Interview: Andy Pittman, ShelfGenie | Global Franchise
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Saturday 24th February, 2024

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Interview: Andy Pittman, ShelfGenie


Interview: Andy Pittman, ShelfGenie

Having been one of ShelfGenie’s first franchisees, Andy Pittman understands the challenges of being a small business owner. But how does he utilize those lessons now, as president of the home services brand?

Andy Pittman began his journey with ShelfGenie back in 2009, after running a business himself and recognizing the benefits that came with being part of an established, national brand. He was one of ShelfGenie’s first franchise partners, and seven years later, he was asked to take over the role as COO of the brand, and subsequently, president.  

To this day, Pittman still operates his own ShelfGenie portfolio while working as the brand’s president; guiding the organization throughout tough times during the pandemic, as well as an acquisition by Neighborly back in 2020.  

We caught up with Pittman to learn more about his shift from franchisee to corporate leadership, and to learn about the lessons he picked up along the way.  

KM: What drew you to the ShelfGenie brand back in 2009?  

AP: The thing that really interested me about ShelfGenie back in 2009 was the model. I was self-employed and had a retail appliance business; we were in the middle of the recession, so business wasn’t great. But I certainly wasn’t looking for another business.  

I had 13 employees, full retail space, and more than a full-time job. But I happened to be in Barnes & Noble one Saturday morning in January 2009, and saw an opportunity. It caught my attention.  

Number one, it was semi-local for me. I’m in Raleigh and they’re based in Atlanta. The other reason was, I had tried to get pull-out shelving for my parents within the 12 months before that. I couldn’t; none of my friends that were in the cabinet business did it, unless you were getting entirely new cabinets.  

It caught my eye, and when I started researching more, I liked the model. It’s scalable, you don’t need 10 people, and can add as and when you need to. When you think about when people first start their business, you may need a receptionist in the office to answer phonecalls. How many people do you need? Half, one, one-and-a-half? For ShelfGenie, a lot of that stuff was incremental; there were no costs until a sale happened. 

We had a support center that answered the phones for you and booked appointments with clients. From an owner point of view, I could build and manage a team of designers and installers and be hands-off. Everything didn’t ride on my shoulders.  

I saw ShelfGenie as a way of building and scaling something where I could work from home. 

KM: What did the transition look like from franchise owner to COO?  

AP: In those first seven years, I was involved with ShelfGenie on the back-end. My business partner handled a lot of our sales and team; I did some sales from time to time, but it wasn’t regular. I was definitely never involved from the install side of things.  

I was involved in committees, task forces, and regional groups. The latter was somebody from each region that formed a franchise advisory council – FAC – and I was on the original FAC.  

I had a lot of working knowledge of that the company was working on operationally, and at that point, I was the only franchisee that had previously been self-employed. Our CEO and one of the founders would call on me on his way home to lament the day or talk about challenges he was having.  

When I came on, there wasn’t a lot for me to get up to speed on. I already knew what was going on with the brand, because I was involved in that on the other side of the fence. The transition was more about getting aligned with how the franchisor side of the business worked. 

KM: What were some of the key lessons you learned as a franchisee, that helped to guide your leadership style?  

AP: I definitely still sit on both sides of the fence. Being a franchisee gives me a very unique experience; I feel all of the pains that franchisees may feel when prices go up or down or something affects them.  

The difference is that I’m now looking at it from a global perspective. I don’t look at it as just Andy’s business or individual franchisees. I’m looking at how things affect the system as a whole.  

Some of the things that I’ve learned before and during my time is that you really have to listen carefully and closely to what people say. Give people the opportunity to speak their mind. We lost some of that prior to me coming in, and people felt unheard. You need to listen actively and have patience with people.  

“Being a franchisee gives me a very unique experience; I feel all of the pains that franchisees may feel when prices go up or down or something affects them”

If you can help build consistency with core franchisees or FAC members, you can get things rolled out. If not, it may be more difficult.  

One thing I’ve always asked our FAC members is to read Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, so that we can work better as a team. I also ask them to put their individual franchisee hats aside. They’re not on the FAC as an individual; they’re representing the whole system.  

That can be difficult to do, because at the end of the day, somebody has to make a decision. Even if they don’t like the decision, what I’d like to happen is that we come to a consensus on how to move forward. It makes things easier. 

KM: Do you think that acquiring that level of empathy from hands-on business ownership is something that all franchisors should strive to do?  

AP: That is exactly right. While I think there’s plenty of people that are leaders of franchises that have never been self-employed, the one thing that that experience gives you is empathy. Unless you’ve really laid it on the line and cashed in your retirement to start a business, you don’t really understand the thoughts and fears that people are going through when they’re running a small business day-to-day. They stress and worry about everything.  

That being said, while it does help, it’s not impossible to be a good leader having not been self-employed before. 

KM: What’s your go-to advice for entrepreneurs entering franchising in 2022?  

AP: Ask a lot of questions. Talk to a lot of people; especially franchisees. I’m always amazed when potential new franchisees come in and they’ve only talked to three or four people. I think you should talk to as many as you can, and the people that aren’t doing as well will likely teach you the most.  

“Unless you’ve really laid it on the line and cashed in your retirement to start a business, you don’t really understand the thoughts and fears that people are going through”

If you talk to a broad range of people, you’ll find out the good and the bad. You’ll learn about successes and struggles.  

The other thing is that franchising is like riding a bike – it’s a system. Don’t come in and immediately want to put your spin on it, because often the wheels on the bike square off and you fall over. Follow the system and processes, at least long enough for you to get comfortable and profitable. 

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