by Allison Hester, from the February 2011 issue
Download the pdf file here: dan galvin
Dan Galvin of Plymouth, Massachusetts spent a long time searching for the right career. After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy where he spent six years as a fire control technician, the unit in charge of radar repair and firing the missiles.
Next he joined his family’s business, Galvin Insurance Agency, where he worked as an insurance broker for 13 years. “I had to wear a suit and tie every day. I was stuck in an office, and I absolutely hated it,” he said. So in 2000, Dan went out on his own and started selling insurance software. “At least it got me outside, going door to door, talking to people. But it still just wasn’t me.”
Stumped by what to do next, Dan took a year off of work to try to figure out his future career. Then, in 2003, he got a phone call from his uncle. “He said, ‘Hey, do I have a deal for you!’” His uncle had been in the pressure washing business since 1977 and was ready to retire. He had a couple of accounts, an “old, beat up Hotsy pressure washer,” and he knew Dan “had money.” Dan saw the offer and realized it might actually have some potential.
So he paid $10,000 for “about $2000 worth of equipment,” and with the deal he got his uncle’s company – S.A.M.S. (Suburban Automotive Maintenance System) Mobile Wash – and his uncle’s knowledge. He also got his uncle’s two accounts, one was an electric light company’s vehicles, and the other was for graffiti removal for Fenway Park, home of the Boston Redsox. “That was all I had. I think the monthly income was around $500 between the two of them.”
His wife was less than thrilled. “She said, ‘How on earth are you going to make money with a &#@! garden hose?” Dan laughed. “Like so many people in the world, she was clueless to what pressure washing was and how to make money from it.”
Dan said his uncle really did understand how to clean, but he didn’t know how to market. “It took me less than three months to make my $10,000 back, so my wife was happy,” he said. “That was with me having no clue how to market. I was ecstatic.”
Growing and Changing
While Dan admits his marketing skills were weak at first, his past as an insurance salesman certainly helped with his sales calls. Dan just went around and talked to people, told them what he was doing and started getting new accounts. “I was just spraying and praying,” he laughed.
In the neighborhoods surrounding his home, he noticed a lot of vinyl houses that were moldy. So he hit them hard with a “cheesy” postcard and got some business from that. He also gained some construction and fleet washing accounts.
“I think I made more the first year I had the business than my uncle had earned over the past several years combined. He also washed his own “tiny” cedar shake house. “It took me two whole days,” he laughed. “I’ve always been very careful while cleaning.”
In 2005, Dan purchased a local competitor’s business, East Cost Power Washing. Liking the name, he kept it and ditched “SAMS.” Then in 2006, he purchased another competitor’s company, Dave’s Pressure Washing.
By 2007, about 90 percent of Dan’s business was commercial, particularly cleaning heavy equipment for construction companies. Then the economy hurt many of his clients and he ended up losing work. That’s when he began focusing more on residential, which he said is still “doing quite well.”
Dan said the way he washes is a bit different than those who utilize the growing “soft wash” methods. “I feel like you need to have an agitator and you need to have a surfactant,” he said. “I’ve always used the proper soaps, the proper cleaners, and (depending on the type of house) always put some sort of sealant on when I’m finished. Then I guarantee it for a year.”
East Coast offers two guarantees – one that mold won’t come back for a year and also a satisfaction guarantee. “That’s one thing that sets me apart in my area.”
In 2009, East Coast produced around $350,000, and Dan now has 3 full-time and two part-time staff, including himself and his wife, Heather, who quit a job she “absolutely hated” in 2008.
As his company has grown, so has his ability to give back. In 2006, Dan participated in the “Clean Across America” project, cleaning around the Lincoln Memorial. But every year, his company tries to donate at least one community service project. This past year, he cleaned/restored a large wood shingle church and school in Cape Cod. “We spent about 40 man hours doing it and also donated a lot of stain,” he said.
Very early on, his uncle told him to join PWNA, saying it “was one of the best things” he could do, so he became a member in 2003. He attended his first meeting in 2005, “and I was kicking myself because I didn’t go sooner. The first convention was amazing. I became absolutely hooked.”
It was at that first PWNA meeting that Dan realized power washing was an actual industry. “I had no clue what the field was about. I just had my truck and I went out and did my business. I didn’t realize there were thousands of others out there doing the same thing, struggling with the same struggles I was having.”
Dan also was amazed by the people he met. At that time, Paul Horsley of Scott’s Pressure Wash was president. “He was the nicest guy in the world. He would tell you anything you wanted to know – marketing strategies, tips on washing, how he did it,” he said. “Wow. This guy was just telling me anything I asked.”
At dinner that evening, he met “another guy,” Daryl Mirza and his wife Christy. “I was making $250,000 and thinking I was doing really well. Then I sit down next to Daryl.” Dan said he asked Daryl how many employees he had. Daryl answered, “Oh, about 500.”
“What!?!?! Wow! I never even fathomed the idea that there could be a nationwide power washing company,” Dan laughed. “So you go from little corner store to nationwide. That’s what you have in the PWNA. Everyone is there to help everybody.”
In 2006, a couple of board seats opened up and Dan submitted his name for consideration. He was elected to the Board, and then served as President from 2008 to 2010.
“The connections you make through PWNA really are incredible,” he added. “I keep in contact with guys from around the country. I’ve had people come to my house and let me teach them how to do this or that. Everyone is willing to help each other.”
Finding His Company’s “Sweet Spot”
During the 2010 PWNA conference, several million-dollar producers participated in a panel discussion where they mentioned the significance of finding your company’s “sweet spot” – that is, the place where you are making the right amount of money for you.
Dan said he is currently in such a place, and struggles with the idea of whether or not to grow the business, because with growth comes the need for more staff and more equipment.
“My wife is really comfortable right now,” he said. “She likes it where we can go away when we want to go away.” The Galvins do travel quite a bit.
Also, “one of the great things about where we are is being able to say no to people and jobs,” he added. “People are flabbergasted when you do that, but there’s an incredible sense of freedom in that.”
One of Dan’s biggest focuses is getting systems in place so that the business will continue to run without him. “My goal is to make 2010 the last year I have to pull a trigger,” he said. (He added, however, that he probably still will continue to clean some “because it’s fun.”)
In addition to the need for systems, Dan offers this bonus tip: “If you want to make a profit and be successful in business, let your wife keep your books.”
Education, Education, Education
According to Dan, Home Depot and Lowe’s are “probably some of our best allies.” That’s because through these stores, people are becoming more aware of pressure washers. “Some of my most appreciative customers are those who own their own pressure washer. They’ve tried it and realized how hard it is. Or they don’t know how to do it right. They don’t use the right cleaners. They throw on some bleach and the mold is back. They don’t understand why the house I washed next door to them is still clean.”
Because homeowners are aware of pressure washers, it is easier for Dan to educate them about proper cleaning. In fact, Dan spent part of last winter writing a book – Costly Mistakes Even Smart Homeowners Make When Hiring a Power Washer – a consumer guide to educate his homeowner clients. He gives the book to his higher end clients – i.e., ones that will be charged at least $1000.
“The book is a marketing tool. For one, it gives you instant credibility because you wrote a book,” he explained. “It puts you heads above every other power washer in the area.”
Marketing is a key area that Dan has spent a lot of time and money to learn in order to grow his business. “In the past two years, I’ve spent around $50,000 to educate myself on marketing. How to speak properly. How to speak to customers. What to put in postcards to customers. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of money because I want to grow to where I’m very comfortable,” Dan explained.
In late 2010, Dan began taking his personal investment in marketing education and turning it into a program for contractors. His new endeavor, successinpowerwashing.com, is a marketing training company designed to teach pressure washing company owners the necessary skills for “achieving six to seven-figure success.” These include things such as teaching power washing business owners how to get more leads; position their company from their competition’s; charge more and still get more business; implement systems, automated technology and the internet; and double their income without adding more clients.
“There’s enough business out there for everybody if you are educated,” he concluded. “You start with the business owner. If the business owner gets educated, then they educate their clients, then the clients educate other friends of theirs. Then everyone, including our industry, wins.”