N-Hance Wood Refinishing Franchise Review: Meet Bob DeGraff

N-Hance van packed outside a customer's houseThere are clear advantages of being part of a franchise system and those become even more  evident during uncertain times. Bob DeGraff, owner of a N-Hance wood refinishing franchise and current president of the Franchise Advisory Council, has seen the impact of the recent pandemic first hand in the hard-hit New York region. Prior to joining our fast-growing wood refinishing franchise, DeGraff worked in sales. In this informative interview, DeGraff shares how his business has bounced back after the pandemic, has seen dramatic increases and how the N-Hance corporate team and network of franchisees came together to face challenges head on.

What were you doing before you franchised with N-Hance Wood Refinishing? 

DeGraff: I had worked in sales pretty much since I was 17 years old and before joining N-Hance I was a sales manager for a distribution company. It was a great job and people work a long time to get to that point, but I had to travel a lot and I had two little kids at home and it was not going over very well as many people could probably imagine. I had always wanted to own my own business and started doing a bunch of research. I found N-Hance and the rest, as they say, is history.

What about the N-Hance brand was attractive to you and what makes N-Hance unique in the marketplace?

DeGraff: In our area in Western New York we are about as far removed from New York City as one could get. We are on the complete other side of the state. We have had a large amount of suburban development over the last 50 years. There was an initial spurt out of the city years ago and then another big spurt and then even another big one probably 25 years ago. All this suburban development meant a lot of single family homes. They are starting to turn over now and many of them have turned over two or three times. And they need to renovate…it’s not even an option any more. But as everybody knows, kitchen renovations are probably one of the most expensive renovations in a house so I thought there would be a good opportunity for a service like ours that could deliver what they are asking for, at much less cost. 

During the pandemic can you give us a sense of how we were able to work together and the role you played in helping us support one another as a franchise network?

DeGraff:  Obviously no one can prepare for something like this. Sure you could be responsible with your money, you could have backup plans, but at the end of the day nobody saw a pandemic like this coming. I view our advisory committee’s job as doing whatever it takes to work collaboratively with corporate on advocating for franchises and trying to get to solutions to problems and issues that best help everybody. So, when this hit, we sat down and said, “Listen we have got to work together. It’s going to be frustrating and everyone is on edge and there is so much uncertainty. People’s livelihoods, and lives, are on the line. Let’s just do our best to work through it,” and I think we did. There were a lot of phone calls, a lot of text messages, a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations, but we ended up coming to a place that I think helped everybody.

The crisis speaks volumes about why you should be a part of a franchise system. Did you provide help to franchisees during this time?

DeGraff: There’s been a lot of lifting each other up. We all have that common knowledge where it is very easy to vent to each other. In some cases you might not have that. You don’t want to vent to your spouse because you don’t want to make them anxious or upset. And you might not have a friend who owns a business who can relate. So to be able to be there for each other, whether it’s just to vent or blow off some steam, really goes a long way. There was obviously a lot of support and help from corporate. We received financial support from corporate and also support through classes and guidance on marketing ideas and training. 

Leads are up company wide for our franchisees. Why do you think that is?

DeGraff: I think some of it is pent-up demand. This shut down hit us during a busy time. In our area, especially, springtime is when our home shows are. Going through a horrendous winter in the northeast, everybody is stir crazy come March. And now they tell you have to stay in for a couple of months. Are you kidding me? I lost our best month of leads in the entire year as the end of March and beginning of April are our best time for leads.

There’s still that demand, though. If anything I think that increased demand because now you’re inside looking around at everything you don’t like about your home. Most of our customers I would classify as middle class to upper middle class. A lot of them can either work from home or they are still going into their offices. I think a lot of folks who probably would have been our customers anyway actually have more money now because they cancelled their spring vacation, so that might have saved them anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 . I also think more people are cancelling their summer vacations. So a lot of people have some extra funds and they are thinking well if I can’t go on vacation I guess I’m going to fix up my house. All those things play together with the fact that most of us in the N-Hance network are busy now.

How are things going for you?

DeGraff: Things are going good. We are bouncing back hard. I just brought on another team member on a trial basis, but we are growing. I am nervous about the fall and what could happen, but I think most people are going to be a little more rational about this now and there’s a little less fear since we know more so I don’t think it will be as bad. We are booking a lot of jobs and filling up the schedule. So I really can’t complain, it’s more the uncertainty about what happens when it gets cold again.

Are you doing anything differently operationally?

DeGraff: Obviously we’re taking a lot more safety precautions as far as disinfecting and masks I also might be spending more time with our customers directly in the beginning just reassuring them we are going to do the right thing, they are going to be happy with the final product, but far as operationally no. Because we were pretty happy with where we were before the shoe dropped. I was planning on having my best year ever and who knows, we could recover, but losing a month and a half of revenue is pretty tough to claw back from.

One of the best things we did was stick our marketing through this shut down. I kept my SEO going with a search company we deal with even though money was super tight. We kept our Google pay per click budget. We kept our Clipper magazine budget. We actually started doing more Facebook and Instagram advertising because I figured more people were home and sitting on the couch. Now if this had gone on another month I might have cut back on marketing, but we took a leap of faith and it paid off. I’m glad we did that because your first instinct is to shut down a little bit. 

Now that we are emerging from this thing, if you had one piece of advice to give to your franchisees what would that be?

DeGraff: I think a lot of this has to do with your mentality. Obviously New York state was hit harder than anywhere in the country and now is starting to come out of it. Your mentality is something you can control and it’s super easy to get into a cycle of self pity and to get depressed. I don’t easily get depressed and the first week I thought how am I going to make this work? But it’s part of your job as a small business owner to shake yourself out of it.

Having the council advisory role helped me shake out of it, too. I was sort of forced into a position where it doesn’t matter how you feel, you’ve got to do that job. So that helped me. But I can empathize with a lot of people because it’s not very easy to shake that mentality and put your head down and get the work down. You have got to be on your A game, and if you’re all in your head about it it’s going to show through. That is one of the huge benefits of this franchise network. We all really help each other. 

Why is now a good time to look at joining the N-Hance family?

DeGraff: If you find yourself passionate about taking control of your own position in life then I think starting your own business is the best thing you could do. Unless you are a high-powered CEO, it’s truly the only way to find freedom., whether it’s financial freedom, which for some people is super important, or it’s time or schedule freedom which in my case is my higher priority right now. It’s not easy. But if you work and set yourself up you can gain those things by owning your own business and N-Hance allows you those opportunities. You definitely have to work for it. This is not a cookie cutter franchise where you are going to spend a bunch of money and make a bunch of money just because. It takes a long time and a lot of work to get things going, but once they do you’ll set up your business to gain what you want. 

You may find yourself in a position like I was with a good job and a high salary which is tough to walk away from. But during this pandemic some people lost that salaried job. Well now they can follow their passion. Whether it’s this or something else, it’s got to be something you are passionate about.

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