When a building developer embarks on a new project, their first thought isn’t necessarily about franchising, but Black Bear Trades is set to change that.
Fifteen years ago, Director and Founder of Black Bear Trades, Sean Wark, started out in construction, working as a site superintendent. Nine years later, he started his own building renovation company. From there, he saw the need for something even more comprehensive in the trades and developing world – something that could streamline both his customers’ to-do lists and his back-end processes.
Wark saw other industries benefitting from franchise opportunities, and saw the need for the trades to do the same. Since Wark wasn’t familiar with the franchise world, he set out to do his research. He put in the time to figure out the franchise set-ups that had the most potential to benefit tradespeople and their clients. Wark shares, “I worked through what was needed, how agreements would be done up, trademarking” – basically every aspect of what’s needed to embark on a franchise – and he knew he had hit upon something big.
In November 2016, Black Bear Trades was formed in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, by Wark and three of his fellow tradespeople, and became the first company in the franchise world to bring together all the trades under one proverbial roof.
Black Bear Trades acts as a hub for professional tradespeople, making the contracting process simpler and more efficient. “A developer can send us one set of drawings, and we can provide quotes on all aspects of the job and send them back as a package,” Wark says. Clients aren’t obligated to contract every trade they’re quoted for – they can choose the ones they want from the package, or they can go all in.
Since Black Bear Trades works only with professionally-certified tradespeople – indeed, it’s a requirement for any franchisee to be either accredited or on their way to accreditation – it offers peace of mind to clients, along with nearly every other service a developer could need: drywall, electrical, finishing carpentry, framing, insulation, painting, plumbing, siding, steel stud work, and tile work.
Another unique benefit of the Black Bear Trades concept is agility when dealing with any issues on site: “If an issue arises, all the necessary trades are there,” Wark notes. For example, if a Black Bear client calls because they’ve got a hole in a wall, then all the necessary trades for the job are coordinated by Black Bear. The hub concept offers a one-stop-shop for builders and developers, whether they’re at the outset of a project or in need of renovations and repairs.
Every prospective franchisee needs to have a trades background – Black Bear Trades is looking to build its brand with those who know building best. Franchising is an opportunity that many people in the trades may not know they have, and Black Bear aims to change that. “I can see how the trades are reacting, and how it’s working for them,” Wark says, noting that the positive response to Black Bear’s concept has been even more enthusiastic among the trades than he thought it would be.
Since tradespeople aren’t necessarily thinking of franchising when they think of expanding their services or business, Wark is hoping that the growing reputation and visibility of Black Bear Trades will bring those tradespeople to franchise shows. Black Bear is looking for franchisees who can do the work the company is built on, rather than investors per se. Potential franchisees look to benefit from the support of a franchise, without the overhead.
Since Black Bear Trades is not looking for people to be solely financiers, it may be surprising that their potential franchisees don’t necessarily need the start-up capital often associated with becoming a franchisee. The start-up capital range begins at zero – since all Black Bear’s tradespeople are required to be professionally practicing trades, many of them already have all the equipment they’d need as a franchisee. (This has been the case with all of Black Bear’s franchisees to date.)
It’s important to Black Bear that its potential franchisees be able to continue working, keeping their trades sharp, while becoming a part of the franchise. “Right now, we’ve got a one-week course that we do in-house, but we’re looking to turn it into a six-week course that runs three hours a day instead,” explains Wark.
Black Bear has set up master franchises to best support each of its seven current franchises. Within that structure, each franchise has its own head for each individual trade. Tradespeople can go to these heads with any questions or issues they might have. For example, if a plumber is having difficulty with the quoting process, they can reach out to the head of plumbing to talk things through and strategize.
Not only does Black Bear provide operational support day to day, but it also provides complete back-end accounting so franchisees can focus on the front-end client care. This combination allows franchisees to focus on their trades, knowing that Black Bear has their backs.
Black Bear also provides professional marketing support – every franchisee has access to the full range of marketing tools, including branding, social media and online marketing, print materials, and trade show resources. Black Bear builds up its franchisees so they can build those necessary connections to new and returning clients.
Making connections with new clients and maintaining relationships with existing clients is key to the Black Bear philosophy. Since the front-end franchisees are able to focus primarily on what they know and love best, their ability to focus on each step in the building process is unparalleled.
Looking to the future
It only took Black Bear Trades four months to reach seven franchises, and by the fall of 2017, it will have three more. Building on this success, the company is interested in expanding throughout Canada and the U.S. – “That’s the two-year goal,” shares Wark.
All franchises are currently in British Columbia, but Black Bear has already had inquiries from Alberta and Ontario. “The goal is to be all across North America – every state and every province,” Wark continues. He notes that there will be a saturation point for the amount of each trade a territory can support, and Black Bear is keenly tracking markets to figure out where demand is highest for every service they offer. This will allow the company to provide the best support and the right opportunities to potential franchisees, and to strengthen its role as a trades hub with each new franchise it brings on board.
By Jessica Burgess