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By Mike Bidwell
Leading up to my 2014 appointment as President and CEO of Neighborly, I spent 30 years serving this organization in a wide range of roles. In all that time, it was the very first role I served, as franchise owner of Rainbow International Restoration of Tucson, Arizona, that had the greatest impact on the trajectory of my career.
Ironically, it was a dirty carpet that launched a career that would eventually take me to the top of the world’s largest franchisor of home service brands.
In 1984, I needed the carpets in my home in Houston cleaned, and the company I selected to get the job done was Rainbow. I was just 26 at the time, and I was fascinated as the Rainbow franchise owner who arrived at my house explained the concept of the franchise opportunity. Before long, I was walking into the Rainbow headquarters, later to become Neighborly, to begin my training as Rainbow’s newest franchise owner.
As with most people my age at the time, I didn’t have a lot of starting capital to work with. So, when my business got off to a slow start, I realized I was going to have to get out of my comfort zone. I began going door-to-door, targeting apartment complexes, which I assumed would have the biggest carpet-cleaning need. I was determined to succeed, and my persistence paid off. My business eventually became the biggest provider in our city as I cultivated relationships and expanded my network of customers.
My initial experiences as a business owner taught me a lot of valuable lessons that continue to influence me today. Those experiences have allowed me to put myself in the shoes of the 4,500+ franchise owners who represent the Neighborly organization today as we consider critical business decisions for our network.
Rainbow International, founded in 1981, was the first business started by Don Dwyer Sr., the founder of The Dwyer Group, now called Neighborly.
Rainbow has grown steadily over the last 40 years, evolving from a primary focus on carpet dyeing and cleaning, and is now primarily focused on mitigation and restoration work. In fact, as a result of this evolution as well as due to changes in the marketplace, one of the first things I did when I later became president of the brand in 1995 was initiate a brand refresh. Rainbow International Carpet Dyeing & Cleaning Co. became Rainbow International Carpet Care & Restoration, sending the market a strong message on where we were headed – carpet care and restoration. We have since had another brand refresh to drill down even more on our restoration focus.
The changes have not been without challenges, of course. While the brand refresh has been the catalyst in our growth, we have lost franchise owners along the way because they did not want to make the shift to restoration. That’s to be expected. I learned in those early days that once you’ve committed to a new direction, it’s critical to keep the brand staying the course even in the face of opposition. For Rainbow, staying the course has paid off.
Like most business leaders, even though we knew there was a pandemic spreading around the globe, there was really no way for anyone to anticipate the true depth of the impact it would have on our communities and our businesses. That’s when the skills that I learned back in my early days as a franchise owner really came into play for me as Neighborly’s CEO. It taught me the importance of not waiting to adapt when needed. I knew that we had to quickly adjust to address the many logistical challenges caused by the pandemic. We spent time with risk management creating legal documents reflecting appropriate COVID disclaimers and worked with our insurance company to address COVID specifically.
We took quick action because, across our roster of brands, the services we offered were essential, especially in Rainbow’s case. As the virus continued spreading, homeowners still needed the extensive restoration services we offered.
Cary Fairless, the current president of Rainbow International, was a crucial leader in the process of ensuring we would have all the right systems in place to keep delivering an excellent customer experience despite the health crisis. He shared the following with me about the experience:
“The biggest, industry-wide dynamic was the increasing momentum for minimal-contact customer interaction. We had to put steps in place for all service professionals going into people's homes in order to keep everyone safe. We launched a software that could seamlessly integrate an automated claims/billing process to make things as contactless as possible for our customers. While we didn’t operationally change our mitigation service, we had to adjust how we interact with our customers. As a franchisor, we knew people were hurting from the pandemic, so when individual circumstances warranted, we worked to accommodate requests around financial commitments to help owners get to the other side of this.”
I’m proud of the way the entire Rainbow team responded and continues to respond to the unique challenges presented by the pandemic. Our franchise owners, associates and customers of Rainbow were all valued as an integral part of our decisions.
The future is bright for Rainbow, for the whole restoration industry and for home services at-large. Our world will eventually return to some semblance of “normal” once the pandemic is over. However, we will be prepared for the future, and pandemic-induced recessions will have little impact on the restoration industry.
I’m happy that this essential business found me all those years ago, and I’m forever grateful that it started such an amazing and fulfilling journey for me with Neighborly.
Mike Bidwell is President and CEO of Neighborly, the world’s largest home services franchisor of 28 brands and more than 4,500 franchises collectively serving 10 million+ customers in nine countries, focused on repairing, maintaining and enhancing homes and businesses.