ZOOM DRAIN franchise review: Pamela Belyn of ChicagoFranchise Performance Group
Former corporate attorney spies golden opportunity in the sewer and drain franchise business
Pamela Belyn already had more than an inkling about the fortunes to be found in the drain and sewer industry before she bought a ZOOM DRAIN franchise in 2019. A corporate attorney in the Chicago area for 20 years, Belyn switched gears and bought a sewer company that does a lot of governmental entity work. She saw ZOOM DRAIN as her opportunity to delve into the potentially lucrative residential sector. She talks about what it’s been like to on-board with Zoom in this ZOOM DRAIN franchise review.
What were you doing before you became a Zoom franchisee?
Before Zoom, I was a corporate attorney for 20 years, and then I bought another sewer company. So I am what Zoom refers to as a Plus Play. The other sewer company that I own does more governmental entity work and very little residential, so Zoom made sense for us to sort of expand into the residential sector and commercial.
How did you learn about ZOOM DRAIN?
I attended the WWETT Show (Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show). I think my first WWETT Show was in 2015 or 2016, and I met (COO) Ellen (Rohr). If you’ve met Ellen, you know she’s a force of nature.
She was fascinated and happy to see me and offered me her card and offered to help me in any way, and I thought that was kind of odd because that’s not generally how attorneys roll, so I wasn’t used to that. But she has been a godsend and has turned into a mentor. She had been trying to get me to consider a Zoom franchise for a long time. I just kind of ignored her. I’m like, she’s just a friend in the industry. I know I can talk to her about anything, but then it really started to make sense as we were looking to expand my existing company.
How does Zoom dovetail with your existing company in terms of services?
We do the exact same services, just different market segments. So my existing company, which is called Men in Sewers Pumping & Jetting, does a lot of work with municipalities and school districts because it is certified as a female-owned and a minority-owned business.
People care about that; they use me because they can get the credit for using a minority or a woman. A lot of commercial entities don’t really care about that. Men in Sewers was not set up to do residential at all. We would do maybe a handful of residentials every year because somebody is desperate or we’d do it as a friend of a friend, but that’s not how we’re set up to operate. But ZOOM DRAIN is set up to operate more commercially and with more measured residential, so it just made sense to expand in that direction in a new market segment.
What was it that drew you to this market segment in the first place?
I had been a corporate attorney for a long time, and most of the companies that I represented were distributors, manufacturers, blue-collar type companies, so I’d already been sort of familiar with that segment of the market. But what really turned the tide was when one of my clients tried to sell his commercial janitorial firm and he put it on the market. He wasn’t getting the price that he wanted. Nobody offered him more than $25 million, and I’m like, all right, you know what? Let’s just stop. Let’s reevaluate. Let me do what I do. So we cleaned up a lot of things. We locked down some key employees on employment agreements, finally trademarked the tagline that he’d been using for all these years. Just the little things that business owners know they should do but never really get around to doing. So then we put him back on the market and he ends up selling for $78 million.
I’m thinking, why am I not doing this for myself? I just helped this man get $50 million more dollars, clearly I can do this. So, I started looking for a company, specifically blue collar, connected to infrastructure, and that’s how I landed on Men in Sewers as a sewer construction company. That was in 2016, and it grew from there.
So, you’re fairly new to the industry, but you obviously have found it lucrative enough that you felt the need to expand. Can you speak to the potential for business with ZOOM DRAIN?
I think that this is an overlooked industry. It’s something that people are going to need regardless of the economy. Everybody wants to be able to flush their toilet when they want to flush their toilet. So the calls are going to come regardless of the economy.
ZOOM DRAIN has set itself apart in the industry by being clean, being well-stocked and trained, because a lot of times you’ll call somebody and it’s just like one dude with the van, who may or not have insurance, who may not have been background checked, who may or may not know what he’s doing. There’s no license for this. It is a very fragmented industry and you never know what you’re going to get when you make that call. I think Zoom, with their reputation, with their constant training, and with the branding that they’ve done, kind of eliminates those worries for a business owner or for a homeowner who needs their services.
That’s kind of what attracted me. That was their value proposition to me, because having a brand, having training, already sets me apart from half the guys in the city that are just one dude with a truck and a rotor.
What kind of support has Zoom offered you throughout the ramp-up process?
You know, my first introduction was going out to Salt Lake City and getting to meet all the franchisees at once and sort of going through training with all of the franchisees: Here’s what we’ve done over the course of the year, here’s what we can do better. Going through that training for three days in Salt Lake, and then just weekly phone calls making sure that I’m hitting my milestones in terms of finding the location, getting my licenses, interviewing for techs. There’s a very systematic process that they go through to make sure that you’re familiar with their practices and procedures. I’ve also been out to Philly for training, and one of my guys came back with the truck from Philly, so he was in training. Their weekly phone calls are with different people within Zoom that cover different areas of the training and the procedures manual, people that you can talk to and train with. It’s pretty comprehensive.
Are background checks a standard part of the ZOOM DRAIN package for consumers, knowing that your techs and the people coming to your house are all background checked?
Yes. A lot of times, female homeowners call me because they realize that the company is woman-owned. I just found a need. Women are home alone. They want to make sure that they know who’s coming to their house to do a service they have to have.
Do you anticipate focusing primarily on the residential with your ZOOM DRAIN franchise?
No, and there’s a slight difference between the market segments of municipal and government, commercial and residential Zoom. I’m going to focus on commercial and residential, and my existing entity will continue down its current path of municipal and government entities because they’re really the ones that care about being MBE or WBE certified.
Right now I’m just trying to get the name out there in the market because it’s new in the Midwest and the closest franchisee to me is in Nebraska.
How large do you want to grow this franchise?
As large as I can. Wouldn’t anybody? I mean, in terms of dollar amount, I’ve got the five year budget that you try to be at that $8 million mark in the next five years. If you’re constantly recruiting, you know it takes six months for a truck to come in. You know it takes four months for an apprentice that goes through the program and another couple of months after that before he gets a truck. It’s just a matter of timing. When this apprentice is about halfway through the program and is successful, order a truck. So by the time he graduates from the program, there’s going to be a truck available for him. Literally it’s just timing.
That’s the organic growth of it, but there’s also acquisition because a lot of these dude-in-a-truck outfits are doing it, they’re getting by, but they’re not making any money and they’re working harder than they need to. A lot of them are looking for a path and this could be a path for them. Buy their existing customer list. They get a referral bonus on the customers they bring in and let them run a truck that’s fully stocked, fully outfitted and then they already know what they’re doing.
Pamela, what will your role in the business be?
I am the president. I am currently looking for a field manager, but until that happens, I will act in that role, but my role will be sales and acquisition — looking for other companies to buy and being the sales face of the company.
Have you had much interaction with the other franchisees during your ramp-up?
Oh, yes. All the time. We have a weekly call and there is a group chat that is always going.
I know it’s a little bit early yet, but is there any kind of experience that you think someone would need to be successful with ZOOM DRAIN?
A willing attitude, and Zoom can supply the rest. I came to it at a slight advantage because even before I owned Men in Sewers, one of my grandfathers was the neighborhood handyman and the other one was a plumber, so it’s not like I was completely unfamiliar with the business. I just never thought of it as a career path. I knew how to do the stuff and now I just get to do it.
Is there anything that has come up since you’ve been with Zoom that has surprised you pleasantly, whether it’s about processes or the industry itself?
Every business tries to get to be where Zoom is in terms of having manuals and processes in place along with training and recruiting methods. Everybody tries to get there, but nobody kind of gets into the weeds and gets it as comprehensively, I think, as they have.
Is there anything else that you think a prospective buyer should know about becoming a Zoom franchisee?
When I came on board, I felt supported. I’ve dealt with other franchise owners and other industries as their lawyer, and that’s not always the case. Sometimes they’re like, “Here’s the franchise manual, this is what we’re going to collect on our franchise fees every month, good luck.” That’s not what this is.
This is a true collaborative effort, and I’ll give you an example. So, going through my little checklist of things I needed to do, I placed the order for uniforms, but realized that because my order for uniforms was so big that they were not going to come in before my guy needed a uniform down at the WWETT Show. I happened to put it on a group chat, asking if anybody had a shirt, and I was overwhelmed at the response. New England FedEx’d me a full uniform for this dude so he wouldn’t feel left out at the WWETT Show.
Just the fact that everybody responded, everybody was willing to help. They’re like, “Have you thought of this? I have this. I don’t have that size, but so-and-so might.” That was heartwarming to me because if they’re willing to jump in like that on something unimportant and simple, when you’ve got a big problem, you know they’ve got your back.
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