After more than two decades of working in the financial industry, Westfield resident David Ambinder found himself looking for a new career when his employer Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in September of 2008.
Because trying new things had been a recurring theme throughout his time on Wall Street, the investment banker said he didn't hesitate before opening his Union County-based Mr. Handyman franchise just two months after losing his job.
"I always wanted to own my own business but I never knew what kind of business I wanted to own," Ambinder said. "I did look at some consulting and corporate opportunities and I just felt like, given the timing, maybe it was time to roll the dice and try something crazy like this. It was not a move that anyone who knows me thought I would make. It was definitely out there."
Ambinder said even his wife thought he was "nuts" at first but was "very supportive" once he made the decision to give it a go. While he lacked any background in carpentry, Ambinder said he had plenty of experience making reparations in the business world.
"I've sort of gravitated toward things I don't know about," he said. "I was in charge of a bunch of different areas: business support services, travel, event planning. My skill was take on a group in trouble and try to fix it."
Having managed over 500 people globally, Ambinder was undaunted by the idea of hiring his own employees and getting right to work.
"When you buy a franchise, as opposed to starting a business on your own, you get a lot of support from the folks who've done it before you," the entrepreneur said. "There's a very good network of owners within the Mr. Handyman system who I reached out to and helped me out quite a bit in getting things going pretty quickly. It's a huge learning process but very exciting."
He also knew from personal experience that working long hours left little time to take care of things around the house. He recognized the time-consuming difficulty in finding someone who was skilled and trustworthy.
"A million things go wrong in your house. One day you might renovate your kitchen, another day you're removing your oil tank. In the role as the homeowner, you do a little research, maybe talk to some friends but you don't really have the time to look for the right person and that's where we come in," he said.
Ambinder explained that every technician hired by Mr. Handyman undergoes a thorough background check.
"We go through that vetting process to make sure that whoever goes to your home is knowledgeable, competent, shows up on time—all those things that you want or expect," Ambinder explained.
Aside from the high levels of expertise his technicians possess, Ambinder feels Mr. Handyman's level of customer service is what makes his franchise a success. Accustomed to delivering a quick turnaround in the business world, Ambinder said he knew if he applied the same principles to his new line of work, customers would keep coming back.
"People appreciate that kind of service—the follow-through—and they appreciate when things aren't right, how you respond to it. It seems to have worked. We get a lot of repeat business and I believe that's the single factor as to why we're doing well and growing. Sixty-eight percent of our customers called us back again last year which is huge, particularly in markets like this where the economy is not doing that well," he said.
Ambinder said the positive reviews his franchise has garnered on Angie's List have also contributed to his success. With the Internet often replacing word-of-mouth recommendations, each review is extemely important, he said.
Ambinder offered some advice to those looking for a handyman. Always make sure a contractor is licensed and insured, he said. The Better Business Bureau is another valuable resource in addition to Internet sites such as Angie's List and Service Magic, which offer ratings and reviews across a broad range of categories.
As much as Ambinder is enjoying his new profession, it has not been without challenges. After opening up his office, the new owner said he found himself wondering, "Now what do I do?" Of the whole experience, Ambinder said the most difficult time was in the beginning when he was "waiting for the phone to ring."
"It was tough until we were able to get a base of customers that started to use us," he said. "It's a very hard business to get customers to reach you the first time. There have definitely been different times in last few years when you wonder, 'Did I do the right thing?'"
In spite of the risks, the businessman said he takes pride in doing something that, in a struggling economy, has offered employment to others. Staying on the managerial side, Ambinder hasn't started swinging a hammer alongside his crew just yet, mainly because he said he just doesn't think he'd be very good at it. He noted that the labor-instense, physically-demanding days his technicians put in are much different from those in the banking industry and said he has the utmost respect for his employees.
He added that he has enjoyed the excitement of the start-up process and said he would do it again. Having his Clark-based office within walking distance of his home is also something Ambinder treasures after years of commuting to Manhattan.
The erstwhile Wall Streeter still keeps in touch with his former colleagues and said more of them are finding work, a sign, he believes, indicates that the economy is improving.
"Business has been very strong," he said. "It's been growing tremendously. We get so many nice reviews from customers. That's probably the number one thing I like to see."
The business owner said he is always striving to find the perfect level of service provided by the most knowledgable technicians so Mr. Handyman can be the trusted source for all the things homeowners require.
"It's been different but it's been really fun, really exciting," Ambinder said.
For more information, visit Mr. Handyman's website or call 908-998-1636. The office is staffed Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.