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Home repair demand helps grow this microbusiness during the pandemic

Kai Ryssdal and Daisy Palacios Mar 15, 2021
Heard on:
Brad Hess is owner of Ace Handyman Services Summerlin, an individually owned and operated franchise of Ace Hardware in Las Vegas. Courtesy of Brad Hess

Home repair demand helps grow this microbusiness during the pandemic

Kai Ryssdal and Daisy Palacios Mar 15, 2021
Heard on:
Brad Hess is owner of Ace Handyman Services Summerlin, an individually owned and operated franchise of Ace Hardware in Las Vegas. Courtesy of Brad Hess

Brad Hess owns Ace Handyman Services Summerlin, an individually owned and operated franchise of Ace Hardware in Las Vegas. His 10-person team of craftspeople make their living performing repairs inside people’s homes — something not many people wanted during peak coronavirus outbreaks.

“Folks were very wary of having anyone in their home,” Hess said.

Although it was tough at the beginning, Hess’ business has picked up. He believes people are becoming more comfortable having workers in their house. Also, tourism in Las Vegas is slowing coming back.

“I’m not in [the tourism] business, but many of my customers are,” Hess said. “So, in a sense, I still rely on it.”

Now Hess is trying to decide whether to hire more employees to keep up with the demand or maintain the number of workers he has now.

“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Hess about going through a growth period during the pandemic.

Kai Ryssdal: Here we are, a year into this thing, a little bit more now, actually. How’s business?

Brad Hess: Better than ever, actually.

Ryssdal: Really?

Hess: Yeah. So my business opened up in July of 2019, with just two employees — started growing and adding employees and got up to six employees by March of 2020. And then, you know, as COVID hit, and the lockdown happened, and I had to lay off four of those six employees — could barely keep two busy. And now we’re … up to 10.

Ryssdal: How did you get through the past year though? Did you get a [Paycheck Protection Program] loan? Any kind of other help? And more importantly, what business were you doing? Because I can’t imagine people wanted you in their homes fixing, their, you know, washer, dryers.

Hess: Yeah, so we did get a PPP loan and an [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] grant. And those two were very instrumental in pulling us out of the worst of times. And we were very slow, because folks were very wary of having anyone in their home. And so handyman services and home repairs, the kinds of jobs that we were seeing, were just that — they were repairs, they were not discretionary things. We weren’t hanging a lot of brand-new TVs; we were more fixing things that had broken.

Ryssdal: Yeah. So here comes the microbusiness-business-model question: At what point are you going to be able to transition from surviving and hanging on by your fingernails to actually growing your business, as you know, the trajectory you were on before all this happened?

Hess: I think that we are in growth mode already. And we’re to a point where actually I’ve paused growth a little bit to focus on efficiency and operating an excellent business at the current size that we’re at, and we’ve got a lot of demand at this point. We’re fixing a lot of projects that people undertook themselves while they were, you know, at home for long periods of time. And I think that the discretionary projects are coming back, and we’re seeing a lot of that.

Ryssdal: Are you able to find people to go to work for you? Do you have, you know, the caliber of handyman and handywoman that you want?

Hess: That is always a challenge, and it’s more challenging than ever. There are people willing to work. And I do notice a lot of people who are new to town, because a lot of people have been moving to Las Vegas in the past year because remote work, they’re moving from California, the cost of living is a lot less here. There are a lot of people that are capable of the average stuff. But to get the high-quality person, I think, a lot of those people already have good jobs because there’s, despite everything, a tremendous amount of growth going on as far as new construction of single-family homes and apartments and condos in Las Vegas due to the high number of people that are moving here. The inventory, real estate-wise, is lower than it’s ever been.

Ryssdal: If I’m a qualified and experienced handyman, and I come to work for you, how much money am I going to make?

Hess: Depending on your skill level, the tools that you bring to the job and the experience, somewhere between $23 to $27 an hour, plus tool and travel fees.

Ryssdal: That’s not bad. It’s not bad.

Hess: I like to provide a good place to work. And I do believe that you’ve got to pay for the amount of skill that you want to bring to the team because I also want to retain those employees.

Ryssdal: You know, one of the things we’ve talked about on the show a lot lately is pent-up demand. I’m going to imagine you’re banking on that, right? There are people who just want to get stuff done and fixed, and they’ve been holding off. And now’s the time, or soon anyway.

Hess: Absolutely. And we’re seeing an increase in business because I think we’re seeing an increase in, you know, people being comfortable with a stranger in their home. And this is something I talk about with my team a lot is, like, what we do is very personal. We’re in people’s homes, we’re in their bedrooms and their bathrooms. And they may feel comfortable going out to a restaurant with a mask on, but having someone in their home is a whole other story. And I do think that there’s a lot of pent-up demand. And so the future does look bright at this point.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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