was Renew Crew in October 2012. Previous known as Wood Re New, the business model focused on cleaning, sealing and protecting wood decks, fences and cedar siding. Once acquired, OLB changed its name concurrent with a significant broadening of the service offering. Today the business offers full service cleaning and protection for any kind of exterior hard surface, including patios, all types of siding, windows, and driveways. By broadening the services offered, franchisees are able to generate more revenue per customer and increase the frequency of that revenue; a move Grandpre says is working well in their first year of operations.
Today with roughly 275 franchisees, OLB’s priority is helping existing franchisees grow and build their businesses to reach their goals. “We’re believers that if we have a proven, talented, franchise operator who’s looking for growth, we’d love to help them grow by adding additional OLB brands to their portfolio at a local level,” Grandpre says. The company has a track record of franchisees with multi-brand success, and offers existing franchisees discounts to add territories or new brands. In addition, OLB supports the VetFran initiative and offers discounts to veterans.
OLB is also seeking new individuals looking to build a business, embrace a proven business model, and brand name. Potential franchisees must possess the required capital, which generally falls under $150,000. The skills required differ amongst each business, however candidates should have some experience in sales and marketing. Candidates must also be comfortable interacting within their communities, building brand awareness and trade alliances with other companies, and should be skilled communicators, able to articulate the benefits of the services they offer, execute the sales process, or hire a team to do so.
The franchising procedure begins with a discovery and qualification process, allowing the candidate to explore if the franchise is the right vehicle for him/her to pursue their personal goals. Through online learning centers, candidates study the business model, training, technology, and support systems available. Throughout this process franchise recruiters interview candidates to determine if they have the energy, passion, skills, capital, and support needed to be married with the business model. When a mutual fit is found, a franchise license agreement is signed.
Each business model offers a training program that ranges between one and four weeks in duration. All training programs include both in classroom and field training, most of which is conducted at the support center in Richmond, Virginia. Here new franchisees and training staff cover all aspects of the business, and are provided with an operations manual to further outline systems and procedures. Each business also has a support organization to work alongside franchisees, reviewing their operation and making recommendations on how to improve their revenue and profitability. Ongoing support is offered through weekly webinars, system conference calls, field visits, and conventions. An online franchisee-to-franchisee support network is also in place to help foster a supportive peer group.
Although each OLB business has a slightly different geographic footprint, the majority of locations are situated east of the Mississippi, with a handful of international locations. While each brand has targeted select geographic areas for expansion, “We are able to support franchisees regardless of where they’re located in the US,” Grandpre says. “As leads come in, if it’s the right partner, we are absolutely willing to launch a new location with a talented franchisee anywhere in the U.S.”
Part of what sets OLB apart from their competitors is their unique business models, which resonate best with those looking to start a home-based business. Franchisees also enjoy flexible schedules and the outdoor orientated nature of the company. The seasonality of the businesses allows franchisees to work hard from early spring until late fall, but have time to reflect and plan their next year during the winter. During this time, franchisees are also able to recharge their batteries and spend the holidays with family and friends.
OLB employees and franchisees embrace the company’s values that make their businesses global leaders and great places to work. The values Outdoor Living Brands follow, LIVE WELL: Lifestyle, Integrity, Visionary, Enrich Lives, World Class, Enthusiasm, Leadership, and Laughter.
Through meeting regularly with franchisees and confidential third party surveys, OLB receives honest franchisee feedback, allowing them to implement changes where franchisees aren’t satisfied or where new practices have been identified. This year Archadeck, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives and Mosquito Squad earned World-Class Franchise designation by the Franchise Research Institute, recognition Mosquito Squad has now earned for four consecutive years. Mosquito Squad has also been included in Inc. 500|5000 List for three straight years, a testament to how rapidly the business is growing.
“What’s unique about the company is that our franchisees derive personal satisfaction through serving the client,” Grandpre explains. “Through helping clients enjoy the benefits of an outdoor living lifestyle, they see firsthand the impact they have on the families’ lives and derive huge personal satisfaction while building their business.”
OLB is looking to add a fifth brand to their portfolio within the next few years. “I’m always looking for opportunities that would be a good fit strategically,” Grandpre says, “I want to add businesses that cater to essentially the same client base as our existing four companies while continuing to offer logical growth and diversification options to our growing base of talented franchisees.”
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