As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Combe.
Ryan has spent his entire career in franchising and has held pretty much every title you can in the industry — CEO, Senior Vice President, Franchisee, Franchisor, etc. He launched his first franchise in 2007, a frozen yogurt concept called Spoon Me, and grew the brand to over 20 units open and over 80 units sold in just 18 months. Since, Ryan has played an integral role in launching dozens of brands across various sectors.
Most recently, he has found a unique niche as an expert in service brands where he has helped hundreds of people launch their own service business, including his own.
Currently, Ryan is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Steel Coated Floors, a national franchise with 15 operating territories nationwide that installs epoxy flooring in garages, shops, warehouses, hangars, showrooms, and more.
He is also the founder of Safe From Spread, a commercial disinfecting company whose sanitizer protects from 99.9% of all viruses, including COVID-19. Launched in April, the franchise is already servicing 23 territories across the country.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
My entire life I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. For as far back as I can remember I was always coming up with ideas for businesses. I remember when I was in the third grade we had this school project called “Mini-Society”. Everyone had a “job” and got a paycheck each week. We got paid in scholar dollars! Then at the end of the six week project we had a school fair and you could spend all the money you had made. By the end of the first week I already had like five different side hustles running. I was helping other people do their jobs, organizing four square tournaments, selling baseball cards, pretty much anything I could think of that people would pay for. I was rolling in Scholar Dollars! Then the day before the school fair, my teachers called me into the office. I had so many Scholar Dollars that they thought I had been printing my own. I explained to them how I had gotten the money and to their credit they congratulated me and sent me on my way. From that time on I was hooked. I knew I was going to work for myself and that I would have to be prepared for any opportunities that presented themselves.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
With Steel Coated Floors it was the moment I realized that 90% of the marketing for home services were aimed at women. This make a lot of sense, because it is typically the woman in the home who is deciding who will clean the carpet, paint the bedroom, etc. So if we could create a brand that targeted a home service for men, we would have to compete marketing wise.
The Safe From Spread “Aha Moment” was realizing that the biggest service we can offer our clients wasn’t sanitizing their space, but helping them communicate the efforts they’re making to their customers. Once we started wearing a GoPro and giving them a branded video to share with their customers, the business exploded!! We now consider ourselves a marketing company that keeps your business Safe From Spread.
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?
I learned very early to not engage in back and forth negotiations with people. With one of my first businesses, we had just completed training and started some marketing. I got a call from a customer who was looking for pricing. From the way she was talking, I could tell that she had already spoken to a lot of different contractors. I gave her a price and over the next few days she continued to call and eventually we settled on a price that was about half what I originally quoted. Every instinct I had told me to run the other direction, but I was so excited to get that first job under my belt that I agreed to do the job. Once we showed up to do the work, the negotiating started up again. “Can you throw in this? And can you also do this?” The job was growing by the minute. When we finally finished she told me everything looked great, but… To make a long story short, two weeks later I ended up giving the woman $1200 to never call me again. It was a good lesson to learn early on because I never lost money on a job again.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
With Safe From Spread the vision was very direct. Let’s help people feel safe going back into the world. That was how it started and it is driving most everything we do today.
Steel Coated Floors was a little less serious. With that brand, we wanted to have fun with the fact that the definition of “being a man” changes with time. Once you become a husband and/or father, being a man is taking care of your family and doing what is best for them. That can be a stressful job, so we wanted to find a way to reward that with something aimed at the “man of the house.” And have a product that will eliminate stress from your life by doing it once and never having to worry about it again. That’s where the playful marketing comes from and the lifetime guarantee.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Creating relationships and work that will last forever is a big part of our training and culture.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
If I had to narrow it down to one I would go with a phrase I tell myself almost every day… “It isn’t the failed ventures that will keep you up at night, it’s passing on the hits.” I tell myself that every time I’m doing something risky or something that makes me uncomfortable. I’d rather try and fail, then wonder what could have been.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I tell everyone I speak to that is considering opening a business that they should be prepared for what I call the entrepreneur cycle. At least once a day you will think you’re a genius and at least once a day you’ll think you’re an idiot. For me those numbers are probably triple that. There can be some dark times as a business owner, but trying to focus on the now and not worrying about tomorrow’s problems is something that helps me.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Today things are great! Of course if you ask me in a few hours I may have a different answer, but things are going well. With all things in life and business, I’ve learned to appreciate the work and the journey. That sounds super cliché, but it’s the truth. You have to be content with your situation while continuing to work to improve.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It’s only about the brand! I would make this all five things if I could. In the service industry, it’s rare that you will have a proprietary product, so you have to understand what will set you apart. Why will someone trust us over the next person who shows up?
- Don’t set out to be the cheapest. There may be some brands where that is their thing, but I don’t ever want to be the cheapest option. I want to be the best!
- Understand your target audience. This is a rule for any business, but I feel like I see a lot people in the service industry ignore this. Try to narrow in on who you can best service and focus in on that audience.
- Be ready for ups and downs. This is part of the game. You will have highs and lows every day. Be prepared to handle them.
- Don’t let others slow you down. Just because someone else isn’t willing to move fast or take risks, don’t let that stop you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father is one of the hardest workers I know. He owned his own business and really taught me a lot. My parents are every bit as responsible for any success I’ve had or will have as I am. I’ve been able to take risks because I’ve always had the support of them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have a goal to one day start a charity that will cover the expense of all extra-curricular activity for students in my home town. I believe there is so much benefit in being part of a team, or learning to play an instrument, or being in a play, etc. I hate the idea that some kids don’t get to experience those things because of the financial situation of their family. I want to make sure any child that wants to participate in those things will be able to do so.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The only social media I use is LinkedIn. Just search for Ryan Combe. I’m the dude with a shaved head.