As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Bidwell.
Mike Bidwell joined Neighborly — the world’s largest home service franchisor with 24 service brands and 4,000 franchise owners — in 1984 as a Rainbow International® franchisee. In 1987, Bidwell became the first multi-concept franchisee when he started the first Worldwide Refinishing Systems — now known as DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen by Worldwide — franchise in the country. He later added a Mr. Rooter® Plumbing franchise in 1992. Bidwell was successful as a franchisee, being named Franchisee of the Year for Rainbow International and Worldwide, Sales Leader for Rainbow for four years, and Top Gun for Mr. Rooter.
Bidwell sold his businesses and joined the Neighborly corporate team in 1995 as president of Rainbow International until 2002, and president of Mr. Appliance® and Mr. Rooter Plumbing from 1998–2006, concurrently leading these three brands while also assuming the duties of COO in 2000. In 2007, Bidwell was also named the president of Neighborly, and in January of 2014, he then became the president and CEO of Neighborly.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I began my career with Neighborly in 1984 as Rainbow International® franchise owner, and in 1987, I became the organization’s first multi-concept franchise owner. In 2000, I was named the chief operating officer (COO) of Neighborly, and in 2007 I was also named president. In January of 2014, I became the president and CEO of the brand.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
As I was just starting my Rainbow Carpet Dying and Cleaning franchise, I took a job to dye a green carpet brown in a rental home. I was so eager to get the work that I took the job without considering its feasibility and dove right in. Turns out my enthusiasm got the best of me because despite several attempts, I was never able to turn the carpet brown. I learned later from Neighborly’s home office that the particular construction type was not dyable… Something I could have figured out from the start had I worked smarter and not harder! Fortunately, the landlord was going to replace the carpet if it couldn’t be dyed. Of course, I didn’t get paid for all the work and product I put into it, but I did get an expensive lesson. Through this experience, I quickly learned not to let my enthusiasm get the best of me. To other motivated individuals just starting out in their careers, I advise you to be aggressive but to also be cautious, because sometimes it is cheaper to walk away from an opportunity. I must admit though, it took me more than one mistake along the lines of my green-to-brown carpet fiasco to learn that lesson.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Two books come to mind. The first is The Art of Selling by Tommy Hopkins. When I was starting my Rainbow business, I decided out of desperation to go door-to-door (commercially) to solicit carpet cleaning work. Sales had never been my strong point, so I ordered the audio version of The Art of Selling to listen to as I would drive around. A few years later, my franchise became the largest commercial carpet cleaner in our city, built on direct sales, and I give Tommy Hopkins credit for that. The other book that I’d recommend is The Seasons of Life by Jim Rohn, and it is all about lifestyle management. The essence of Jim’s message in this book it is to be thoughtful and deliberate about your life, your career, your family and your philanthropy. This really made an impact on how I’ve built the career I have today.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My initial plan was to simply build my business for three years, then sell it, take that money and figure out what I really wanted to do. But as I got into growing the business, I became enamored with the idea of becoming the largest franchise owner in the network. Within six years, that’s what I had accomplished. I really think that is the power of franchising. It provides a peer group, which is supportive, but also a competitive set to benchmark against. By seeing what others have done successfully, talking to them about it, you know what can be accomplished. And that’s powerful motivation.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Stay calm, be deliberate and analyze the options. Don’t make emotional decisions, but at the same time, press. Overall, be persistent.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We dispersed the corporate staff a week before businesses were being told to close and instructed all staff to work remotely. At this time, one of our daughters was due to deliver our new grandchild in the next couple of weeks, located 500 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee while we were in Waco, Texas. My wife was planning to assist our daughter and her husband as they tried to navigate the initial few weeks, help wanted or not. So, I told her to pack up to take an early morning road trip out to them, anticipating that restrictions were likely forthcoming.
Once we arrived in Nashville and our daughter was getting ready to give birth, we could not go into the hospital due to the virus. After self-quarantining for over two weeks, we finally were able to visit in person! My wife and I have been helping ever since, while I’ve simultaneously been remotely leading Neighborly.
On top of all this, our son and his wife had their first child three months ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been making use of Face-time to connect with them and watch our other grand baby grow. While I wish we could all be together in person, I’m grateful that everyone is safe, healthy and happy during this time.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic?
Figuring out how to manage the business with everyone working remotely, compounded with the need to change how we execute due to COVID-19 restrictions, and all while trying to keep everyone safe and the lights on at the same time has been challenging, to say the least. Initially, our biggest questions revolved around which of our home service verticals were allowed to operate in which markets. Figuring this out took a huge amount of energy because of all the jurisdictions. Government entities would revise mandates days after issued, as they were trying to figure it all out like everyone else. Then our focus shifted to preserving liquidity, while trying to figure what the next few months might look like. All of this needed to be managed while simultaneously finding the best way to keep both customers and front-line employees safe.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
From the very start of the crisis, we ramped up our support to our franchise owners. We quickly developed crisis communication protocols for those affected locally. We developed COVID-19 sensitive marketing campaigns which highlighted some of our key service benefits during this time — contactless and outdoor services, cleaning services and essential services. We made adjustments to our operating procedures to keep our customers and service professionals protected. Innovations recently implemented across our network of home service brands include, but are not limited to:
- Virtual/remote estimates via video chats and phone calls
- Contactless paperwork and payment methods
- Limiting service vehicles to one provider at a time, therefore requiring team members to drive separately to service jobs warranting more than one professional
- Dispatching service professionals directly to jobs from their homes
- Utilizing advanced technology to capture 3D images that can be shared with insurance adjusters and other partners
- Requesting homeowners’ distance themselves in another room during the service call
- Enhancing job site hygiene protocols by acting with prudence in our day-to-day operations with preventative safety measures, such as wearing gloves and masks, set forth by the U.S. Federal Government, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health agencies.
In addition to these creative alternatives to the traditional service call process, Neighborly has used this time as an opportunity to innovate and strengthen our customer relationships through amazing experiences and generous contributions to our communities.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We stay in touch by phone, text and FaceTime and have been physically present with our daughter who just delivered. Lots of contact is necessary to keep everyone feeling connected and cared for, even if that contact cannot be physical.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Consumer preferences will be permanently altered. Some things will not go back to the way they were pre-COVID-19. We must anticipate what those preferences and apprehensions will be. While navigating the acute demands of our current situation, we are preparing to alter our way to business to meet these evolved expectations. For example, people will want to travel less for business… do I need to hop on a plane to look an opportunity or is there another way? They will want contact less and friction less transactions. Also, we can be more efficient leveraging virtual training. Do we need the same amount of office space? Businesses have found that people can telework for many roles, reducing expense for the business and increasing quality of life for their employees.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
People are definitely going to want to travel less for business. This pandemic has proved that applications, like Zoom, can allow for people to be just as effective as an in-person meeting. I also think there will be more over the web selling than just ordering something on Amazon, such as people buying and closing on a home or a franchise business over the Internet.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Be aware of what is going on around them. If you are in a decision-making capacity for a business, be observant, anticipate and take action. There are opportunities to find new efficiencies and preserve and even grow your relevance in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do the math.” In the early days of owning and operating my first Rainbow franchise, I found myself ready to sell and get out. I just didn’t feel like I was experiencing as much of a financial return on my investment as I originally hoped. When I expressed my desire to sell to Neighborly’s home office, they invited me to Waco to discuss what could be done to improve my circumstances. While I was there, they asked me, “Where are you at with sales now, and where do we want to be?” I answered the question, and sure enough, all it took for me to figure out what needed to change in order for me to reach my goals was to do the math. I was embarrassed that it was such a simple solution that I just hadn’t taken the time to figure out myself! So now, whenever I run into challenging circumstances, I make it a point to lay out all possibilities and “do the math” to figure out the best way to handle it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on Twitter @Mike_Bidwell. Also, feel free to follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-bidwell-4305b420/.