Tailgate: Larry Janesky, Entrepreneur
For this business owner, the keys to success are a focus on customer service and a crew of well-trained employees.
How did you get started?
I had always wanted to be a carpenter and went to a high school that had a carpentry program. I put an ad in the newspaper: “Carpentry, no job too small, call Larry.” And I got calls. I showed up on time and sober, and if my age wasn’t an issue at 17, I got the job. Every job was a massive learning experience, with a lot of help from a guy at the lumberyard.
In 1983, I got a call from that same ad, saying, “Can you build a house for me?” I made some mistakes and had to redo some things, but my younger brother, my friend, and I—all teenagers—built this house in six weeks: framed, roofed, sided, and with a deck.
Over the next four years, I built 23 houses. The last house I built had a leaking foundation-wall crack, so that’s how I got into the waterproofing business.
Did you go through any kind of training to learn about basement repair?
As it turns out, there was no training. This industry had a pretty low level of customer service and integrity and a lot of high-pressure, say-anything sales techniques, so I figured that was a place I could make my mark.
At first, I started developing products. I have 27 patents for things I’ve developed for the waterproofing and crawlspace-repair industry. My products were better than what was on the market. They provided a competitive advantage. In 1990, I started recruiting dealers to use my products, and today, we have 115 basement-waterproofing contractors who are Basement Systems dealers in North America and Europe.
After some time focusing on products, I realized that it wasn’t all about products. You can have great products and fail miserably for a lot of other reasons, so we focus on sales systems, marketing systems and tools, and business-management processes so that our dealers can be successful.
And that’s how you developed into dealer networks?
We have five networks today: four dealership networks and one franchise. The dealer networks are Basement Systems, which is basement waterproofing; CleanSpace, which is crawlspace repair; Total Basement Finishing, which is done with all waterproof materials; and Foundation Supportworks, which is the structural repair of foundations. The franchise is Dr. Energy Saver, which focuses on home-energy conservation.
The franchises pay royalty fees. Dealers don’t. Our dealership networks are very product intensive. The dealers are buying a lot of product from us, so we don’t charge royalty fees.
Do you do training for the dealers?
We do a ton of training, and we are really good at it. We have three large facilities in Seymour, Conn., and we have large training rooms in all the facilities. We are doing training classes from 10 to 200 people twice a month. Products alone aren’t going to make you successful, that’s for sure.
How do you maintain quality control over the dealers and franchisees?
It’s a function of who you choose to be on your team. If you choose good people and they have the right values and character, then you won’t have any problems. We have a customer-service program that teaches all the employees in each department how to behave in all situations. We have parted ways with several dealers over the 21 years, probably only two because we didn’t think they were good people, and we’ve turned down many others.
How do you combat the fly-by-night perception that homeowners might have of the waterproofing business?
Consumers are smart today. In the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and even the ‘80s, all that homeowners knew was what the salesperson told them. These days, the internet leaves a digital footprint. Consumers are aware. They’re hard to fool.
Do you worry about your reputation?
You have to have some confidence in yourself and in your ability to make customers happy. In our case, what’s important for me is keeping my people. If I have a revolving door of employees, I’m never going to provide good customer service.
It’s got to be win-win-win. We often talk about the customer and customer satisfaction. But in my view, you’re not going to get happy customers if you don’t have successful employees, so the employee has to win. The homeowner has to win. And unless those two parties win, the business owner’s not going to win.
Learn more about Larry Janesky or any of his businesses at www.larryjanesky.com
Photo: Charles Bickford