Greg Dennison Of ServiceMaster Restore: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Never stop looking for great talent to bring onto your team. Business is a team sport and it’s hard to have a great business without a great team. Invest in retaining and developing them and most importantly showing them a career path to make your company their “forever home”.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Dennison.

Greg Dennison has been in the restoration industry for almost 20 years; he is currently the Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer of ServiceMaster CDR. He first joined the ServiceMaster Restore network in 2009 when he opened his first franchise in Northeast Ohio. Through organic and strategic growth plus acquisitions, Dennison has extended his business’ coverage to reach Northeastern and Northwestern Ohio, Cleveland down to Canton in the east, and Toledo in the West with additional offices in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Beaumont and Texas City, TX. With their SRM (large-loss team) branch across the nation, he is able to consistently and timely service customers anywhere/anytime for losses of any size and magnitude.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

At 12 years old, I started working for my father’s restoration company as a laborer on school breaks. All through college, I continued working there outside of a couple of stints in the restaurant industry. After I graduated from Bowling Green State University, my father urged me to go work elsewhere to learn what the real world was like, so I begrudgingly took on roles in banking and mortgage lending jobs for two years. These experiences turned out to be a good thing where I gained valuable skills in sales and grit.

When my dad decided to get out of the emergency response side of the restoration business, he donated a box truck and a few pieces of drying equipment to me and told me to start my own company and “figure it out”. After two years at an independent restoration company, I wasn’t having the success I felt I should be having. After sharing my concerns with my dad, he mentioned that he spoke to ServiceMaster Restore® years ago and that I should call them and see what their franchise is all about and what kind of support and structure they could help me with…the rest is history.

I grew my business into one of Ohio’s largest before merging with another ServiceMaster franchise in Texas, forming a partnership with a family office in 2022. Today, I proudly serve as the co-founder of a Top 5 ServiceMaster franchise, spanning 11 locations across two states and a team of over 200+ members, with ongoing growth.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of my favorite stories of my career was when the president of a prominent government entity selected my business for a major house fire damage project at his home, choosing us over 5+ other companies he was considering. This recognition filled me with pride, and I still maintain a strong relationship with that family to this day.

Another significant moment in my career journey was the process of merging my business and undergoing a Private Equity buyout with a Family Office in 2022. Despite having completed two acquisitions prior to this, being on the other side of the table presented a whole new challenge. The level of scrutiny, depth of due diligence, and meticulous examination of every aspect and figure was something I had never experienced to that degree before. It was the toughest six months of my life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite quotes that has impacted my life is: “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job” — Jim Rohn. I have always been a big believer in self-education as well as personal development. Reading self-improvement or specific skill set books, as well as listening to podcasts, to improve myself or grow has always been paramount in my life since my first sales job. You have to sharpen your saw daily and continue to bring more value to your team and organization. You cannot do this without continuously learning.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes our company stand out is our sense of urgency, our Team Members, and going above and beyond for customers.

A great example of this is when we were wrapping up a fire damage project and we went to collect the check from the customer. Our technician showed up to get the check and the customer apparently had a WWE-type wrestling tournament that night and he requested that our technician shave his back in exchange for the check. Now, I didn’t find out about this until after the fact nor did I ask him to do this. The next thing I knew, the check was at our office ready for a deposit, and we all had a great laugh. Needless to say, this gentleman who shaved the client’s back won our “Above and Beyond” award at our Company Holiday Party that year which came with a nice cash prize as well!

What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

When considering ServiceMaster Restore, I was initially looking at brand reputation, access to revenue sources I couldn’t crack at the time, and the benefits and support for the franchisee that I was lacking as a new independent business owner on a bootstrapped budget. Digging into the cash and liquidity needs, as well as the franchise fees, royalty structure, and franchise license costs was also important to me. But what was most important to me was the territory sizes, availability, and scalability, as well as truly understanding the margin profile/profitability by service line.

After meeting with them numerous times and doing substantial due diligence, they checked all of the boxes for me, and we moved forward.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

A significant challenge I experienced when establishing our franchise was that I did not realize how expensive growth was. Profit does not equal cash flow when you are in the rapid growth phase. Until your business levels out and you don’t need aggressive reinvestment, you will not see your bank account balance increase significantly. Going through this makes you learn a lot very fast and as a business owner, you have to know your numbers inside and out. The more you understand your P&L and have benchmarks, the better you can make decisions and drive your business.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

In the beginning, I never realized I was a big-picture visionary and not an integrator. Until I got the right people on the team (all of whom are still here today) to handle the items I wasn’t the best at, I just took on more and more myself. Understanding what positions to hire for and when was very tough for me at the beginning. There were numerous nights I woke up at 1 am with my head on my desk.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

Know what you are getting yourself into and what kind of business model you are looking for that will help you accomplish your personal and professional goals.

Is this venture something you are going to do full-time and quit your job for or do you want to semi-passively invest? Those are two very different things. Do you want an active or passive role, and does the franchise system support or allow the model you are looking for? Not all of them allow an investor model.

Things to consider:

What are you best at? Do you want to be an owner-operator? Do you want to be an investor only and hire an operator? Do you want to work in the business in a specific role? Are you the best CEO? Should you do the sales? Or are you a numbers person only? This is something only you can answer.

Find a franchise that can allow you to accomplish your goals. If scaling large is for you then understand the opportunities for development and covering white space in the system. You may be able to buy a number of franchise licenses in advance but scale in over time and not all at once. There is no right or wrong answer and scaling a large franchise with multiple units is not for everyone.

As it pertains to the ability of owning a franchise to help you accomplish your goals, I would recommend interviewing current franchisees in the system. They can answer questions that legally the franchisor cannot answer in an FDD. Find out what they love about the franchise as well as areas of opportunity. As for profitability, margins, and typical DSO on invoices.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Our franchisor gives us autonomy with many things to drive our business forward according to our own vision; while they offer valuable direction and guidance, our franchisor embraces a culture of accommodation, allowing us to identify and address operational gaps proactively. One example I can think of is we identified a need for improved CRM software and implemented a solution. This forward-thinking approach not only enhances our operational efficiency but also positions us as industry leaders within our network.

We are usually always willing to pilot ideas or be early adopters to better support the brand and help grow the network. One of our strengths as an organization since inception is we never sat around and waited for direction or for what our franchise system would do next. We put our heads down and made moves.

It is also helpful that at our current company, three of the owners are on various Council and Committees which helps shape the direction of the organization nationally.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

  1. Growth is expensive.

When doubling our sales year over year I always felt behind the eight ball. We never had money and it was a stressful time. The constant need to add high-quality people to your team and vehicles and equipment was non-stop. There were some very hard times that made us stronger in the long run as a result.

2. Profit does not equal cash in the bank.

Where is my money? On paper, you may have a substantial net profit but no cash in the bank as a large portion of your money could be tied up in receivables as well as being used to fund the day-to-day operating expenses and overhead. In our industry specifically, we can have a long receivable cycle on Large Loss Projects, and yet, payroll, expenses, and taxes don’t stop. So, understanding all of these nuances up front is critical to understanding the cash requirements of owning a specific franchise and what you should keep in reserves. Not having the cash in reserves and no access to a line of credit can hinder your ability to scale as you won’t be able to take on certain types of projects.

3. It takes a long time to make money.

Just because you open a new franchise does not mean the faucets are going to open up and you will be buying private jets within 12 months. Franchises are not a get-rich-quick game. Any business takes consistent, relentless effort and a focus on quality and service. Being a good steward of company funds and making intentional investments is critical. Be conservative in what you pay yourself and don’t treat your business as your personal checking account.

4. Know your numbers.

Take the time to truly learn how to read and understand your P&L. Also, if you can benchmark yourself against other franchisees or build a peer networking relationship you can see areas of needed improvement or where you may be excelling. It’s much easier to make decisions in your business when you understand your numbers.

5. Always be recruiting.

Never stop looking for great talent to bring onto your team. Business is a team sport and it’s hard to have a great business without a great team. Invest in retaining and developing them and most importantly showing them a career path to make your company their “forever home”.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

The key drivers of our success as we have grown are: People — Proactivity — Embracing Technology — Forward Thinking — Developing Leaders — Continuous Reinvestment — Head down, and blinders on.

To continue our growth and sustainability we are going to continue with all of the items above as well as ensure we continue to listen to our teams and leaders and solicit feedback to minimize blind spots.

As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

The things that keep me awake at night have certainly changed throughout the years. Currently, I’m most concerned about shaping our future: staffing, employee retention, and training new hires faster are all things that are forefront of my mind. Because of this, I run ideas and thoughts through a lens of: Is it best for the employee? How will these changes be perceived? How will this make ServiceMaster a better place to work where people want to build a career here, not just a job? To quote our CEO: “We can’t make the job easier, but we can make the environment better.”

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to start a non-profit leadership development program or sales training program for underprivileged people to help them secure better jobs and be successful despite any upbringing or disadvantages.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Follow ServiceMaster CDR or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.