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Home / Special Report / A hard knock inspired
realization of a dream

A hard knock inspired
realization of a dream

(First Person features local businesspeople relating–in their own words– experiences and lessons that have shaped their company’s development. The goal is to inspire and inform others through first-person accounts.)
I remember being scared to death. Here I was, a retail manager for Grossman’s Inc. lumber and hardware, being told all of the stores in the Rochester area were going to close. I had worked for Grossman’s for almost 10 years and enjoyed a comfortable, though stressful, life. I guess I had always known that Grossman’s days were numbered, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with the fact that in a few weeks I would be out of a job. I was placed at a crossroads in my life by something I had no control over.
My choices, it seemed, were clear. I could stay in retail management and try to land a job with close to the same salary and benefits, or I could strike out on my own and try something different. I had 20 years of experience in the building and income-property maintenance field and was really interested in the relatively new home- inspection profession.
Of course these decisions were not all mine to make. I had a wife and two children to think about and provide for. Diane, my wife of 10 years, was the deciding force behind my final decision. She knew I had always wanted to have my own business. But could I make it, could I be successful? She was extremely supportive and 100 percent behind whatever I decided.
The most important question was, where would the money come from to live on? I had some money saved and a 401(k) plan that would get me started, but would it be enough? I had read many times about businesses that were undercapitalized and failed from lack of money to fund the essentials such as advertising. If you can’t get your word out, you’re finished.
After much soul-searching, and with the knowledge that I probably would never get another chance to do this, I finally decided to start my own business. On Dec. 1, 1993, I formed Professional Home Inspection Services, a company that performs prepurchase home inspections for potential home buyers.
I knew I had to be the best, most thorough home inspector in Western New York–people would expect that of me.
I selected a report format that was both easy to prepare and, more importantly, easy for my customers to read and understand. And I listened to my clients. Many of my competitors took several days to type up a home- inspection report; my reports are done on-site, so my client has the report in- hand at the completion of each inspection.
I started by designing a brochure and placing copies in all of the real estate offices. I did mailings to Realtors, lawyers and mortgage companies. I joined the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors Inc., then began a long process toward membership in the American Society of Home Inspectors. I spent $5,000 on the most advanced, high-tech home-inspection equipment available today. I decided to test all homes for gas leaks and carbon monoxide as part of the home inspection.
From November 1988 until April 1991 I had done a weekly radio program for Grossman’s on WHAM-AM. The show was called “The Home Repair Clinic” and could be heard from 7:30 to 9:30 on Saturday mornings. When I started my business I knew it would be an uphill battle all the way. So I had to come up with something different, something that no other home inspector in the area had done. I knew I had to get back on the radio.
In April 1995 I returned to WHAM to do “The Home Repair Clinic” every Saturday morning. Doing a radio program is not always easy. The major commitment is time: The show requires weekly preparation and organization.
Although I advertise my home-inspection company on the radio program, I have a major responsibility to the people who listen to the show and need my help from time to time. People hear us on the radio and think of us as someone they have known for 20 years.
A recent call from an 80-year-old woman who had a problem with her furnace represents one example of our duty to the community. The furnace would not work, and she was crying because she had no money to pay for a service call at 9 o’clock at night. I talked her son through a thermostat replacement and everything worked out fine.
I truly like to help people solve problems they may be facing with their home. When I first started talking about home inspections on the radio, few people even knew this type of service was available. Now, after a year and a half of educating the public about what exactly a home inspection is, I can’t imagine someone buying a home in the Rochester area without one.
One of the unexpected things that came out of doing the radio show was being asked to make public appearances. Being paid to give talks in front of several hundred people was new and exciting to me and something I really enjoy. This is now a permanent part of my business.
By far my biggest obstacle to overcome was being accepted by the Rochester real estate community. This is a group of highly motivated professionals. To get them to switch to me from other home inspectors was a real task.
I tried everything. I would go to sales meetings and talk about my business and why my home inspection was different. I learned what networking meant. I sought the wise counsel of Mike Kaufman from Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., who had many contacts in the local real estate community. Most of the people Mike sent me to wound up providing me with many referrals. One real estate agent in particular– now a regular customer–turned out to be one of Rochester’s top sellers.
When it came right down to it, what did it for me was uncompromising integrity and the thoroughness of my report.
Recently I added another dimension to my business. My clients always asked me to recommend contractors and the like, something I declined to do. Then, during this past summer we developed “The Homeowner Service and Purchasing Guide,” a guide to what we believe are Western New York’s most reputable service contractors and home-repair organizations. My recommendations are given to each client during the home inspection.
Today, Professional Home Inspection Services has a major share of the market for prepurchase inspections in Western New York. Continued growth and the creation of additional jobs is expected over the next several years. I owe my success to my wife, Diane, and my children, Jamie and Traci, for without their support I would not have been able to survive the trials and tribulations of a business starting up.
I also owe a large amount of gratitude to my radio partners, John Carr and Allan Harris, as well as to the fine folks at WHAM. We are the most-listened-to home-repair show in Western New York.
Finally, what worked for me can be summed up by the mission statement I developed to guide every single home inspection: “To provide our clients with peace of mind by having them know exactly what to expect from the home they are about to purchase, and to inform them about the projects they will need to budget for and to help them prioritize those projects.”
That’s a philosophy I can build on.
Jim Salmon is president of Professional Home Inspection Services.
(If you have a story to tell, fax a brief synopsis (no more than a page) to Associate Editor Christina LeBeau at 546-3398, or e-mail it to RBJournal@aol.com.)

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