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How Jeff Meyers became Dwyer Group’s go-to guy for international growth

Written by Emilie Sandy, Eric Johansson on Tuesday, 03 July 2018. Posted in Interviews

Having spent time spearheading his own franchise and leading Mr. Electric’s growth as its president, Jeff Meyers has now embarked on the mission to spearhead Dwyer Group’s expansions in the UK and the rest of Europe.

How Jeff Meyers became Dwyer Group’s go-to guy for international growth

Jeff Meyers doesn’t like to take it easy. While far from following the Facebook creed of moving fast and breaking stuff, he’s clearly not one to rest on his laurels. Not only was he one of the first 25 franchisees to join Mr. Electric but Meyers even seems reluctant to waste time catching his nightly Zs. “I usually wake up at five, 5.30am,” he says. “I tend to take about 30 or 40 minutes in the morning reading the news. It’s quite light-hearted though. I’m not a political junkie by any stretch but I do like to know what’s going on.” His “pretty chilled” morning routine highlights how Meyers wants to get things moving. This attitude makes him the perfect fit to serve as the vice president of international operations at Dwyer Group, which means he’s responsible for the multi-brand franchisor’s continuous growth in the UK and the rest of Europe.

This role demands a clear understanding of franchisees’ needs – the same requirement any successful franchisor faces. Luckily, Meyers learned to appreciate the trials and tribulations of small-business owners from a young age. “My dad was an electrician for many years and he started his own business in either 1962, 1963 or 1964,” he remembers. This enabled Meyers to observe as his father successfully scaled from having a man in the van operation to running a solid business with several employees – invaluable lessons for a future franchisor. “It was extremely helpful because I was there and I lived through it with him,” he says.

However, despite his father’s loving tutoring, Meyers initially didn’t follow in his footsteps. “I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a tradesman,” he says. “Not because I thought it was hard but because I didn’t think it was my thing.” Instead, he enrolled at University of Arizona to do a bachelor degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1982. At the time the nascent technology was just starting to become mainstream – tickling the imagination of cinemagoers with movies like WarGames and Tron. “It was something of a novelty and all that interested me,” Meyers recalls.

Following his university studies, it didn’t take long before he found himself with a job at IBM. Having envisioned himself working for a corporate, it seemed as if Meyers had everything he could ever have hoped for. There was just one slight snag. “I didn’t enjoy it,” he says. “Back in those days, IBM was definitely a white shirt, blue coat and tie company and that was just a bit too stuffy for me.” So despite the possibilities envisioned on the big screen, being stuck in front of a small computer screen left him feeling unfulfilled. “I’d grown up with a blue collar family where you were always out doing stuff,” he says. “You’re getting your hands dirty fixing stuff and I sat in front of a computer terminal for four years between eight to ten hours a day doing design work and I just didn’t enjoy it.” Needless to say, something had to change.

Fortunately, he’d soon be able to escape the tedium by buying his dad’s business. “My father wanted to retire,” says Meyers. “He’d built his empire and made some good money throughout the years.” Now it was essentially running itself. Meyers’ dad wasn’t an absentee leader by any stretch but left most of the day-to-day running of the company in the hands of capable key managers. They, together with the solid customer base and trained employees, were all reasons to why Meyers was excited about the opportunity. “I felt as if I stepped into a pretty stable situation,” he says. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out, the realisation of which made for a rather harsh awakening about the realities of business ownership. “The day my father announced to his team that he was selling the business to me, his key person quit,” Meyers laughs. “So I got doused in reality literally from the moment I walked through the door.” He also found out that even though he’d seen his father work, there were still many things he’d missed. “Everything has a flip side and even though you kind of know it, I’m not sure you fully appreciate it until you’re actually doing it,” he says. “It’s like having kids: it’s the greatest thing ever but there are times when it’s extremely hard work.”

Still, Meyers enjoyed the challenge. “I thrive in environments where there’s a lot going on,” he says. He certainly had his fill of excitement. Whether it was fixing flat tyres on company vans, dealing with angry customers or building his network around Tucson, Meyers loved the tests of his skill each day would bring. Even more so as the hard work paid off over the five years he ran the firm. “We tripled the size of the business over that period,” he says.

However, leading a small independent business did mean a lot of stress. “If I had miscalculated just a little bit I could’ve failed and had to file for insolvency,” Meyers says. He needed someone to get advice from. But while he was very active in the business community, Meyers only trusted other business owners to a certain degree. “I never felt that I could sit down with them and just talk about all of my struggles because at the end of the day we were competitors,” he says.

Fortunately, that was when he first heard about Mr. Electric. The electric contractor first set up shop in 1994 and began to franchise soon after that. By the time Meyers started hearing about it, the franchisor already had about 20 franchisees across the US, was part of Dwyer Group and rapidly expanding. Having been introduced to the business by a franchisee he knew, Meyers was blown away by the operation – especially dealing with the less glamorous sides of franchising. “Nothing I heard was rocket science but they had been there and done that,” he says. He was equally excited about being able to tap into the accumulated experience of the franchisee network without fear of being played the fool. “Being around like-minded people was huge for me,” he says. No wonder he signed the dotted line and became a Mr. Electric franchisee in 1997.

Supercharged with excitement, Meyers quickly scaled his business to new levels. “During the five years that I had my own Mr. Electric, it saw amazing growth,” he says. Not only did he take the business over $1m in turnover but also opened two additional sites – one in Las Vegas and one in San Francisco. The key lesson he learned from the experience – one that would help him in his later career – was to believe in his staff. “You have to empower and teach people to be leaders,” he says. “I can’t do it all. I don’t want to do it all."

In 2003 it became clear his management skills hadn’t gone unnoticed. “I actually got an unexpected call from the new president of Mr. Electric who I had never met,” Meyers remembers. “He said, ‘things have gone crazy at the corporate office and I’ve been told that I need to have you on my team. What is it going to take to get you here?’” But flattering as it was, Meyers initially turned the president down because he didn’t want to leave his life in Tucson to move to the company’s headquarters in Waco, Texas. Luckily, his wife changed his mind when he called her. “She said, ‘what, are you crazy?’” he laughs. “So, long story short, she was in Texas about an hour’s drive from Waco and two hours after we talked she phoned me and said, ‘I’m in Waco and I think I could live here.’” With his wife having given him her thumbs up, Meyers quickly called back and accepted the job offer.

Looking back, Meyers is happy for the change. “My wife described it like we were in a very comfortable rut,” he says. His franchises were doing well, his kids were growing up and life seemed to go its merry old way. But, lovely as this was, the peace had cost him his strength. Now, he had the opportunity to regain his edge. “I had something to prove again,” Meyers says. “I was around a bunch of people who didn’t know me and I wanted to be an active participant in the success of Dwyer Group. So I worked my butt off to prove to everybody that I was worthy of being a part of their company and of being one of their colleagues.

However, Meyers’ life wasn’t the only thing that changed in 2003 when he became vice president of operations at Mr. Electric. In the same year, Dwyer Group was acquired by The Riverside Company, a private equity firm. The deal made the company private again after being traded on the Nasdaq and Meyers could feel the difference. “When you’re a public traded company you’re always trying to feed the short-term stock price god,” he says. “You definitely make different decisions when you’re a publicly traded company to when you’re a private one.” At the time, Dwyer group had six brands – Mr. Rooter, Rainbow International, Glass Doctor, Mr. Electric, Mr. Appliance and Aire Serv – and roughly 1,050 franchisees in 16 countries around the world. Today, Dwyer Group has 17 franchised brands and about 3,200 franchisees globally. And Meyers believes the company going private played a huge role in the success. “I think it really was the catalyst to Dwyer Group going from where it was to where it is today,” he says.

As Dwyer Group evolved, so did Meyers’ career. By 2007, the president of Mr. Electric announced his own resignation. Sitting at a meeting with Dina Dwyer-Owens, the founder’s daughter and chair of Dwyer Group, and Mike Bidwell, who became the company’s CEO when Dwyer-Owens stepped down from that post, Meyers was informed that they were searching for a replacement. “I asked, ‘would you mind if I apply for the job?’” he remembers. “And it probably wasn’t meant that way but they were like, ‘you can throw your hat into the ring if you want to.’” So he did and a few weeks later he got a phone call. “They got back to me and said, ‘this is silly’,” Meyers laughs. “‘You’re qualified and you’re the right guy, so congratulations.’"

Stepping into his old boss’ shoes, Meyers’ doubled down on his efforts to make a success of the business. And by 2014 it was clear these efforts had paid off. “We had consistent good growth during those years,” he says. However, by then Meyers had once again found himself in a comfortable rut resulting in slightly reduced levels of productivity. “Thank goodness that my boss, Mike Bidwell, noticed that because he probably saved me from being fired,” he says.

The solution to this conundrum was to ship him off across the pond. “One of our long-term plans was to plant some seeds in Europe and do some more direct franchising,” he says. In 2012, Dwyer Group had an opportunity to speed up its expansion plans when the master licensee for Mr. Electric UK unexpectedly went into insolvency. And Meyers jumped on the chance to spearhead these efforts. “It was an opportunity for my wife and I to try something different,” he says.

While he quickly realised the language barrier wasn’t a problem, there were other differences to adjust to. “It was a little bit like going back to school,” he remembers. “The culture was very different.” While he was confident that the support systems built up in the US were extraordinary, Meyers made a point of asking the European franchisees for their thoughts. “I didn’t want to come across as the American that knows it all and is forcing people to run their business the way Americans do,” he says. By taking his time, he soon saw which parts of the system would work in the old world and which ones would need to be tweaked.

Similarly, he realised the importance of hiring local executives in each country that could understand the nation’s unique culture. “Originally, we sent over a US executive to run Mr. Electric here in the UK when we bought that master licence back in 2012,” Meyers says. Unfortunately, this executive couldn’t adjust to the cultural differences. Once this person’s tenure was over, Meyers discovered that another American wasn’t the answer. “I realised early on that I needed to hire strong brand leaders that would stand up and say, ‘wait a minute Jeff. Great idea but let’s think that through and I’ll tell how things really happen here,’” he says. “Some of it I was able to push back when they were wrong and some of it were like, ‘man, thank you for that. You just saved us a lot of heartache.’”

Making these slight adjustments has certainly served him and the franchisor in good stead since 2014 when he stepped into the new role. In the UK alone, Dwyer Group has added the franchises Bright & Beautiful, Countrywide Grounds Maintenance and Drain Doctor to the portfolio that already included Aire Serv and Mr. Electric. Of course, acquiring these new brands necessitated some careful considerations. “They had their own culture and their own way of doing business,” he says. “They had different leadership styles.” For instance, while some founders may have been reasonably authoritarian, others were quite easy-going in comparison. “It takes a little bit of time to figure out which pieces of their culture are really important to keep and which pieces of our culture are important and need to be implemented,” he says. “One thing that’s non-negotiable is our code of values. You have to take that to your core or you don’t work for Dwyer Group.” While some people couldn’t deal with that, most did.

Embracing the code isn’t the only thing franchisees have to do. “You have to have certain skills and the right personality,” he says. Added to that, budding franchisees must also have money to invest and pass a background test. But apart from that, Meyers claims no franchisees are the same and it’s therefore very hard to say which qualities a successful candidate should have to join a Dwyer Group franchise. “I wish I could tell you that we knew the secret formula,” he says.

Nevertheless, finding new franchisees to join the roughly 150 ones in Britain is pivotal as Dwyer Group plans to add new brands to its portfolio. “We are always looking,” Meyers says.  While he’s reluctant to reveal what franchises may end up joining the club, Meyers says any franchise aimed at improving or maintaining properties has potential to join the network. “Anything that fits into that box is really where we want to be,” he says. So watch this space as great things are a-coming.

When asked about his own plans, Meyers quickly quips: “I want to retire some day. Don’t print that. My boss may be surprised.” All joking aside, it’s clear that he still has the energy to keep growing Dwyer Group’s franchise offering in Europe. “Every day is just exciting so I can see myself continue to do what I’m doing for many years,” he concludes.

About the Author

Emilie Sandy

Emilie Sandy

Aside from dashing between the Cotswolds and London to shoot business types for magazines such as EF and TV stars for the Beeb, Sandy is also a visiting lecturer at a college in Stroud – not to mention a proud mother to son Freddie and daughter Fjola. She has photographed our cover stars since our very first edition. You know what they say – if it ain’t broke...

 

 

Eric Johansson

As acting web editor and resident Viking, Johansson ensures Elite Franchise is filled with engaging and eclectic entrepreneurial stories. While one of our most prolific franchise writers, he has sharpened his editorial teeth by writing about entertainment and fitness. Follow him on Twitter at @EricJohanssonLJ to catch up with his stream of consciousness.

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