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

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.

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<p>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.</p>
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<p>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.</p>
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<p>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.”</p>
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<p>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.</p>
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<p>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.</p>
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<p>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.</p>
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson
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