BiggerPockets Business Podcast

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 52: Murder Scenes, Meth Labs, and 27 Franchises with Laura Spaulding

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Not happy in your current career? Looking to do something entrepreneurial but don’t know where to start? Well, maybe this is the inspiration you need to build something HUGE!

Laura Spaulding is a former police officer who was ready to forge her own future. Using the experience, knowledge, and insight she got working undercover, she decided to start her own business focused on cleaning up crime scenes, meth houses, and a host of other environmental hazards that many of us don’t have the stomach for.

Laura walks us through how she decided on her business path, how she financed it, and how she came to realize that the real opportunity was in expanding it through franchising. But it hasn’t all been rainbows and teddy bears—franchising created a whole host of challenges that Laura had to tackle in order to continue to grow and expand her business.

And grow her business she’s done! Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Laura’s company as one of the top 10 new franchises, and Spaulding Decon has been at the forefront of the coronavirus cleanup across the U.S. over the past six weeks.

If you’ve ever thought about creating your own franchise system from the ground up, this is the episode for you. Laura tells us how it’s done, how NOT to do it, how much to expect to pay, and all the good and bad that come with expanding your business nationwide.

If you have a strong stomach, make sure you listen to the end, when Laura tells us some of her favorite crime scene cleanup stories…

Check her out, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss our next show!

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J:
Let’s welcome Laura to the show. How you doing today Laura?

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Laura:
Great. How are you guys?

Carol:
Awesome.

J:
We are doing great, thank you so much for being here.

Laura:
Oh it’s my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Carol:
Yeah, we’re really looking forward to the nitty-gritty to say the least of your very fascinating business. I’m expecting all kinds of phenomenally gruesome stories. Not spoiler alert for our listeners, but combining that with all business aspect is going to make for a really great show. Thanks so much for being on with us.

Laura:
Oh thank you.

J:
Awesome, so we’ve got a lot of business stuff to talk about, but I think for your story, the back story is important. How you got to doing what you’re doing. Can you take us back a little bit and talk about, so how did you get into the crime scene cleanup and decontamination business?

Laura:
It’s a bit of a unique story. All growing up, my father was in law enforcement so I thought that, that’s what I wanted to do. I thought it was exciting, it’s always on TV. It felt like a game to me, catch cops and robbers type thing, so I was always enamored with that. All through school that’s really all I concentrated on.

Laura:
I got a soccer scholarship to college and then went in the military. Then immediately when I got out of the military, I applied to basically every major city in the US with a few exceptions. I was just throwing out Atlanta, Phoenix, Detroit, everywhere. I got hired with Kansas City, Missouri back in 1998, that’s how old I am. It was my first real, real job, I had plenty of other jobs before that.

Laura:
I started working the streets and I was going to school at the University of Tennessee, so I moved from Kansas to Tennessee not really knowing anything about Kansas City. I had no idea how violent it was and the drug problems. It’s just a really under reported city so to speak.

J:
You just started off as a big cop?

Laura:
Yeah, everybody starts off as a big cop and I went through the police academy. I had a blast in the police academy, it was six months and it was physical fitness. It was every type of test that you could possibly get, whether it was mindset to geography to physical fitness, they put you through the whole rigamarole.

Laura:
I found it fascinating, every aspect of it. You went to different phases, it was almost like college, but it was more concentrated with like the jiu-jitsu and all that different stuff and shooting guns and everything. I loved it, I absolutely loved it. When I got out of the police academy, I was working patrol in the worst part of the city. They always throw the newbies in the bad parts, in drug infested and what not. I was probably doing it for about six to eight months, and I got a request for the Vice unit to work undercover. It was a moonlighting thing to work undercover prostitution. I thought, “Why not? It’s different,” and it was street prostitution.

Laura:
I was shocked to say the least, I didn’t realize how naïve I was until I started working street prostitution. Then I realized I really like the unit because it’s exciting in a different level. I decided that I was going to try to get into street narcotics and work undercover narcotics. I really had the full circle of law enforcement at that point. I work in the street, I’m doing crime scenes and shootings and robberies. Then I went to Vice and I was doing undercover prostitution, which was mind blowing and eye opening.

Laura:
I was the first an only female to be in the Street Narcotics Unit, so I was buying crack cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana pills, you name it, whatever was being sold on the street as a job.

Carol:
This is fascinating, so you were full on being paid probably a decent salary because you’re in a scary part of town and so on and so forth. To do all these and just learn all these behind the scenes like under belly of a city and all kinds of scary stuff going on. That was your foray into a career, into a work life. It doesn’t sound like it was exactly what your dad had described growing up. Or was there a little bit of a different there?

Laura:
Well, ironically he had come up in the same department of course 30 years prior. It’s just ironic that I got hired there. He said it was kind of always a violent city, but you really don’t know all sides of the city. You have tunnel vision in your neighborhood or your area. When you see that, it really gives you a different perspective on people in the world and how things work and poverty. You really see things that other people just aren’t exposed to.

Laura:
It’s really sad when I look back on it. It’s not an equal opportunity, let’s just put it that way. This is why law enforcement is mostly really jaded, because they’re exposed to this type of bad people so to speak on a daily basis.

Carol:
Certainly, yeah.

J:
Got it. What led to that transition into what you’re doing now? Was there some defining moment?

Laura:
Yeah. I’m working in the Street Narcotics Unit and it was weird because when I was on patrol, I was being paid a shift differential so to speak. I was working nights and we got what’s called a shift differential. When I transitioned over to the Narcotics Unit, we were working all hours, days, evenings, overnights. I noticed on my paycheck that they took my shift differential away from me.

Laura:
I thought, “That’s kind of odd. What’s the point of that?” Their response was, “You’re not consistently working the night shift.” I go, “I’m buying drugs in the ghetto.” There’s guns to my head, I was robbed, I had a knife pulled on me, you name it. Essentially I was making less than I was when I was working patrol and it didn’t make sense to me.

Laura:
Then I really started to think about it, and I thought, I was at the time making about $40,000 a year. I couldn’t work off duty because I was undercover, I couldn’t blow my cover. That was more income taken away from me, so I really had a hard look. I said, “This is a lot of fun, but that’s just what it is, it’s fun. It’s not long-term, I’m never going to make the money that I know I can make. I need to do something else.”

Laura:
I started to pay attention to external resources, and I started picking up a lot of real estate books. Rich Dad Poor Dad was the first book that I read, and I started thinking, "Okay, there's no way that I'm going to generate enough capital to start buying these properties on this crappy salary."

Laura:
Well then the Narcotics Unit was in the same office as the SWAT team. When we would go buy this methamphetamine, they would go and burst them. I noticed that they were dressed differently when they went into burst meth homes as opposed to a crack house. I started asking questions like, “Hey, why are you guys all suited up with respirators and bunny suits, it looks like an anthrax scare?” They said, “Well, methamphetamine is toxic.” I said, “Well what happens to the house after you burst it?” They said, “I don’t care, it’s not our problem.”

Carol:
Wow!

Laura:
Then I started looking into it and I realized Missouri was the meth capital of the United States. There was thousands of homes that were contaminated with meth, and people were unknowingly living in them and getting sick and they didn’t realize why. I started doing more research and I found in Colorado they had some really severe, strict regulations against people living in these contaminated homes. I thought, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to clean up crime scenes and I’m going to start cleaning meth labs.”

Laura:
Originally my idea was to do it as a moonlight, at night or after hours. I’d go back to the street and I would do this. Well as luck would have it, the department was like, “No, you’ve got to really pick, it’s one or the other.” I was like, “Yeah, okay, I quit.” I literally quit with nothing else, and I only had $2,500 in savings and I took the training to get crime scene cleanup certified. At the time it was in Dallas, Texas and I flew out there.

Laura:
I met these two guys that I'm still friends with to this day. I said, "What do you guys do for a living?" They said, "Well, we're nurses, we're LPNs in the Midwest." I thought, "Oh that's cool." I said, "Are you business partners?" They said, "Yeah, we went to the bank and got an SPA loan for $150,000 to start this business." I thought, "No sh*t, it's that easy?"

Laura:
I come back from training and I go to the bank all excited. I walk in and I say, “Hey, I want to start my crime scene business, I want this $150,000 SPA loan.” They’re like, “Get the hell out of here.” I was like, “What do you mean?” “Well you make 40 grand a year,” so they blew me off and I went to four more banks and I got the door closed on me at every single bank.

Laura:
Then I got smart and creative. I owned a home at that point and I was house hacking, at the time I didn't even know it was called that. I had a roommate because I wasn't making any money. I went to a different bank and I walked in and I said, "Hey, I need a home equity loan because I want to get new windows on my house." Before I even left, they wrote me a check for $15,000. That really solidified that I was going to have difficulty when it came to funding and creating my business.

J:
Interesting. You got your business off the ground, and so talk to us a little bit about, well, what did it take? Where did the funding come from? How did you choose the location? How did you get the business started? How were you marketing for clients?

Laura:
The way I started was, I took the $15,000 and that’s not a lot of money when you’re starting a business. I had obviously no intention of getting windows, so what I did is I bought a trailer that attached to my SUV. I was able to buy about $7,500 worth of equipment. Then I paid that $2,500 of training and the travel, so I had a little bit left. I was literally printing my own business cards, they were so stupid. The little perforated ends that you rip off, it looked terrible. I created my crappy little website at the time.

Laura:
My original idea was, okay, I quit my job so I’m just going to stay here in Kansas City and do my business. Basically all my resources were there, but then I thought, “Why I’m I staying here? I don’t really like the Midwest. I’m from Tampa, Florida.” I said, “Screw it.” I rented my house out and I packed everything up in that same trailer. I came down to Tampa where, everyone comes to die, Florida, everyone comes to die here. I thought, “Oh there’s definitely a market here.”

Carol:
Oh my God, this is amazing.

Laura:
I started the business here and I had only done two jobs in Kansas City by the time I realized that I wanted to leave. When I came to Tampa, it’s not like I lost any headway or anything.

Carol:
Got it, so you decided to come back to Tampa because you’re from Tampa originally. I find it interesting though that you mentioned earlier that Kansas City was the meth capital. Did it offer the same types of opportunity in Tampa? Or how did that work out? What was the opportunity like in this new location?

Laura:
That’s a great question, because when I started the company back in 2005, Missouri was the meth capital. Missouri is still in the top five, but Missouri still lacks any regulations or requirements for home owners to take care of these meth labs, very similar to Florida. We all have meth contamination in all 50 states, but there’s only 23 states in the country that require decontamination.

J:
Interesting.

Carol:
Fascinating, so that’s meth. Were you specifically just doing meth cleanups or were there other jobs that you were taking on back in the beginning after you got that certification?

Laura:
Well when I got the crime scene cleanup certification at the fourth quarter of 2005 and then I got the meth certification in the first quarter of 2006, so I was doing crime scenes first. I was doing them by myself because I couldn’t afford any employees or anything. I had very little to no construction experience, so this was before the YouTube days where you could actually get on YouTube and say, “Oh how do I remove laminate flooring or whatever it is?” I had to figure it out.

Laura:
Well then I quickly realized, this is more construction intensive than I ever thought it was. My idea was, I’m going to hire some part-time guys that are experienced in this part. I’ll teach them the blood part, they teach me the construction part and then it just kept rolling from there. At that time again, I never thought that it would grow to what is it today. I always just assumed it would kind of be a side gig for me, something that I enjoy doing, something that didn’t bother me from a site or smell situation. Obviously I was used to handling and dealing with these type of families in their grief stricken times.

J:
Are you getting most of your or at least at that time, were you getting most of your business by advertising on the internet or billboards or connections to the police academy or police force? Where were your leads coming from for these houses that had need for cleanup?

Laura:
At that time I didn’t have any money, remember I had almost exhausted all my $15,000. I had left my comfort zone of Kansas City and came to Tampa, so I had no law enforcement contacts. I got all of my work from door to door marketing, basically gorilla marketing. I was that person going into the apartment complex and saying, “If you guys have a death here, an accident or a suicide or whatever, I can clean it up for you.”

Laura:
At the onset they would blow me off, and I would say, “Listen, just take my card, you’re managing 700 apartments, it’s going to happen if it hasn’t happened already.” Bigger than two weeks later they would call back and go, “I can’t believe I’m calling you.”

Carol:
They thought like there’s this huge omen that you’re spreading around. Just to be clear, I think this is really super important for our listeners. You said you were full on literally printing your own business cards right?

Laura:
Yeah.

Carol:
You’re doing the perforated, you run them through the printer, perforate them, hand them out. You had no money, so you were literally going to all of the big apartment complexes, talking to the apartment managers, giving them your spiel saying this is what you do. You were literally in your car driving from person to person, to person, getting face to face meetings without any money and that’s how you got your leads right?

Laura:
That’s how I absolutely had to do it. I had no alternative. Honestly looking back on it today, I think that’s what made me successful. I never gave myself an option, there was no plan B. It was get out there with your perforated cards and your crappy website and start selling me. Don’t worry about the collateral, don’t worry about that you don’t have a snazzy website. I need to sell what I can do and I mean it didn’t happen instantaneously, but it ended up working.

Carol:
That is awesome and I think that’s another really good point, you weren’t selling the business. You weren’t selling your snazzy marketing collateral, you were selling you and what you were capable of providing for these people. How did that business grow? Was it through lots of employees? Was it you just continuing with that gorilla marketing? What did that part of the journey look like?

J:
Who was doing the work? Was it you doing all the work or did you have people helping you?

Laura:
Well, I was doing the work as well as the marketing. What I did is I made a plan every day from 8 AM to 5 PM I was going to go out and market. I was answering the phones and I was marketing at the same time. If a job came in while I was on my route marketing, I would literally reroute myself, go get my trailer and show up at the job site and then do the job myself.

Laura:
Well then we started picking up a little bit more where I actually needed some help. I thought, “I can’t really employ someone who needs to make a decent living, because I don’t have enough work to be able to afford that.” My idea was to hire stay-at-home moms that they just wanted to do something during the day. They didn’t necessarily need it, but they enjoyed the work or they were interested in it in some way and that’s how I started. I had two stay-at-home moms that helped me for the first couple of years.

J:
Interesting. I think we’ve done the spoiler already when we talk about you eventually get to you franchising the business. Skip ahead a little bit, how did the business grow? How did you get to the point or when did you get to the point where you said, “I’m doing well. My business is doing well. Tampa’s a great market, but now I’m ready to expand,” what was that process?

Laura:
Well, let me back up just a little bit, because there's one pivotal moment that happened that led me to franchising. 2005 I started, I ended up hiring the two stay-at-home moms in 2007. Well we all can remember the recession was hitting at that point, so 2008 I was getting calls from large banks that were an asset management companies that were handling foreclosures.

Laura:
I did such a good job for them in Florida, they asked me if I was willing to take on other states. I decided to eventually broker it, and so I was monitoring it, collecting all the information, making sure that the work got out okay. I would add a percentage onto all of their invoices, but they were physically doing the work. That turned out great, we were doing work in all 50 states.

Laura:
I had like four admins that were basically shuffling all the work to different states. It was crazy, we were doing really, really well. Everyone else was losing their jobs and we actually had record years. We were tripling our income and our revenue.

Laura:
I had a meeting, it was about 2012 at that point. I had a meeting with one of my attorneys and we were talking about all of the revenue that had come out of the foreclosure prizes. He said, "You know you should franchise your business." I said, "Well, I don't really know anything about franchising." He said, "You have the model, you just need to replicate it and teach it to other people, manage the process and it'll work."

Laura:
I blew him off, I really did. I blew him off and I never really thought about it again until 2014 when I started seeing some other restoration companies. It’s part of our genre, but not really. Franchising and I thought, “Let me look into this a little more,” and that’s when it started. The thought process started in 2014, the legal process started in 2015. The actual first franchisees started in 2016.

J:
Got it, and so that makes sense. You had an intermediate step in there. You were in Tampa and then you decided to expand, basically you were getting leads out of state and you were saying, “I can’t handle these leads, but I don’t want to throw them away.” You were farming them out, finding somebody else to do the work. You were tucking on some profit there for yourself, so you were already doing the marketing in other states. You knew it could be done and then you realize that, that franchising might actually be a good model a few years later.

J:
Okay, so you decide franchising, “I want to go down the franchising route.” I’m sure all of us have thought about all these companies out there that do franchising. A million restaurants and lots and lots of businesses, everything from Chick-fil-A to Home Depot to basically anything, any decent sized business has been franchised. What’s your first step? Where do you go to say, “Hey, I’m going to start this process of becoming the next McDonald’s,”?

Laura:
That’s probably where I made my first mistakes and I’ve made a series of mistakes and we’ll talk about them. It started out with the initial process. I thought about it, I realized, “Okay, I need to start looking into it.” What I did was I contacted a franchise consulting group that their sole job is to evaluate your business. Evaluate I say very loosely your business and tell you what their recommendations are.

Laura:
There’s an option for area development, there’s an option for master franchises. That’s great for food concepts, not so great for what I do. They’ll eliminate those type of things, tell you what states you should register in because there are certain states that require franchise registration, which means a lot of legal fees and annual fees on top of that.

Laura:
I contacted them. What I should have done was contact other franchisors and really hear it from the horses mouth. In hindsight, no one’s going to give you better advice on franchising than somebody who’s walked in those shoes. A consulting group that just has a bunch of business gurus have not walked in those shoes. They’ve sat on the sidelines, they’ve Monday morning quarter backed and they’ve told you their advice. Then if their advice sucks, they’re like, “Oh well,” they have nothing to lose. That was the first of many of my mistakes.

J:
That’s interesting and it’s opposite of what you would expect. You’d expect that these companies out there, that’s what they do, but you make a good point. I imagine just like a lot of other industries, the experts aren’t necessarily the ones with the in the trenches experience. I love what you said about, “Nobody’s going to give you better franchising advice than someone who’s walked in those shoes.” That’s a great piece of advice.

Laura:
You’ve got to understand too with these franchise consulting companies, they’re helping people in food, they’re helping people in service, in product industries. It’s very wide and it’s very broad, and it was eye opening that after I hired them, they send this consultant down to my office and I literally said, “Hey, you’re looking at my business here, you’re looking at everything. Do you think this is a good idea for me to franchise?” He literally said, “I can’t tell you that.” I’m like, “Why are you here then? Why are you here?” Then he says, “Well all I can do is tell you, I don’t think you should do an area development. Or I don’t think you should do a master franchise option, but I can’t tell you what to do.” I was like, “Well, what are you here for then?”

Carol:
Did you keep him on or did you fire him?

Laura:
Well you can’t, so that’s part of the deal. It’s like a multi pronged process, so that’s the first consultant that comes down and they setup the legal entities type stuff. They help you engage with the attorney, who’s got to write the franchise disclosure document. That document should cost in between $15,000 and $25,000 to create. Mine of course was 25 grand, so I’m sure they to a kick back from that.

Laura:
I’ve seen some other franchisors on restaurant concepts that were charged over $50,000 for that, so that’s another thing to look out for. That should not be that expensive, because what these guys are doing, these lawyers is they’re taking other similar type concepts and copy and pasting and changing a few things. It should not cost that much money.

J:
That’s the first piece, it’s called the franchise agreement. What specifically does that layout? What do you need that piece for?

Laura:
Every franchise in the United States is required to have a franchise disclosure document, we call it FDD for short. That’s a legal document that basically tells the candidate how the entity supports itself. What services you provide, if you’ve had any lawsuits against you, what your marketing fees and your royalties are, every aspect of the business. It even goes in depth of resumes of people that are selling the franchise territory. Everybody that works for me that sells our franchises, they have a slight little resume in a portion of that. It goes by item numbers and it’s a very lengthy document, ours is over 240 pages.

J:
Interesting. You have to do the franchise disclosure. Once you have that, are you ready to go out and find your first franchisee or are there other steps?

Laura:
No, so that original consultant comes in and they setup how the entity should look. They basically collaborate with the attorney on how the FDD should be written. Well then there’s another portion, you have an operational portion as well. The operational portion is, not only how are you going to sell, but who are you going to sell to and that is usually a big unknown. You really don’t know who your target or ideal candidate is until you have some bad ones, and then you realize what you don’t want. That happens in every single brand.

Laura:
Another thing they do is they evaluate like concepts and they look at their fees and royalties, because you don’t want to be at 20% royalties when your competitors are at five. You want to be very similar to them to be able to compete in the marketplace. We initially structured our royalties and fees like our competitors. We’ve since changed a lot of different things and we’ve added some different stuff to make us stand out.

J:
Can you give us a little bit of an idea? For anybody out there that’s not familiar with how the franchising model works. You’re the franchisor, you create this entity, this brand and a franchisee, somebody comes along and says, “I want this ready made in a box system.” They take it, they have your brand name, they have your operations guide, they have all your intellectual property. They have these operations documents, so basically they can hit the ground running. Clearly that’s not free, they’re going to pay you. What does that payment look like? What does the franchisee pay to the franchisor for the rights to do all that?

Laura:
The difference between starting your own business and buying into a franchise is, like you said, it’s a business in a box. You’re paying for someone else’s experience and to avoid the mistakes that they made, that’s the whole point of buying a franchise. You get their intellectual property, you get their assistance, you’re basically assigned a consultant that helps you grow your business in every way possible. That’s really the difference between, they call it an entrepreneur and a franpreneur.

Laura:
A franpreneur is somebody who wants to buy a business in the box, they don’t want to create it from scratch like I did. There’s a lot of value in that, so what you’re essentially doing is, you’re selling a territory to the franchisee. Sometimes it’s protected, sometimes it’s not with some brands, so they own that particular geography. Then you’re charging them a royalty, which the royalty covers that consulting. It pays for growth in the industry or growth in the brand. It pays for the intellectual property, it pays for the operations and all that good stuff.

Laura:
Then there’s typically a brand fee as well, and that’s for marketing and growing the brand in their particular area. That’s really the only thing that separates a franchise system from an individual small business, is you own territory and you pay royalties to the franchisor.

J:
Got it. Just to make up numbers, to buy a business as a franchisee, I might pay 20 or 50 or 100 or $200,000 up front, one time fee. That gives me the right to open a business that can be used in a certain zip code or a certain state or a certain city, whatever it is. Then ongoing I get the support of the franchisor. I get support of that company to help me build the business and market. In return, I’m paying them a portion of the gross revenue as a royalty. Then I’m paying them a portion of the gross revenue as a marketing fee that they use to-

Laura:
To grow the brand.

J:
… market the company for me and help me with my marketing, right?

Laura:
Exactly, 100%.

J:
Got it. You set all this up and now it’s time to look for your first franchisee. How do you do that?

Laura:
I had no idea. At the time I really had no idea. You have an idea in your head of, what type of person would want to buy into my particular industry? What would be a good fit? Initially my thought process was, law enforcement, fire fighter, public civil servant type people that military transitioning out. They’re still great prospects, but that’s not the interest that I was getting.

Laura:
I was getting a lot of disenfranchised corporate people, that didn’t want to work for the man anymore. They wanted to start their own company, but not necessarily invent it. They just wanted the business in the box and replicate it.

Carol:
Interesting.

J:
These weren’t people that necessarily grew up thinking, “I want nothing more than to be a crime scene cleanup specialist.”

Laura:
Not at all.

J:
These were people that just wanted a business and were looking at different businesses. You provided a business that provided the financial…

Carol:
Means and stability and opportunity to get them there.

Laura:
Yeah. That was one of my first learning experiences too, because in hindsight you have to be careful as a franchisor from people wanting to buy a job. That sounds great on paper, but it’s really not, because they’re used to getting that biweekly paycheck. They’re used to checking in and being told what to do, and they’re not self-sufficient so to speak. They’re not going to get out there and go door to door like I did. That’s the problem that we ran into.

Laura:
Remember the economy’s rebounding at this point, 2015. There’s a lot of layoffs going on in the corporate world, so we’re getting a lot of calls from guys that are like, “Hey, I just got laid off, I’ve got a healthy 401K. I want to buy into your brand because you guys have such high profit margins.”

Laura:
They’re looking at it from the right aspect, but what they weren’t taking into consideration is, just because it’s a franchise doesn’t mean I’m going to fly to your location and do the job for you.

Carol:
That’s huge. That’s a big learning and that sounds like that’s what’s what they were expecting.

Laura:
That’s exactly it.

Carol:
You had this thought process for a set it would be law enforcement, fire fighters, so on and so forth. You realized it was these corporate guys, so who did that first franchisee end up becoming? Who was that person?

Laura:
It was ironic, because Entrepreneur Magazine did a big story on us, and it wasn’t an ad because we couldn’t afford an ad. To this day, 15 years in business, we’ve still never had any funding, we’ve never had a bank loan, never had any venture capital, nothing. It’s all been bootstrapped and I’ll get into a little bit on that.

Laura:
When that franchise consultant came in here and he said, “Oh to launch a franchise system, it’s going to be $150,000,” I had not idea, so I just took his word as gospel. He was way off, it was actually $450,000-

Carol:
No kidding.

Laura:
… to start the franchise, so once we started, you don't realize how much you're putting into it on a daily, monthly, weekly basis to keep this train going. I quickly realized, "I've got to get into real estate and start wholesaling some deals, because I need some big cash." That is what I used to grow my franchise system.

J:
Always comes back to real estate.

Laura:
It does always.

Carol:
Awesome, it does, every single time.

Laura:
Always.

Carol:
That’s amazing.

J:
You thought the number 150, $450,000, are these typical numbers for any listeners out there who are thinking, “I’ve got a small business, I’m thinking about franchising,” are those the numbers that they should be expecting to get to the point where they can get started?

Laura:
Well it’s going to be different if you’re I’ll say a restaurant, because you have a brick and mortar. You have capital expenditures that are different than ours. For a service based business, I would say that’s average. One thing that I wasn’t told is, you don’t just hire that lawyer to write that franchise disclosure document. Little do you know, that person, that guy or girl is on retainer with you. You’re going to be writing checks monthly for your entire career in franchising and it is hefty. Some of these guys are six, $700,000 an hour just to write a franchise agreement.

J:
Wow, that’s crazy.

Laura:
I didn’t anticipate that, so all of a sudden I’m getting all these franchising queries off this Entrepreneur Magazine article. I’m like, “Oh boy, what do I do now?” He’s like, “We’ll write up the agreements for you,” and then I’m getting bills for 20, $30,000 in legal fees. I thought, “I need to wholesale some houses.”

Carol:
Kind of go back and do some more.

Laura:
Yeah.

Carol:
That is amazing. Wow, whoever would have thought, and you had no idea, that this was not disclosed to you up front when you first took on this?

Laura:
No, and you know shame on me. I was very unprepared and like I said naïve to a point. I take full responsibility for it, but I had no idea it was going to be this expensive and this expansive as well.

J:
I’m curious, so you get past the point where you actually now, you’ve legally created all your documents. You’re ready to have a franchisee, you get that first franchisee. What is that process like? What are you doing? You mentioned for a lot of the franchisees, they expect you to do more hand holding than they should. In the perfect world, in the perfect franchise setup, what are you doing? What are you not doing? How are you helping? What are they asking for? What are you providing?

Laura:
The first franchisee that I had was an absolute disaster. It was a disaster from the get go and it was a giant learning experience for us. It was an individual that self-paid, so no loans or anything like that, which we were told. Come to find out, the person is trying to buy their equipment and tools on Craig’s List, because they’re trying to save money. At that point they were already in the system and I knew I was in trouble.

Laura:
I’m like, “If this guy is counting pennies on buying a hammer on a garage sale, this is a problem. He’s not going to be putting the money into marketing.” I was right. He refused to do anything, sat on the couch, waiting for the phone to ring. After six months I terminated him and I thought, “This is exactly what I don’t want.”

J:
You just spent $450,000.

Carol:
Exactly, that’s where I was going to go.

J:
Your first franchisee is gone.

Carol:
What were you thinking at that point? Were you like, “I’m just done and I’m just going to call it a day,” or did you just go for it again?

Laura:
Well I thought I made a big mistake and I was too far into it at that point to pull away. I thought, “Let’s take this as a learning experience and hopefully turn this around.” Here we are three years later, and I’m still learning something every single day. I think the most shocking thing that I’ve learned is that, people that are buying businesses in a box, literally want everything done for them. They don’t want to work. They want a paycheck.

Carol:
They just want it to magically happen.

Laura:
They want to call themselves business owners, and they just want a paycheck. That’s a problem, that’s a big problem because that’s not what franchising is designed to be.

J:
How many franchises do you have at this point?

Laura:
We have 24 locations with 12 owners, so we have a lot that own multiple locations. They want to tie up that geography to avoid anybody else coming in.

J:
Got it. It sounds like, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’ve sort of gotten it figured out after a few years. Still struggling.

Laura:
Yeah.

J:
People that are on video, Laura just made this face like, “Yeah, not quite.”

Laura:
I would love to say that I’ve got a PhD in franchising right now, but honestly I think I’m probably at the associates degree level. It’s so complex, and another big misconception is, if you know your business back and forth and up and down, you can just start franchising it and teach everybody else and you’re good to go. That is completely not true, because franchising is its own animal within itself.

Laura:
Essentially I'm running two separate corporations. My local corporation here in Tampa, that's doing the same selection of services and then I'm teaching them the same format and platform to do it at their location and try to replicate that. That's not the hard part. The hard part is motivating these people to want to do better. To want to make more money, to want to leverage all of the services that we do and be the best that they can be.

Carol:
It is that kind of a tough pill for you to swallow right?

Laura:
It is.

Carol:
As the franchisor, that you’re so selective about bringing these people on, and you’re like, “Come on, let’s go people. You’ve got every resource and every tool right here at your fingertips, but you’re not using them.”

Laura:
It’s extremely frustrating, not only for me, but for the staff. We have franchise coaches that are assigned to these people, and they’re giving them tips and propaganda and formats and everything to follow. Again, it’s a map to success. We’ve obviously done it here, we have franchisees that have done it, so you have to really look at the ones that aren’t performing and go, “What are you doing?” You have to try to not be successful.

Carol:
Because it’s all right there for you.

Laura:
Most of them are getting in their own way is what I found. Get out of your way, stop overthinking things and just follow the system, it works.

Carol:
Great. Tell me more about, you’re talking about the system, all these resources, the tools that people have at their fingertips that they’re not necessarily using. A big part of that is this franchise team that you’ve established for these franchisors. What does that team look like? Who are those team members? What are their roles?

Laura:
Once I realized that I was in over my head after that first franchisee, we hired a couple of consultants that have come in and they have been fantastic. They have given us other ideas on systems and formats that other franchise systems have done, that we’ve been able to leverage and make our own. That was a game changer for us.

Laura:
Then I hired a franchise coach that not only was a former franchisee, but also a former business owner. Who better can talk to these franchisees than somebody who’s been in their shoes? That was great and then we have several admins. We have a digital marketing consultant that handles all of their web stuff. They’re digital advertising Google and all that good stuff.

Laura:
We’re creating platforms for them and resources to where everything is literally at their fingertips. Back in the day operations manuals used to be this gigantic binders that McDonald’s owners or whatever would flip through and say, “Okay, what was that source that goes on a Big Mac?” That’s essentially what the operations manual’s for.

Laura:
We’ve taken it up a notch, and not only do we have the paper operational manual that’s searchable. We also have a video library of this is how you remove blood from tile. This is how you get a bullet out of dry wall. Every single thing that they could possibly ever come across, we’ve created a video for it. We’ve dummy proofed the system so I thought.

J:
Well that’s great. You basically created intellectual property that will allow your franchise to stand out from the other franchises.

Laura:
Correct.

J:
In your world presumably it’s like McDonald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s, there’s all these different places that have slight variations. If somebody is going to decide, “I’m going to go into crime scene cleanup and I have to choose between Spaulding Decon,” and one of your competitors, now there’s this competitive advantage that your competitors don’t have. This intellectual property, this education, so that’s great.

J:
What do you do on a typical day? What is your role in the business? You have somebody that’s out there, talking to the franchisees, presumably you have some people that are doing training in the admins. What’s your role as the head of the franchise?

Laura:
Well, I’ve moved into the development spot. What I’m doing is, I’m interviewing candidates and I’m vetting them to see if they’re a good fit for our system. I feel like I could have delegated that off, and it probably would have been fine, but here’s where the control comes in. If you’re delegating it off to a sales rep, they’re typically paid a commission.

Laura:
You have a relationship there that could be counterproductive. You have somebody that wants to get people in because their commission goes up and they might overlook some stuff that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Laura:
I decided to take that role myself because it ultimately falls on me when we get a bad candidate. I am just as guilty as another sales rep of either not vetting someone properly or maybe believing things that I was told that weren’t necessarily true. Every single franchisor goes through this. We all have terminations of people that just don’t fit within the brand. Every single franchise system has a brand culture.

Laura:
For example, Chic-fil-A is a big one. There’s tons of people that want to own a Chic-fil-A, but can you walk the walk? They’re very strict on like the religious requirements and other things, that’s not necessarily going to fit for everyone. If you really want to own a chicken place, you might want to look at a different restaurant that doesn’t have that type of brand responsibilities.

Carol:
That's great, and it sounds like, I think that's a really important one too, really take all those considerations about the different cultures aspects of the franchise. Is there some importance on both sides of the coin as far as franchisor and franchisee in doing a certain amount of due diligence to make sure that it's a right fit?

Laura:
Absolutely. I think the due diligence falls on both sides. I find a lot of franchise candidates that they’ll say, “Listen, I really just want to buy into this.” It’s like, “No, that’s not how it works. You’re not buying a car. You can go in and buy any car. We need to make sure that you’re a good fit for us and we’re a good fit for you. What are your long-term goals? Where do you see this going? How do you plan on operating the system?”

Laura:
I always get scared when they say, “Oh I’m just going to hire somebody to do it.” No. Again, unless you have millions and millions in the bank, which you shouldn’t be buying a franchise anyway if you do, why are you hiring somebody to run your life? We’ve had that before. We’ve told people, “We don’t allow absentee owners, it’s just against our brand. We don’t do it.” Other people do it and that’s fine, but we have found when the owner is not involved, they’re the quickest to fail.

J:
Interesting. Do you typically look for a certain type of background or a certain type of business experience? What is your ideal candidate? Let’s get past the motivation and willingness to work hard and they have the money for it. From a personality and experience standpoint, what’s an ideal candidate for your type of business?

Laura:
For our particular brand, I think the perfect candidate is a veteran, they are very mission based, they’re very focused. You give them the ball and you tell them where to go and they’re going to do it, because that’s the way they’ve lived their lives. It’s the same with any franchise system. You’re giving them the recipe playbook, and you’re telling them, “Listen, just follow it, It works. I promise it works, just follow it.”

Laura:
You have to be careful from the people that score high on the entrepreneur. There’s a personality test for franchisors and people that are high entrepreneur like myself, I would not make a good franchisee, because I’m constantly thinking of, how can I change the system to make it better? That’s not my job. My job is to follow it as a franchisee. I’m not here to create and change it. Remember we talked about the entrepreneur and franpreneur? That’s the difference.

J:
That’s great. I love that, because I think there are a lot of people out there that think, “I want to be an entrepreneur. I don’t want to do the marketing, I’m not good at marketing or I’m not good at building the systems.” This is right, but it sounds like it’s not just the marketing or the ability to implement systems. It’s also this ability to relinquish control.

J:
An entrepreneur, you have the ultimate control. As a franchisee, you actually have relatively little control, but in a way that in theory can help you a whole bunch if you can follow the rules.

Laura:
You’d be surprised how many people have difficulty following the system or the playbook. We’re not asking for the perfect person. You’re never going to find anybody that’s fantastic at operations, but also great at marketing and great at say HR. What I tell people is, “What are your strengths, because I need you to hire your weaknesses. You’re just going to hire weakness. If you’re not properly capitalized, that is the number one reason why franchisees fail. They’re not properly capitalized.”

Carol:
Excellent. That’s super. What’s next Laura, what are your grand plans for growth? What’s coming down the pipeline?

Laura:
We introduced the real estate component into our services back in 2016 when we started. It’s been a game changer for us, because our franchisees are wholesaling these homes that have had afflictions of whatever. They’re getting quite a bit of capital that they’re putting back into their business to grow their business. Whether it’s buying new territories or adding trucks or what not. Leveraging the real estate portion has been great.

Laura:
Unfortunately we don’t have every single franchisee that’s comfortable enough to do it in the system, but we’re really pushing that. Again, I would not be here if it wasn’t for me wholesaling all those houses to get the capital that I needed for that gap that I was missing.

J:
That’s great. Basically, the business is a great marketing tool for the real estate side. The real estate side is a great marketing tool for the business.

Laura:
Absolutely.

J:
It just it works so well together.

Laura:
It does. The only thing I’m mad about is that it took me till 2016 to figure that out.

J:
Awesome. Well this has been fantastic. I could ask questions for like another 10 hours, but we need to get into the final segment of the show so we don’t go too long. That is called the Four More. That is where we ask you four questions that we ask all of our guests. Then we give you an opportunity to tell us a little bit more about where listeners can find out more about your business and connect with you. How’s that sound?

Laura:
Yeah, that sounds great.

J:
Awesome. Then I’m going to ask the first question. What is the first or the worst job you’ve ever had?

Laura:
My first job was, my parents got a brand new lawn mower. I was 11 years old and it was the new Honda self-propelled, where you didn’t have to break your back pushing it. I asked my dad if I could go around the neighborhood mowing other people’s lawns. He kind of blew, “Yeah, sure, whatever. As long as you pay for the gas and mow my lawn.” I said, “Okay.”

Laura:
Well it turned out that I was making like two, $300 a month as an 11 year old mowing these lawns so he cut me off. He said that was too much money for an 11 year old, so that was my first job. Ironically I was charging $20 a lawn back then, I was 11 so it was 30 something years ago. The price for that type of business has not changed. I would say, the barrier of entry is extremely low on that. I would advise against a franchise in that.

Carol:
That is awesome. Here’s your second question Laura. I would like to know, what is the defining moment when you realized you truly had an entrepreneurial edge?

Laura:
It was right after that when my dad cut me off from mowing lawns. I was taking all of my Christmas and birthday presents to school, and I was reselling them to my friends. When we would go to Sam’s Club, Sam’s Club was just starting back then, I would buy the big container of blow pops and I would sell them for a quarter to all my friends. Then I got in trouble for that, so I had to do it in the parking lot. I knew that I was always going to do something for myself, because I was constantly wheeling and dealing.

Carol:
You are so not a rule follower are you?

Laura:
Oh no.

Carol:
You are like, “Whatever someone tells me to do, I’m just doing the total opposite and I’m running this show.” I love it.

Laura:
Yeah. Just for the record, I think I’ve been fired from every single job. I really had no other option, but to do this.

J:
That describes a lot of entrepreneurs. We’re entrepreneurs because we’re unemployable.

Laura:
Yeah, I’m unemployable, no doubt.

J:
Awesome. Do you read books?

Laura:
Lots.

J:
Excellent. We change up question number three every once in a while, but that’s my favorite question. What’s the best book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners?

Laura:
The best one that I’ve read recently and it’s probably going to end up being my top five ever. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it’s David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me.

J:
Yeah, a lot of people love that book.

Laura:
That was a game changer for me. I really, really liked it. I grew up in a somewhat similar as he did in the past, so mindset has always been very big to me. I read it at the exact right time that I needed. I feel like these books come to me at the right time. I was able to just improvise and overcome and just get through it.

Carol:
Awesome. Here’s the fourth and my personal favorite question. What is something that you have splurged on in your personal or professional life somewhere along the way that was totally worth it?

Laura:
I’m not a big stuff person, I’m actually quite a minimalist. If you see my house, it has nothing in it. We do a lot of hoarding clean up, so I’m trying to be the antithesis of hoarding. I’m big on experiences and one of the big splurges I did was a two week vacation in New Zealand. It was incredible and I traveled through the entire country. Got to go to a rugby game and zip lining. Just a great experience and I really, really enjoyed it. That was very expensive but very worth it.

Carol:
That is so cool. Just like you said, that is so common of entrepreneurs. We don’t value the stuff. None of us have anything in our houses, we just want those awesome memories.

Laura:
Totally.

J:
I’m a man of my word and so I need to be careful that I didn’t lie to our listeners here. We promised them earlier on that they would get some good crime scene clean up stories. Before we jump to the More part of the Four More, can you give us your top one or two or three, I don’t know if favorite is the right word, but most interesting?

Laura:
Most interesting.

J:
Let’s use most interesting crime scene clean up stories.

Laura:
Some of them are very sad, other ones are interesting. One of them I remember was, it was the longest human decomposition we’ve ever had. It was a man that he had all his bills on Bill Pay and he had his mail sent somewhere else. He died in his home in the living room on the futon and no one found him for nine months. He literally melted through the futon, through the beautiful oak floors and into the crawl space below it. That was the longest decomposition we’ve ever had. There was very little left. Everybody’s like, “Oh I bet that was the worst smell.” It actually wasn’t, because it had been so long that most of it just decomposed.

J:
I remember I first found you when I saw a video that you posted on Facebook. I’ve never been able to watch the video, because it’s bothersome. This is for anybody out there that wants to hear some more of your stories. You post some of your stories, videos publicly on YouTube. You posted a video called The Exploding Esophagus. I haven’t been able to watch that because I have acid reflux. It just scares me to even think about it, but what was that story?

Laura:
He actually lived. This was a guy that worked for a service type company. He was driving his service vehicle, his truck and he was having major acid reflux. He left it unattended as many men do, they don’t want to go to the doctor. All of a sudden he just started throwing up massive amounts of blood everywhere. Had to pullover and they pulled him out and got him into the hospital. There must’ve been three to four pints of blood in there. It looked like he lost his entire throat, and it came out through his mouth. That was a bloody one to say the least.

J:
I made the right choice not watching that.

Laura:
I don’t know about that.

Carol:
Like it was so cool.

Laura:
Yeah, it was so cool. Yeah, it was very cool.

J:
Well thank you. I’m going to stop there with those two stories. I’m sure anybody that wants to find out more, well tell them where they can learn more about you, where they can learn more about Spaulding Decon, where they can watch your YouTube videos and where they can connect with you if they want to connect with you.

Laura:
We’re getting ready to launch season three this Thursday on our YouTube reality series. It’s completely uncensored, so you can go to YouTube and type in crime scene cleaning. Again, it’s uncensored, not for the weak.

Laura:
We also have a, exclusive season and a podcast on Patreon, it’s also under crime scene cleaning. We have a cult-like following on Instagram, over 360,000 people following us on Instagram in just a short year there. That’s also under crime scene cleaning. We really go into more of the stories there. People seem to love the stories more than they do or maybe as equal as the gore. Everyone has a curiosity, a morbid curiosity on how do other people live, what they go through?

Laura:
You want to walk a mile in other people’s shoes and we really take a non-judgemental component to it. We don’t want any judgment, because you don’t live in their shoes.

J:
Certainly. Wow, this has been an eye opening discussion, not just from obviously from the business and franchising standpoint. Just from the business standpoint, the type of business you’re in.

J:
Thank you so much for coming on, for you so much for sharing all that. I will try to go watch some of those stories, and I highly recommend anybody that has not so weak stomach as I do to go check that out. Laura thank you.

Laura:
No, it’s my pleasure.

J:
Yeah, we really appreciate this.

Carol:
Thank you so much.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How she went from being a beat cop to cleaning crime scenes
  • How she funded and started her business
  • How she drives house to house to get leads
  • How her first hires were stay-at-home moms
  • How she got into franchising
  • The lesson she learned from hiring a consultant
  • Entrepreneur vs. franpreneur
  • Why brand culture matters
  • The common misconception in franchising
  • The biggest reason franchisees fail
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show:

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Nobody is going to give you better franchising advice than someone who has walked in those shoes.” (Tweet This!)
  • “In franchising, when the owner is not involved, they are quickest to fail.” (Tweet This!)
  • “I never gave myself an option. There was no plan B.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Hire your weaknesses.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Laura

What does it take to start, scale, and sell your own business? Every Tuesday, J and Carol Scott ask this question to entrepreneurs of all stripes and delve into stories that go beyond the launch. F...
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