National Property Inspections’ Franchisee Spotlight recognizes our most innovative and successful NPI franchises. By sharing their stories, helpful tips and lessons learned, every franchisee can learn what it takes to grow their business. For our first installment, we’re proud to feature Stephen Fotiades of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Stephen Fotiades first started with NPI in 2015 after purchasing an existing franchise. Stephen previously worked as a commercial real estate agent and business owner before joining the NPI family. He runs his franchise with his wife, Taylor, and also has two children, Hayden (age 4) and Callan (age 16 months) with another on the way this year. We asked Stephen to share his insights on joining National Property Inspections and growing his franchise.
What was appealing to you about the inspection industry?
Stephen Fotiades: Without knowing a whole lot about the inspection industry, the first two aspects that I found appealing were that I didn’t have to spend all day in an office, and I was able to constantly interact with and meet new people. I have always had an outgoing personality and enjoy being around people so making sure that I was not confined to an office all day was an absolute necessity while looking for a career. As I learned more about the industry, I started to find out that there were a lot of reasons inspections would be a good fit. I am mechanically minded and like figuring out how systems work together. I also like being able to help clients and teach them about their homes, and most of all save lives.
What skills from your previous jobs helped you get your business up and running?
SF: Being a realtor in Texas before moving to Cheyenne, WY has been a huge asset as an inspector. I know first-hand how realtors think, what is important to them, and how the negotiations between buyers and sellers generally play out. I often tell realtors that I have a past in real estate and it gives us something in common as well as lets them know that I understand both their roles and mine as critical elements in the real estate process.
Why did you decide on NPI?
SF: In 2015, my wife and I were wanting to start another business and had been doing research on various industries. We had seriously considered starting a home inspection business but knew the then-current owners of NPI in Cheyenne and felt that going into business against them wouldn’t be the right thing to do. We started looking at other possibilities and only a few weeks later found out that the owners were looking to sell because they were moving (crazy how timing works sometimes!). We quickly called them and scheduled meetings to learn more about the business and industry. After reviewing finances and seeing their established book of business and the opportunities for growth, we were really excited about the opportunity. We traveled to Omaha to meet the corporate team and were extremely impressed by their kindness and the support that they offer their franchisees. After that trip, we knew we had made the right decision!
What were the first steps you took to gain momentum with your franchise?
SF: The first thing I did was sponsor office meetings at all of the real estate offices in town. By doing so, I was able to get in front of a lot of agents at once, hand out marketing material with all of my contact information, and talk a little bit about what sets me apart from other inspectors. I always stay for the meeting so that I can meet with some of the agents one-on-one or in smaller groups so that I get the chance to get to know them better and form relationships. I believe that an important step in gaining momentum is establishing yourself as an expert within the inspection industry and proving your importance within the transaction.
What’s the most challenging part of owning a business? What’s the most surprising part?
SF: For me, the most challenging part of owning a business is figuring out how the behind-the-scenes processes and procedures can be efficiently accomplished. I am a people person and absolutely love the part of the job where I am meeting new people, enjoying conversations with realtors, and helping home-buyers understand the components of their investment. However, equally as important is making sure that finances are in order, paperwork is compete, and the schedule is kept. Because we bought an existing franchise, at first we used all of the systems that the previous owners had in place. It took a while and was frustrating to figure out our own processes that worked better for us. To this day we are still fine-tuning our organization and adjusting the programs that we use.
The most surprising part of owning a business was finding out that I cannot do it all by myself. When we first started our business it was surprising to see how many roles are needed to be successful. There is marketing, finance, business development, the actual inspections, answering phones, planning, and employee management, among other things. In the beginning, I thought I would be able to run the business primarily by myself but as the business started to grow, the amount of free time quickly started disappearing and it was nearly impossible to accomplish everything and still find time to spend with my family. I have since surrounded myself with a good team and have learned to delegate!
When it comes to marketing, what do you find the most success with?
SF: When it comes to marketing, the best thing I found that I can do is get in front of realtors! Whether it is attending and sponsoring office meetings, taking realtors out to lunch, teaching continuing education classes, stopping by the offices with marketing materials, or attending after-hours functions. I want to be the first person that a realtor thinks of when a home inspection is needed.
What are your main goals for 2018?
SF: Every year I make sure that my main goals focus on growth. While I am happy with where I am and the success that the company has had, I never want to be complacent. The market in my area is strong and is predicted to stay that way so I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to grow. I know that my competitors are still getting inspections that I want to have. In 2018, I would like to grow our Wyoming business by 20%. Home inspections are not required in the state of Wyoming and I want to achieve my goal by convincing both agents and home-buyers that inspections are a critical component of the home-buying process. I also use contacts in the real estate industry to find out which agents are using other inspectors and then target my marketing (take them to lunch, drop off coupons, send a letter describing myself and services, etc.) towards those realtors to get their business.
What advice do you have for other franchisees trying to grow their business?
SF: Never stop! Owning a business has involved a lot of trial and error in almost every aspect. We have experimented with marketing methods, computer programs, financial software, inspection techniques, and staff. While we are now more confident in what works best for us, I am ready to make changes, if needed, based on evolving markets and trends. I need to stay ahead of my competitors and don’t want to be a victim of outdated processes. My wife and I are constantly brainstorming ideas, reading books, and reaching out to nearby franchisees to find out what works for them in an effort to make us more successful and increase our market share. We are always willing to brainstorm and share our successes and failures with anyone. If you have any questions and think I can be a resource, please feel free to reach out.