In 2007 Dan Frey co-founded The Glass Guru, a franchise company based in Sacramento that deals in window repair and replacement.
Replacement Contractor: Where did the idea for The Glass Guru come from?
Dan Frey: I came out of the investment industry. During my tenure I spent time putting together some capital funds for a company in Canada called Crystal Clear, which popularized the process of window restoration and repair. We took a serious look at it and wanted to go at it ourselves and became the first company in the U.S. offering glass restoration and removal. We spent the first six months in research and development, putting systems and suppliers in place. It started out of our garage. We still operate a Glass Guru.
RC: Could you describe the services you offer?
DF: We de-fog a window using a process that involves drilling small holes in the top and bottom, spraying some cleaning and drying solutions between the panes, evacuating those solutions, and attaching a small vent that allows the window to equalize. We also remove scratches and stains from glass. Or we can remove and replace the glass. Worst case scenario, we replace the window unit itself. Since starting, we've expanded into tabletops, shower enclosures, and doors.
RC: Who becomes a Glass Guru franchise?
DF: We have 35 franchisees and 85% had no background in glass, windows, or in-home services. We have a handful of general contractors and remodelers and a franchise member who formerly worked for a window replacement company. Our top producer was formerly an accountant. Someone else worked for Hewlett-Packard for 36 years. They're people who are looking to get into their own business.
RC: What's the average cost of fixing a window, that is, the cost that your franchisee would charge for window repair?
DF: De-fogging a single window might cost $100 to $120, and it takes about 10 minutes per window to do it. We charge by the square foot and the price fluctuates by market. We try to keep our price for restoring a window to about half of what it would cost to replace the glass. So if multiple windows in the house are fogged over, you can restore four or five in an hour. Five hundred dollars to $700 is an average restoration/repair ticket. And the franchisee can do two to four a day.
RC: How and where do you get leads for these jobs?
DF: It's the lowest cost form of advertising and the one with the best success, that is, guerilla-style tactics like flyers and roadside signs. We do a lot of networking with professionals like real estate agents and home inspectors. Home shows are a good source of leads. We're not suggesting that franchisees spend their advertising budgets on radio and television. About a third of our leads come from digital advertising in one form or another, either pay per click, banner ads, or online listings. That percentage creeps up a little bit more each month.
RC: What's the appeal to consumers?
DF: Restoring or repairing a window is typically about 25% of the cost of replacing it. Replacing just the glass is about 50% of the cost of replacing the complete window unit. So, naturally, people want to see if these are an option before they call the guy down the road for a window replacement. We've had success using a soft-sell approach. And there are a lot of windows that could use our service. Most insulated windows in new construction last 10 to 15 years. So those that were installed in the '80s and '90s are about to fail now.
RC: But your franchisees also sell and install replacement windows?
DF: Some do. If glass replacement doesn't cut it, we can always fall back on full window replacement. Our model is to start at the bottom - with restoration and repair - and work our way up to replacement. Our goal is to earn lifelong customers. We're positioning ourselves as a one-stop shopping solution.
RC: What does it cost to buy a franchise and what are your franchise fees?
DF: It could run anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 with an additional $15,000 in startup capital to hold them over until they have some cash flow. So, you can become a Glass Guru franchise for less than $50,000, on average, in exchange for which the franchisees put themselves in a position to take advantage of a business with unlimited potential. We charge an average of 5.5% (of sales) for royalties and 1% for national advertising.
RC: Is this the kind of franchise that a window replacement company or other type of home improvement contractor would be interested in investing time and money in?
DF: It would probably be more of a primary business than a side business. For instance, we've had window cleaning companies that bought a franchise as an add-on to their business and it ended up becoming their primary business.
RC: How many franchisees actually replace windows?
DF: About half have gotten to the point where they're offering replacement windows. The other half are working up to that point. Ours is meant to be a progressive program. We want franchisees to be able to handle what is within their scope with the manpower and staff they have. A decent glazier can do moisture removal and glass replacement. Windows and doors are another animal. It's a high-ticket item, by comparison, and a higher risk as well. We don't suggest that they do it before they're ready.