Bret Chevrier owns a franchise business that most people underestimate. It’s one of the biggest low-investment sleeper franchises out there because it can scale in a big way. The franchise is ShelfGenie, and Bret is a top-performing franchise owner. Bret takes us through his journey from banking to franchise ownership and reveals the simple secrets he’s used to achieving a mountain of success. Do you want to know how to become a high-performing franchise owner? Tune in to this episode and learn more secrets from one of our Franchise Masters!
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ShelfGenie: The Simple Secrets To Becoming A High-Performing Franchise Owner With Bret Chevrier
I am joined by someone whom I’ve known longer than I thought I knew. A few years ago, we figured this out. Bret Chevrier, who’s a Multi-Unit Franchise Owner with ShelfGenie. Welcome, my friend.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
Bret’s coming hot off the annual conference with ShelfGenie. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we figured it out at a conference, one of these franchise shows that we used to do together where, Bret, you looked at my name and I looked at your name. We were like, “I feel like I know that name.” We figured out that Bret was looking at a company that I was working for called AdvantaClean way back when you decided that ShelfGenie was the right thing for you. When did you get into ShelfGenie?
At the very tail end of 2009. You and I were probably talking in July or August of 2009.
You were in banking before.
I worked with Capital One, specifically doing home improvement finance and elective medical finance, mostly on the sales and marketing end.
What was it that drove you to want to do your own thing?
I always wanted to do my own thing. My family had a landscaping and irrigation business where I grew up, then my uncle owned a family farm and another uncle who went to chain a tire store. From a young age, I always wanted to do my own thing, but then I started working at Capital One and things were going well. I was getting promoted and getting stock, this and that. What finally pushed me over the edge was in 2008. They had shut our division down. My then fiancé and now wife said, “We don’t have kids yet. This is probably a good opportunity. If you’re going to do something, let’s do it now.” One door closes and a window opens. I took that leap then and I’m very happy I did.
That was many years ago. Were you living in Richmond at the time?
No, it was in Boston. Capital One had a Boston office. My wife is from Florida and she’s not a real fan of Boston weather.
You moved down and have been living the good life. You got into ShelfGenie in 2009. It is an interesting business model because it’s one of those like we were talking about. I call it a sleeper. Once you peel back the onion and fully understand how the business works, it’s unique. Would you mind giving us a quick overview of the ShelfGenie business, the business model and how you run it?
We’re in the home services market. Specifically, we do glide-out shelving, which is not like a real industry per se, but it’s very similar to a closet type of business where we go in and custom design using 3D software. We help people make it easier to access their kitchen, bathroom or pantry cabinets. We do all custom builds and installations. ShelfGenie is great because of a few things. It is very much a sales and marketing business. The home office builds our product for us. They help train our installers. We’re focused on bringing in new clients. With a great market segment, we’re dealing with mostly women, Baby Boomers, 55-plus, semi-affluent-type of buyers. We don’t have such a large project size. I wouldn’t say it’s recession-resistant.
It’s nichey, but I think that’s the best part about it. It’s an amazing product. I have it in my house. It’s a great alternative to having to replace cabinets and enhancing the stuff you have in your house. The business model is even a little more interesting, too, because you, as the owner, are not going out there and selling the jobs. The business model is designed for something else.
The business model’s set up for you to build a strong design team. The owner is going to be focused on training that design team, doing some recruiting and mentoring, but then they’re going to focus most of their time on how to drive leads. I haven’t done a design appointment, probably since COVID happened.
You got to manage the small sales team and then oversee the operation making sure that the installers are doing their thing and everybody is commissioned only. It’s all variable.
Everything is commissioned only. It’s very much a variable cost model. You pay the installers 10% and the designers 10%. It’s nice.
Very few businesses can have all their labor variable like that.
Especially as you’re starting out and you’re only paying for things as you sell them. You’re not paying for the product, labor or commission until you sell it. It’s great, especially in the early days.
Your biggest expense is the advertising to drive the leads. I got my Valpak and ShelfGenie was prominently displayed in it.
We still do a lot of traditional marketing. We’re doing digital things like home shows, Valpaks and home magazines are still a big part of our mix.
Are you in West Palm?
I’m in a little town called Stewart, Florida, which is North or West Palm Beach. We also own the Fort Myers, Naples and Cape Coral markets as well.
You started in the Stewart area and expanded across the state into the Fort Myers and Naples area.
We started with a couple of territories, and then we went a little bit further South, owned in Palm Beach and then a little bit further North. There was a resale opportunity to buy Fort Myers in Naples in 2016. We did that after a little convincing of my partner, aka my wife.
You’re fighting through a little bit of the recovery after the hurricane dropped down. What was that like going through the expansion, like acquisition and managing a remote operation a few hours away?
Because of the setup that ShelfGenie has, managing far away is not that difficult because they’ve got a great CRM and ERP system tied up. Everything is done digitally. When I was starting up, I had to be there a little bit more. I had to recruit, train and mentor. I was probably going over once a week and staying a night. Other than going over and helping with the hurricane, I probably only go there once a month.
It took you some time to get the team in place and get the right people.
The key to any business is finding the right people. You think you have found the right person and you realize they’re not. In the first six months, finding the right people, getting them trained and supporting them. You can do a lot of that online, but a lot of times, it has to be face to face and help them through their daily jobs or whatever they’re doing and help model the behavior you want them to do.The key to any business is finding the right people. Click To Tweet
How many people do you have in your organization?
We have 6 designers and 7 installers, so 13 and then we have a part-time operations manager, someone that helps to make sure all the jobs are going smoothly, supports the team, etc.
What do you do if you got all those people working for you?
I do all the recruiting, training, mentoring and marketing. I’m working on all the marketing for 2023, figuring out what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do. That being said, I could go on vacation and never touch anything. I try to work mostly on the business. I try not to be doing the day-to-day stuff, which is the whole point of being a business owner. At least, it was my point. I didn’t want to be the person doing all the work because then when you do that, I’ve got four small kids, I can’t go on vacation, coach soccer or do all those things if my business requires me to do everything.
Was ShelfGenie set up like that from the beginning in terms of wanting to have the designers in place and everything?
Yes. That was one of the things that attracted me to the concept. It wasn’t like I had this grand plan as a kid to be in shelving. The business model was great to me because knowing I was going to have kids, I needed something that was flexible and scalable and if where it wasn’t like a brick-and-mortar scenario or if a cashier didn’t show up, I got to run in and work the cash machine. One of the things that were most attractive to me is set up an executive model.
Do you remember what your first reaction was when you heard about ShelfGenie? Were you like, “What was it?”
I was like, “This cannot be a business.” When I started, there were only a handful of other franchisees. I’m talking to other franchisees. Validation was somewhat helpful because they had maybe a six-month head start for me, but there wasn’t a ton of info to go on. The previous CEO said, “What I want you to do is send our website to our target market. Send it to your mom, mom’s friends and your aunts.” When I did that, one of my friend’s moms was excited about it. She called our Connecticut franchisee and bought from him. I was like, “This makes sense.” As you started digging into the math, like, it made sense. My reaction was not one of super excitement at the time.
I think it’s my favorite business model of all time. I almost did it three hours away down in Greenville, but I couldn’t get comfortable with the remote piece of it. Call me lazy or efficient.
I don’t think I would’ve been able to get comfortable with the remote part of it had I not already worked one in my backyard. Now, as long as it was less than a two-hour flight, I could probably do one anywhere.
Are you thinking about expanding at all through acquisition?
Not right now. I would be opportunistic if something popped up, but I’m pretty happy with the areas we have.
Being happy and content with what you’ve built is a good milestone to get to. From a weekly routine standpoint, have you figured out some cadences and things that have worked well for you to manage your team and your business?
I try to make Mondays my admin day. First thing in the morning, I’ll meet with Michelle, who’s our operations manager. We’ll go over our process dashboard, what’s going on and what does she need help with and we’ll make sure that we’re touching base once a week. Within ShelfGenie, we have power teams and groups of other franchisees. That’s also every Monday, we’ll take one hour and each different franchisee will lead a call. Someone talks about marketing or retention, etc. On Mondays, I’ll also have set up for any new designers. I have a one-hour-long check-in, how we are doing on our goals, etc.
That’s what my Monday looks like. If it’s towards the end of the month, I’m running reports and seeing what our sales teams and marketing’s doing, getting our P&L within ShelfGenie. We were purchased by Neighbor Lease. Now we have something called a franchise business coach. I’m getting her my financials, etc. That’s generally what my Mondays are for, but not always.
Every Tuesday morning, we have a designer team meeting. Any new products, some if we had a huge sale the week before, we are celebrating that. I also like to take Tuesdays if I’m going to do any ride-along with a designer, whether it’s somebody new or existing. Those are the two days I block off, then the rest of it is somewhat driven by what’s going on then. I try to shake Friday afternoons to play golf.
Enjoying the Florida life. It’s good for you.
You’ve got a young kid. You’re working a lot and then you’ve got your family responsibilities. My weekends are chewed up with all the different types of activities and stuff. The few times I’ve hit some little bit of burnout or stress or whatever, it’s usually because I’m taking no time for myself. I now try to schedule that. Does it work every week? No, but most times, it does.
You structured some fun time to unplug at time end of the week. As you guys were building the business, was your wife involved in the business at all, or was it primarily you taking the lead in it?
Primarily me. We have four kids. We’ve got a 10, 9, 6, and 4. I was getting the business going. First of all, she was working with her family business then once we had kids, there wasn’t much time for her to help.
I love the way you did it. Get the business going first, then have the kids.
I don’t know that I could have gone through those same changes at the same time. Probably I could have. I don’t know that I would’ve been as successful early on. We opened a business, got married, then we started having kids within two years and I moved. It’s a very major life change.
I was talking to somebody I’m working with about this. He is looking at some franchises, and he had his first. I was like, “What you’re going through right now as a parent is pretty similar to what it’s like to be a business owner. Getting the new business off the ground.” There are a lot of analogies that you can pull from in terms of being a parent, raising kids, and going through the different developmental stages that you go through. The business needs a lot of attention at first and care. As it grows, it gets a little more independent if you enable it, raise and grow it the right way. It’s a big event in your life. I sometimes talk people out of business ownership when I use that analogy, but I go with it because I think it works.
No matter how much time you’ve spent in Corporate America and how successful you’ve been, when you get thrown into your own new business, especially in the early days, you are doing a lot of different things. The great thing about franchising is you have a roadmap, but a couple of things. 1) The roadmap, you may not be good at everything that you need to do to be successful. You’re going to have some growing pains.
2) Every market is slightly different. You’re going to be putting in an uncomfortable position, have some grit and strength to continue to push through. It’s the same thing with babies, “I’m going to use this method with a baby. My baby’s going to sleep. My niece or nephew was easy,” and then all of a sudden, you get going. You’re like, “This is much more difficult than I thought.” It is a good analogy.
At least you have a roadmap with a franchise. You don’t always have the roadmap with the first kid, at least. You got to figure out as you’re going. What are the grand plans for you in the business?
I’m in the process now of rethinking what’s the exit strategy. There are options on the table like, “Do we sell part of our area because we’ve built it up and we’re doing we’ve done great?” At some point in time, you’re going to want to exit, “Are we going to double down and potentially hire a manager and make it truly passive?” It started as an independent business that does closets a few years ago. I’ve been putting some effort and energy into that.
My wife and I are considering getting into different real estate things. I think we’ll probably go with the route of hiring a manager and trying to make it a bit more passive. Those are always the conversations you have to have and things you need to be looking at. My wife and I had this conversation and decided we were going to keep going down the same path. We’re revisiting all that now.
You want to build it to where you have options to figure out what’s going to be the right thing for you as the next move. That’s cool. Congratulations. Any other thoughts? Most of the readers are prospective or current franchise owners looking to scale and build a business you’ve built. Any words of wisdom to anybody?
For those looking at franchises, my words of wisdom would be to not look at what the company does, but rather what it takes to succeed in that business. If you’re coming to a background of building teams, you love sales and marketing or if it’s a business that’s driven by events and you love doing events, then those are the things that you should look at. Whether they’re selling shelving or hair dryers, it almost doesn’t matter. You need to find out what the people in that business who are successful are doing, and you need to make sure that your skillset lines up with that. Also, get an idea of what you want your life to be. Do you want flexibility? What’s important to you?
Do you want to be able to travel? All those things need to be taken into consideration as you’re looking to build a business. The numbers matter. You need to make sure you have to make a living, but if you choose a business that’s got the best ROI and EBITDA or whatever, but you’re not good at that and you’re not going to like it, you’re not going to be successful. That’s my only advice.
As far as the scaling, the one thing that we see happen on the ShelfGenie side where people struggle to scale is generally they hire someone, spent all this time training them, and then they realize they’re not the right person. It takes so much time and energy to go out, find people and train people that they settle for mediocrity. They’re having to jump in and do the person’s job or things aren’t going right.
The piece of advice I always give is always be recruiting because if you have a strong recruiting pipeline, like you have a strong marketing pipeline, then you’re not going to have to settle for someone. You can find that next person. If you do that and you find good people, you’re going to be successful. I had a manager when I worked at Capital One who said something to me that’s completely stuck, which is, “If you hire good people, all of your work is behind you. If you hire bad people, all of your work is ahead of you. The better job you can do getting good people makes life much easier. Don’t settle.”Always be recruiting because if you have a strong recruiting pipeline, you're not going to have to settle for someone. Click To Tweet
You’re my 20th episode, the 20th guest I’ve talked to, a lot of franchise owners in all different walks of business. That’s the theme that the people piece of it. The one thing the franchise companies can’t do and won’t do for the franchise owners is the people piece, but the folks that embrace it.
We came back from our conference. One of the things that’s interesting is one of the women said, “Maybe I’m not good at recruiting. I’m having a hard time finding the right people.” I was like, “There are 60 other franchisees in this room. There’s one guy who sat here and got every major award. We have our Seattle franchisees phenomenal. Why are you not leveraging them? I would do it for you. I’ll phone screen your applicants.”
A lot of times people think that franchising the best part of franchising is you’re going to get this roadmap. That’s super important. For me, the thing that’s been the most helpful is roughly 60 other franchise owners who are doing the same thing as me. That can be helpful in two ways. 1) I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If I look at a report and someone’s kicking my butt and one metric or another, I can either get on a plane, Zoom or something and figure out what’s going on. The second part is if you’re struggling and you’re having a bad day, you can call people who go through the same thing as you. There’s this support system. People don’t use it enough. At least, in my experience, they don’t.
What have you done that you found effective to build relationships with other franchise owners to be able to bounce some ideas off of and get some advice on some things you’re thinking about?
There are a couple of things. 1) I joined one of our power teams. That was very helpful because then you’re getting that repeatability. You’re talking to someone every week. Even if you’re not specifically talking to them, they’re on the phone. It’s a little more comfortable to give them a ring. 2) This was pre-COVID and I’m getting back into this. I used to go on one visit a year. I’d go find a franchisee that was doing well. I would call them up and say, “Can I come in for two days to shadow you?”
3) Using the conferences. You’re going to get material from your franchise or that’s going to be helpful to your business, but the biggest thing you can do is to network with the people who are doing well. Someone’s got a great installation team, design team or effective marketing. Utilizing that time there where you’re all thrown together to build a couple of key relationships is huge.
You make a conscious effort. You put the effort into building the relationships.
I’ll give you an example. We have a franchisee that’s not too far from you down in Wilmington. They’re doing fantastic penetrating some of these senior living folks. That was on my list of like, “I need to dive to how they’re doing that.” Our Seattle franchisees had a ton of success with TV, and I had failed at TV in the past. I wanted to get a little more granular like, “Exactly what are you doing? What are the differences?” Now I have two things that I can focus on when I come back, but I was very thoughtful about what I wanted to get out of that time.
That’s not West bear for that. That’s his better half, crushing it out there. West takes all the credit, but Kelly makes a go. West is one of my power teams as a consultant.
Other than being great franchise owners, they are fun people to hang out with.
It’s cool to see what they’re doing in a market that you probably wouldn’t put on the top ten in terms of strategic markets that we think ShelfGenie is going to crush in, like Wilmington and Myrtle Beach.
They crushed it. They’re doing an amazing job. They receive the Highest Revenue Per Territory Award. They are generating the most out of what they’ve been given or purchased.
They are working their butts off. They figured out a lot of it. Didn’t they do the grassroots stuff well
They’re doing grassroots stuff well. Kelly West’s wife is good about training her designers. She’s also good about not letting mediocre people stick around. I look at them and this goes all a front to get the successful people. They’re always working on something new. They’re always trying to get a little bit better.
You’re paying attention to who’s doing what well, so if that thought crosses your opportunity in the business, then you know who to call.
The other thing is I’ve been in this business for many years. We were trained a certain way. I have a certain thought process that’s ingrained. All of a sudden, you look up and you’re like, “I didn’t think that was possible. Now someone’s doing it.” As a veteran franchise owner, you fall into that, “I’ve got this figured out. I’m awesome.” You have to drag yourself out of that and look around because the new people coming in have different skillsets and experiences. They’re looking at things in a fresh way. All of a sudden, you’re like, “I could be better. I could do that. I didn’t think we could do that.” It’s great.
It goes back to having an open mind when you’re looking at businesses and when you’re successful and paying attention. That goes back to what you were saying about franchise owners that aren’t the top performers, the folks that are trying to figure it out and get the business to a place where they want to do it. They have access to all these franchise owners who had done it before them and figured this stuff out. They have to be open. Their mindset has to be in a place where they’re going to hear what somebody tells them versus judging. It dismisses it pretty quickly. They got so much of it.
The interesting thing and this goes from when I was at Capital One, ShelfGenie chain to anything, I generally find that the one common thread among people who are successful is their ability or desire to learn. As part of wanting to learn, you have to take a look in the mirror and be open to constructive feedback or to realizing that you’re lacking. If you know people who are constantly learning, the people like when I see Wets, “What new books are you reading? What do you do? What podcast are you listening to?” People maybe who are not doing those things a little bit more could be more stagnant.The one common thread among successful people is their ability or desire to learn. Click To Tweet
It’s like the balance between ambition and humility to stay humble but stay hungry at the same time. There’s a balance that goes into that stuff that the most successful franchise owners do well. I’m curious. You’re many years in and have built a successful business. As it goes back to hiring people, how confident are you when you take a prospective designer through the interview process? How good are you right now at knowing if this person is going to make it or not?
All these years, I’m still only 50/50. Most times, if I need to hire one and I know that I can get them both to work, I’ll hire two. The interesting thing about ShelfGenie is when someone’s a designer, there are two skillsets they have to have. They have to be a good salesperson and a creative person who can design well. I find I can screen pretty well for the sales side that’s my background. I’m better at training. The creativity, seeing space, etc., where I probably can be wrong sometimes. I wish I could tell you I’m always right, but it’s a coin flip.
You hire two people. You’ll probably hit one of them. That’s smart. Where do you get your designers from? Is there a common theme of backgrounds?
No. We treat recruiting like a marketing mix. We’ll put stuff out on CareerPlug or LinkedIn. I’ll sometimes even put things on Craigslist. We’ll call up a lot of our advertisers who know quite a few people in the industry, talk to them and tell them what we’re looking for. We find them all in different ways. The industries vary significantly. One of our newest team members is a realtor. We have a couple who have been in home improvement sales before. One of our good designers used to work the ticket counter at JetBlue for many years. It varies.
That’s cool that you don’t have a specific. They have to have the fundamentals, but they don’t have to come from a specific background. You can teach them what they need to know. I appreciate you taking some time to come on and share a little bit more about your story and journey. Congratulations on what you’ve built. It’s fun to watch.
Thank you for having me. It’s always good to catch up.
About Bret Chevrier
Bret Chevrier owns a franchise business that most people underestimate. It’s one of the biggest low-investment sleeper franchises out there because it can scale in a big way. The franchise is ShelfGenie. Bret is a top-performing franchise owner in the system Bret takes us through his journey from banking to franchise ownership and reveals the simple secrets he’s used to achieving a mountain of success.