Episode 13 Transcript: Erik Hilger Shares His Secrets to Running a Successful Franchise

Brett Fellows Welcome, Erik Hilger, to The Retiring Entrepreneur Podcast. I am very excited to have you here today on our show because you, Erik, are our first interview with a franchisee. And so I think it’s really unique to hear about your story with The Glass Guru. And I’d love to start there, if we could put you on the spot–kind of your elevator speech, or your marketing of, what is The Glass Guru overall? What is it you guys do? How many employees do you have? How long have you been in business? Give us a little information about that, please.

Erik Hilger Okay. Well, thanks for having me. Appreciate it. And so, we are currently at nine employees. So we’re a fairly small company. We started in business 2012, so we’re coming up on our 10-year anniversary. So that’s a pretty good thing for us.

Erik Hilger Kind of our elevator speech, I guess you would say, is we deal with foggy windows a lot. So a lot of homes in the area have that problem where your glass is foggy, you can’t see through it. We offer a more cost-effective option to take that glass out and replace it. And then you don’t have to get a new window.

Erik Hilger So this happens a lot in real estate transactions. It’s lowered since the demand is so high. They’re not asking for repairs. But we do that. And I’d say a lot of showers. A lot of people are spending money on their homes right now. They’re redoing the bathroom, so they need the glass enclosures to, you know, finish it off. So we do that.

Erik Hilger And then we do a little bit of commercial work as well, like commercial storefront doors, interior storefront. So a little bit everything that has to do with glass.

Brett Fellows Yeah, anything glass. So basically, you’ll replace any type of window or glass, except auto.

Erik Hilger Correct.

Brett Fellows That’s really neat. Tell me about how you got into this. I’m really interested. So where were you? How did The Glass Guru cross your desk? Were you looking at franchises, and you were interested in this one? Or is this something you’ve done in the past, so it was a natural fit? I’m interested to know that.

Erik Hilger I had come from a sales background, and 2012 was just a different climate as far as jobs, you know. I was getting into job interviews that I wanted to get in, and then the job hire would stall, so I was like, I need to figure something else out.

Erik Hilger I talked with my then girlfriend Brittany at that point in time, and was just like, you know, I want to do something on my own. And it just kind of worked out where I started looking at franchises and came across this one on Craigslist, honestly.

Erik Hilger So it was a long process. They were patient with me. It took about a year for me to kind of do my research and be committed to it. And then pull the trigger. But they were very patient with me as far as me making my decision.

Brett Fellows Yeah, so that’s really neat. And I was looking at The Glass Guru website, and are you the only one in South Carolina?

Erik Hilger I am.

Brett Fellows Okay. And is it—what I know about franchises—is it like, did you buy certain zip codes? Or do you have the state? How does that work?

Erik Hilger We bought zip codes. So we’re basically covered up to North Summerville, Cane Bay area, and then down to, you know, Barrier Islands, each side. We were only up to like Hanahan, and then an interested party came in to buy Summerville area and so, we bought that too.

Erik Hilger So we didn’t, I just didn’t want to have, you know. Working so hard for it, you don’t want to have somebody in your brand. Or it could have helped, I don’t know. But we bought everything.

[06:37] How Erik’s business has evolved from a home office and storage unit to a nine-person operation.

Brett Fellows I’m actually reading a book now called The E-Myth Revisited, the entrepreneurial myth. Have you ever read that book, by chance? I’ll get you a copy. But it’s really neat, and they talk about how to systematize your business, and how the business isn’t you. It needs to be its own entity.

Brett Fellows But they talk a lot about McDonald’s and how that started it and basically the franchise method. About how they create the product. It’s your job just to manage the product. So how was that experience, the kind of, the franchise method, like that year that you did your due diligence? Was that a lot of training in how their systems were set up, and how to operate it? Does it deviate in time? Do they still keep, do you still follow it to this day? How does working for a franchise happen?

Erik Hilger Well, it’s evolved a lot. They were young franchise back then. It’s so much better, I’d say, now. I started very grassroots. We were in an office in the home, had a storage unit where we got our glass delivered, and had a 1099 employee pulling a trailer around. 

Erik Hilger So it was very bare bones, you know, but that’s how it had to be. Now, you know, you kind of start in a storefront. Trucks, employees, you know, you try to hit the ground running. And the marketing and the internet presence and the branding should get you a way faster start than that, but it’s changed. Always, always changing. I try to, you know, if you’re buying the franchise, you kind of want to follow the model, because that’s what you’re paying for.

Brett Fellows Absolutely. Yeah.

Erik Hilger We try to do as much as we can.

[08:24] The importance of local marketing despite having the support of a national brand.

Brett Fellows And have you found it’s been like the marketing, I guess, from the marketing standpoint. The Glass Guru being national, has that, I mean, I’ve heard of it. So has that, have you noticed that branding actually has been helpful?

Erik Hilger Well, being alone in the state, it’s, you know, it’s hard. But people have moved here and used us before, so that know us, so it’ll get there. But, you know, I think it’s more heavy on the West Coast, because they were headquartered out of California. Now, Dallas, Texas. That’s where it kind of all blew up.

Brett Fellows And as you’ve been in it since 2012, I know you’ve been having some really good success with it. So, if you’re one of their top franchisees, do they become really good cheerleaders and try to help you as much as possible to get to the next level, whatever that might be for you?

Erik Hilger Yeah, after this, I have a meeting with my, you know, liaison. He is a VP of business development, too. So he helps me a lot as far as setting goals and keeping on track. And always advancing. But yeah, so I mean, the support is good. And we just try to, you know, get their help as much as we can.

[09:45] How Erik and his team handle the high demand caused by surging home repairs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brett Fellows Yes. That’s neat. It’s really interesting how that came about. And I would imagine, I can’t imagine with all the rebuilds that are happening, the showers that break. I mean, your phone must just, must be ringing all the time, once they find out who you are.

Brett Fellows So how do you manage that type of demand on a day-to-day basis? How do you schedule it all? I couldn’t even begin to figure that out.

Erik Hilger Well, I don’t know. I used to, and that was really hard. I remember at one point, I was like, I can’t wait to not schedule appointments. And I was helping with installs. I was, you know, so I was doing a little bit everything.

Erik Hilger But so, we have a customer service rep and an office manager who handle the scheduling and the ordering and, you know, just manage that phone coming in. So we have call tracking to kind of know where our advertising is paying off. Just where we should spend money, where we shouldn’t.

Brett Fellows Yeah. And how many of those employees are, so now, you’ve grown since it’s just you and maybe one other guy with a truck. With all the employees you have now, how many are in the office? And then how many are actually out in the field?

Erik Hilger Two in the office, and then me part-time in the office. And then we have, gosh my math is going crazy right now. We have seven in the field. Just two estimators, me being one of them. And then five installers.

Brett Fellows Yeah. That’s interesting. What—I’m always fascinated to know—so, with that many people out on the field and in the office, what is a typical day like for you? Are you running out in the field? Back in the office dealing with admin stuff? Tell me, what’s the typical day look like for Erik Hilger?

Erik Hilger Well, appointments. So I’ve got estimates, and then I try to get those handled as efficiently and quickly as I can and get back to the office and handle whatever we need help with here. And then just, you know, kind of, I find stuff to do. I don’t know. It just fills, the day fills up quick, even if you don’t have anything going on. So, there’s always something to work on.

[12:13] Why Erik quickly learned that he couldn’t do everything himself and meet his growth targets.

Brett Fellows Yes. And how have you learned to delegate as you’ve gotten more and more employees and people for which to delegate? It’s hard to do. Have you, would you say you’re good at it? Or something you always need to work at?

Erik Hilger I mean, we have people that help here, you know, so scheduling, helping delegate. We’re all, I kind of take that approach to take care of your own stuff. So you know, give people ownership, like of their work. And you know, try not to harp too bad. But we have a meeting here in the morning, you know, I try to get in here answering questions that are going on, and then try to make that transition from the shop to the road as soon as we can. And go from there.

Brett Fellows That’s neat. And, also part of scheduling is the actual inventory, the glass itself. So if a typical, if you hire. I guess, what’s a typical lead time? If you quoted my house today, and it’s a shower, what’s a typical lead time before that work could start?

Erik Hilger It takes us a couple weeks to get the glass. And then we have to inspect it, check it in, and then we have to call you to schedule. So we’re usually booked out two to three weeks. So four to five weeks, really, from order to us.

Brett Fellows Okay. And then you get the glass and then within the week, or is it same week, the glass gets installed from when you receive it?

Erik Hilger Two to three weeks. I’ve got to check it in, and then our schedule’s already kind of booked out. So we’ve got to make sure we get it, make sure it’s right, before we go back out.

Brett Fellows So what’s your biggest hurdle out in the field, I guess? Is it actually sizing the window and understanding what the client wants it to look like?

Erik Hilger Yeah, I mean, mismeasures are a big thing. Go-backs for us are our profit killers. So with glass, it is not forgiving, like a two by four. There’s tricks but there’s not, you can’t really move it. You can’t cut it. So it’s, you’ve got to be exact, because you can’t.

Erik Hilger Sometimes, you know, with the glass units in windows, it’s a little more straightforward. Sometimes on the showers, the enclosure was built, not square, not plum. You gotta account for all that. And sometimes the puzzle doesn’t go back together, like it should.

Erik Hilger But you know, you just try to do as best you can. That’s kind of something we’ve learned is just cover on check-in all the minor details is really what helps us from having to go back to jobs.

Brett Fellows Yeah, that’s neat. What about technology, like, are there tool, I’m sure The Glass Guru might be on top of? Not only that may help in the back office with the scheduling and the pricing and the paying, but also the measurements. Are there even tools that can get there, so you don’t have to rely on the tape measure so much now?

Erik Hilger Nothing is gonna replace it. There’s tools, but you just kind of double check. It’s like a little laser. But ultimately, your tape measure’s which, at the end of the day, old faithful. And there’s some measuring tools that are very expensive, but not super reliable. So it’s like a terrible combination. You want to try to put your hands on whatever you can to get it correct.

Brett Fellows Yeah, that’s neat. So it’s really an interesting, learning how you got into it, and where the business is today. What about forward? So if it’s five years from today, and you’re looking back over those five years, what has to have happened with The Glass Guru for you to feel happy with your progress?

Erik Hilger I don’t, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, just keep continuing the direction we’re going with would make me happy. You know, consistent growth. Last year has been a little crazy, like it has for everybody, but we’re back in the right direction. If we can keep continuing to hit our goals that we’re setting, that would be great.

Erik Hilger Me getting out of the field, and just kind of managing the business here, I think would be very helpful. Just, with everything, and then, you know, maybe looking to do something along with this. So that’s kind of some ideas I have for the next five years.

Brett Fellows Are there franchise, other franchise owners that are really big in terms of they have 50 employees or 80 employees? Are they more or less the same type of size?

Erik Hilger It varies, I think. You know, some guys and gals have like multiple locations. So that would automatically like double what we’re doing. I don’t know if that’s a goal of ours to do. I’d say probably the biggest one probably has 20 to 30 employees. They do a little bit extra than what we do. So it’s doing a lot of wood rot repair. And so that’s something. We’re not building windows, so that’s something we’re not even involved in.

Brett Fellows Yeah, gotcha.

Erik Hilger That requires a lot of manpower.

Brett Fellows That makes sense.

Erik Hilger Basically, the goal is to have, you know, eight to 10 employees, I think for a location, and that makes you in the office and managing as best you can.

[17:48] The one thing Erik Hilger wished he had known when he bought The Glass Guru of Charleston.

Brett Fellows Yeah, that sounds like you’re pretty much right there. What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you began your career?

Erik Hilger Be ready not to sleep a lot at the beginning. I mean, I think, just be ready for anything at any moment. You know, there’s, anything can really happen. But it’s, that’s something, you know? Just keep on plugging away.

Brett Fellows Yeah. What’s been the biggest hurdle that you’ve had to overcome as a business owner? And what did you, what have you learned from it?

Erik Hilger Biggest hurdle? I mean, that one is hard. I think, you know, the scheduling and that stuff. You know, like I said, I was ready to get out of that. Accounting, that was something I did not enjoy. Once we grew, you know, outsourcing that stuff took a lot of pressure off.

Erik Hilger But at the beginning, I was doing everything. So good hires, good people in here really helped us out a lot. And then outsourcing stuff we’re not doing has helped out quite a bit. We outsource an HR consultant, accounting. You know, the marketing is kind of taken care of by corporate. And then trying to find local stuff, that marketing mindset helps us. All that, just getting the right stuff in place takes some pressure off.

Brett Fellows Who are three people that have been most influential to you?

Erik Hilger I mean, a ton of people, obviously. But you know, parents, grandparents have been huge. My wife has been a big help, just as a sounding board when you have a wild day, just you know, trying to figure it all out. That’s been a huge privilege. So yeah, I’d say my grandfathers, my dad, they taught me a lot when I was little so, and then Brittany next. There are a lot of people that help you.

[19:58] Erik’s advice to anyone considering franchise ownership.

Brett Fellows Yeah, that’s great. And if there was a new person looking to buy into a franchise, and corporate asks you to talk to them, what’s something you would, what advice would you give that person looking to buy a franchise?

Erik Hilger Do your homework, take your time, and talk to a bunch of people that are doing this. Talk, you know, they may call me, new franchisees call me to ask, you know, whatever reference and so I would say whatever they gave you on that list, call them. And then also talk to professionals in the area that use our services like realtors, home inspectors, contractors, things like that, that you can just ask around.

Brett Fellows Yeah, that’s great. So this podcast is about obviously success and successful business owners who are looking to retire at one point in time. But success, I’ve learned, means different things to different people. So I’m curious, Erik, what does success look like to you?

Erik Hilger Yeah, that’s good. The opportunity to retire is definitely one of them. But you know, just, I mean, we want to continue to be in the top stores in the country. So that’s kind of something that motivates me on a daily basis. You know, day by day, we try to make sure we’re doing what other people are, if not better, so. Yeah. That’s kind of a motivator.

Brett Fellows Yeah. That’s great. And how can our listeners connect with you guys? What’s the best way? Is that online, is it telephone, is it Facebook?

Erik Hilger Online or telephone is the best. So are our email is Charleston@theglassguru.com. Our website is theglassguru.com. And then our phone number is 843-640-3270. Either one of those is great.

Brett Fellows Okay. And I’ll be sure to have those in the show notes, so if anybody listening would like to get that. But Erik, I thank you very much for taking some time out of your day and being part of The Retiring Entrepreneur Podcast. I very much appreciate it. Thank you.

Erik Hilger Well, thank you for having me. It was fun.

Brett Fellows Have a great day.

Erik Hilger You too.

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