Multi-owner Gutter-vac franchisee turns over $1M plus a year

Mike Downey had spent most of his career between four walls, and while his salaries had been good, he couldn’t shake the feeling he was making other people rich.

In his mid-50s he decided to start looking for a business that would see him through to his retirement, and now ten years on, he’s on the home stretch.

When he first looked into Gutter-Vac it was listed as one of the top ten performing franchises in Australia, and after talking to his brother-in-law about it, he decided to take the plunge.

“He pointed out that [gutter cleaning] was something that people didn’t want to do themselves, but had to be done.”

So, he bit the bullet and decided to start off with two territories – Adelaide Central and Adelaide South. A year and a half later he and his wife bought two more, Adelaide Outer North and Adelaide Hills. Six months after that they added Northern Territory, where he secured contracts with defense force bases. He travels up twice a year for short stretches to carry out all the cleaning.

“We are now in the process of selling three Adelaide territories because I am getting too bloody old, and this is our transition to retirement. I was 64 last week.”

His son is taking over Adelaide Hills as well.

“If I was ten years younger, I would have no hesitation extending the terms of the ones we are selling. I wish I had found it ten years earlier. There is a lot of money to be made, you have just got to follow all the rules and have your smarts about you.

“We have paid off two houses. we set up a self-managed super-fund for ourselves and with that we bought a reasonable sized block of land near the airport to house all the trailers. We have got five Ford Rangers and four trailers and we’ve had that for four years and that’s been paid off, and we have $300,000-$400,000 in cash.”

A lot of Mike’s success has come from targeting commercial clients such as the defense force, aged care facilities and councils. In his first year he hit $100,000 in the first seven months, and now he says he turns over a million dollars plus a year, and has done for the last four years. For the last eight years he’s made a net profit of 50.8%, or over half a million dollars profit, less tax.

“We are flat out. The only time we have a break is if it’s raining or too hot – that’s the only reason we don’t work. My plan [in the near future] is not to do anything except in the office and maybe go out and help occasionally.”

Mike and his wife employ five people and usually sends out teams of two to work on the same job – this way if anything goes wrong there is always an extra person to carry on, and they are also able to pick up extra jobs throughout the day.

The machines are quite simple to run, but it takes about two months to get fully proficient at using them, but it’s important in order to be able to train up staff property, he says.

“The equipment cleans like the gutter like you wouldn’t believe but your head needs to be switched on to do it right.”

Marketing has been purely word of mouth, and the trailers themselves do a lot of heavy lifting as people are always coming up to ask for card or take a photo of the side of the trailer where the contact details are shown.

“Best thing is that you are your own boss, and the harder you work the better off you are going to be.”

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Stewart Germann
Stewart Germann

Stewart Germann is a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and he attended the University of Auckland. He has the qualifications of B.Com, LLB, FCIS, CFInstD, CFE and Notary Public and he specialises in franchising, licensing, sale and purchase of businesses and commercial law.

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