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Company performance

Mr. Handyman has magic at his fingertips


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Franchisees always expect their franchisors to perform magic.

This one does.

Todd Recknagel is a handy man to have at a franchisee convention. In fact, you could say his presence is magical.

That's because Recknagel, president and CEO of Mr. Handyman International, is a professional magician. He began performing magic when he was 13, and by 14 he was earning $250 per show. The money didn't burn a hole in his pocket, however, because to stay in business he needed to reinvest. And illusions aren't cheap.

He remembers trying out for his high school's musical talent show, which was a big deal in his town. One of his tricks involved a floating silver ball, which danced around a large scarf - or silk, as he calls it. He was walking around the ball to show the audience there were no strings attached, when the ball came crashing down and shattered.

"The audience thought it was the end of the trick and they applauded," he says.

Like the ball, Recknagel was shattered. Not only was it a $1,000 trick, but it earned him a place in the school musical, which meant he had to purchase another floating ball.

 

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Todd Recknagel readies a silk for the dancing violin trick.

Magic at its finest means the how-to is never discovered. "Anytime you're doing a trick, there's a certain amount of misdirection going on," he says. And to do it right, the magician needs to stay alert.

A time he was a little slow to size up the situation was when he was doing a magic show at a retirement party. He thought he would do the guest of honor a huge favor by calling his wife up on stage for the obligatory card trick.

The woman took a card, and he told her to remember it. When it came time for her to reveal her card to the crowd, she looked at him blankly. Trying to save the trick, he joked, "Gertrude, do you remember taking a card?" No response. "Do you remember where you are?"

He later found out the woman had Alzheimer's and really didn't remember taking a card, or walking up on stage. The embarrassment in his voice is evident years later as he retells the story.

 

While Recknagel doesn't mind sharing his magic with his franchise family, his family isn't really impressed, he said. When he was younger, his mother would drive him to the show and sit in the car or the back row of the audience while he performed. "Magic to her would have been making my dirty clothes disappear (into the hamper)," he said.

His wife is privy to the misdirection, and his own children rarely see him perform. Fortunately for them, he doesn't pull quarters from behind their friends' ears.

The greatest benefit of magic, he says, is that it allows us to suspend belief for a while. While he likes entertaining, he never entertained the thought of doing it full-time.

"I was too focused on school," he says. He has an MBA in finance, and put aside magic to be managing partner of an investing firm. He became a Blimpie franchisee "on the side," and after winning the International Franchise Association's Franchisee of the Year award, chaired its membership committee. That's where he met the owners of Service Brands, which owns Mr. Handyman and other brands.

Recknagel says he became intrigued by the category, because no one company had branded it - one could say he suspended belief that it couldn't be done. About 96 percent of the handyman category is independents, what he calls, "Chuck in a truck." Couple that with the knowledge that it's a $40 billion industry, and you can see the value in forming a brand known for its tight standards.

Mr. Handyman franchisees - who are for the most part displaced corporate execs - hire experienced technicians to do the work with an average experience level of 15 years, he says. The chain guarantees its work and that the handyman will show up on time. Office staff makes confirmation calls, as well as follow-up calls to ensure the work was satisfactory.

Jobs vary from dry-wall repair and replacing windows to finishing to-do lists.

To bring a little star power to the brand, he hired Richard Karn, best known as Tim "the Toolman" Taylor's long-suffering assistant, Al, on TV's "Home Improvement," as a spokesman.

"He's the handyman who did things properly," Recknagel says.

But don't expect Karn to bring any magic to the brand - that's Recknagel's protected territory.

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