Founder is gung-ho about Dryer Vent Wizard
Cleaning your home’s dryer vents is a job Dave Lavalle, founder of Dryer Vent Wizard, enthusiastically extols.
Dave Lavalle, the founder of Dryer Vent Wizard, has more enthusiasm than you can possibly imagine for cleaning your home’s dryer vent. First, there’s the dark and stormy angle: clogged vents can be terribly dangerous, causing 2,900 house fires, $35 million in properly damage and an estimated five deaths and 100 injuries each year according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
As a franchisor solving a straightforward problem for homeowners, he (really) loves the recurring revenue stream and that it’s not an emergency-type service like Mr. Handyman, which he founded back in 1996.
Having just paid a local independent to clean my own vent right before our interview, I was happy I’d be able to relate to the necessity of the service. It’s hard to keep up with Lavalle, who thinks and talks fast, ping-ponging between nuggets about the unit-level economics, the type of franchisees he’s attracting and his feeling that he’s stumbled into creating an entirely new industry—and one that truly carries life or death consequences in worst-case scenarios.
Comparing Dryer Vent Wizard to Mr. Handyman, he quickly ticked off what he liked about the business, adding he liked it enough to found it, sell it, become a franchisee and then repurchase the company.
“That’s why I told you, it’s a weird one and entrepreneurs are strange,” he said of buying back into the business 10 years ago. “Better is always different.”
With a trade school background, Lavalle loves working with his hands and getting inside the head of ambitious people who might be attracted to the type of hands-on businesses that have become his specialty. His boundless enthusiasm went as far as comparing an 11-hour workday to being out on the golf course all day.
“I wanted to micro-focus on something as opposed to everything,” he said of the brand he jokingly calls one of his children. “This one fit my metrics, fit my model, like another one would be swimming pool repair; not an emergency but it’s mechanical, and it’s got to be done.”
Headquartered in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Dryer Vent Wizard has scaled up to 92 locations in the U.S. and Canada. While the vast majority of its sales are for cleaning vents, there are a few additional services that include cleaning the actual dryer unit and minor work on washers or hoses—a narrow offering that Lavalle sees as properly focused.
“This is an industry that no one recognized, except the franchisees who had the guts to jump on board real early to this,” he added. “My kids are even franchisees now. I didn’t mean to do that to them, because my family has a business and I wanted to blaze my own trail, but my enthusiasm was infectious.”
Both as a franchisee and a franchisor, with a Dryer Vent Wizard territory in North Carolina, Lavalle said the lifestyle the business affords was attractive enough that two of his children jumped in to buy franchises of their own in the company.
Outside of his own family tree, he added the business tends to attract sales people, previous franchisees and an outsize number of engineers, who he speculates are attracted to the simple processes inherent in the business—measuring air pressure and airflow, vacuum pressure and walking homeowners through basic metrics to outline the need for service.
Getting into the company as a franchisee, including working capital, costs approximately $85,000, which can go higher if you’re bringing in additional labor from the get-go. A significant portion of efforts, both for franchisees and at the corporate headquarters, are dedicated toward educating everyday consumers that dryer vents need regular attention, using social media, blogging, newspaper articles, general advertising and more localized efforts like driving their logo'd vans in parades.
“There are a lot of statistics about dryer fires—it’s a hidden epidemic and people don’t know,” he said. “I can never capture a statistic on how many lives we’ve saved, but I know we do. We save lives every year.”