In a year that began with high expectations, few could have predicted a global pandemic that would bring business to its knees.
“The year started brilliantly,” says Dan Steward, president and CEO of Pillar To Post Home Inspectors. “We’d had a year of growth and innovation, and we were charged up for more of the same.”
Headquartered in both Tampa and Toronto, Pillar To Post celebrated its 25th year in 2019, adding 65 new home inspection franchisees to its roster—designated once again by Entrepreneur Magazine as the gold standard in the industry.
It all came crashing down in the third week of March, though, when the novel coronavirus slammed into American shores and shut down all but the most essential businesses. Real estate sales dropped 8.5 percent in the first month, and were widely expected to decline by up to 40 percent over the course of spring and summer.
But American consumers, trapped in imperfect living spaces, went on a home-buying spree, and the nation’s foremost home inspection company proved that it is nothing if not nimble and innovative.
“Like real estate, we are a people business,” says Steward. “Keeping people safe was our first priority, so first in our playbook was devising foolproof safety protocols.”
As the need for home inspections soared, Steward and a taskforce made up of franchisees, real estate professionals and customers devised new safety procedures for keeping people safe and instilling confidence in the home inspection process.
“The bottom line is that health crisis or not, buyers need to know the condition of the home they are buying,” says Steward.
While Pillar To Post home inspections typically include the presence of the agent, and often the buyer, with traditional procedures upended by the pandemic, it might have been easiest to restrict access to the inspector. But franchisees quickly pivoted to Zoom technology to keep customers involved.
“The human factor is critical,” says Steward. “People want to see how the toilet flushes and how much water pressure there is in the shower.”
So, using 360-degree digital technology and strict safety protocols—gloves and shoe coverings, wiping down doorknobs and any other surfaces touched—Pillar To Post inspectors began providing customers with a real-time, personal inspection experience.
Digital copies of the inspector’s report are provided the same day as the inspection so that the agent can effectively negotiate with the seller about any needed repairs.
According to Steward, this touchless sharing of information enables buyer confidence even for those who are buying property far from home.
And in an industry where reputation is everything, Pillar To Post chooses their franchisees with infinite care.
“Our franchisees are the best trained in the industry,” says Steward. “They come to us from a variety of backgrounds, but they are people who love all things real estate, and who have the desire to own their own business. Some 25 percent of our franchisees are military veterans, and I’m happy to say we have an increasing number of women and couples joining our ranks.”
They are people like Paula Camarena in Huntington Beach, Calif., a 20-year sales manager for technology products who knew, even as she was completing her MBA, that she wanted to be her own boss. A real estate investor with a love of houses, she researched multiple business possibilities. When a real estate agent friend suggested the home inspection business, she began a conversation with Pillar To Post, and quickly became convinced this was the right business for her.
“When I launched my Pillar To Post franchise in 2018, I challenged myself to be successful, and I am so happy I made the move,” says Camarena. “I feel blessed to be able to help my clients in one of the biggest purchases in their lives, and grateful for the training and company support that has helped to make me so successful.”
They are people like Justin and Shauna Barker, who operated and sold two distribution and transportation businesses before deciding to put their business experience and love of rehab and remodeling to use with a Pillar To Post franchise.
The Kansas City, Mo., couple—who launched their franchise during the pandemic—are thankful they were so well prepared.
“We’ve had exceptional training, both at the beginning and throughout the year,” says Shauna Barker, “and consistent support as standard procedures were adapted to meet the COVID crisis. This assistance and the strength of the Pillar To Post brand have helped us get our business started in a strong and meaningful way.”
Steward takes personal pride in the success of his franchisees, and in how little it takes, beyond conviction and desire, to launch and grow a prosperous business.
“Beginning franchisees don’t need an office,” says Steward. “They don’t need an inventory or employees. They don’t even need inspection experience. A $30,000 investment gets a new franchisee full training, lifetime company support and unlimited opportunity for success.”
The expert care and expertise of its franchise owners during the health crisis, and the dedication of franchisees to the people they serve, have inspired company-wide growth.
“Between the first of June and the end of the year, nearly every day has been a record-setter,” says Steward. “Activity has increased, and business is up 130 percent over last year.”
Perhaps, he notes, that’s because the third factor in the company’s pandemic playbook is individualized support.
“From the very beginning, we’ve been there to provide whatever our franchisees needed,” says Steward. “We’ve helped them locate personal protective equipment, develop effective customer communications, stay in control of their cashflow and whatever else it took for them to thrive and grow during this chaotic year.”
Little wonder, then, that the company lost not a single franchisee during a year that saw many businesses fail, or that Steward’s plans going forward reflect his faith in what the Pillar To Post brand stands for: the unwavering commitment of its business owners.
“These are people who care about their work, care about their communities and are eager to give back,” he says. “Service is at the heart of everything we do, and I am inspired by the many ways they make a difference.”
This year, Pillar To Post launched its FirstService Social Purpose program, which includes a FirstService Relief Fund to assist those facing economic hardship.
“When major hurricanes hit the coasts of Florida and Texas, for example, Pillar To Post franchisees from across North America came together to raise funds for those affected,” says Steward.
Assistance will also be available to employees, franchise owners and their employees who require emergency funding.
“Our focus going forward is to grow and prosper by serving,” says Steward.
It’s a fitting legacy for a company whose integrity, reputation and passion for service have been the hallmark of its 26-year history.