By Walt Stoeppelwerth. Last month, I talked about the skills a handyman needs and what he should be expected to do on the job. This month, I'll cover hiring, salary and benefits, and hints for success. Partly because handymen have traditionally been solo operators, professionalism is an issue in the industry. As the need for these services grows, the bar will be raised. That will mean that successful companies will provide a higher level of service -- and it will usher in an increased respect for handyman companies, as well as increased pay for the services they provide.

Hiring and salary

Like many companies, you've probably experienced difficulty trying to find good carpenters. The good news is the majority of handyman services don't require young men to perform them. In fact, the labor shortage for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC, and specialty contractors opens up a tremendous opportunity for men 50 to 65 who have experience and skills. Look for them.

What should you pay them? Most studies show that the average handyman project is $500 or less. A typical technician should complete between $100,000 and $160,000 worth of work a year including labor, materials, overhead, and profit. If you pay them roughly 40% of the volume they produce, a handyman working in a larger company will likely make between $40,000 and $65,000 a year, if he's full time. Individuals running their own operation will generate less revenue due to the time spent marketing.

Tools of the trade

Some companies supply trucks to technicians under the condition that these may only be used when actually working. My recommendation is to help the technician who works for you buy his own truck and compensate him in such a way that he can afford to make the payments on it. The vehicle is then his to use when he wants to use it. The truck, however, should have magnetic signs and be painted with company colors, if possible.

I also suggest a generous tool allowance policy. For example, if a tool is purchased, my recommendation is that the company pay for it, then deduct half the cost to the handyman at a low rate for up to a year, with the technician keeping the tool.

Keys to success

Here is a list of some key elements of the successful handyman company, large or small:

* The handyman never bids a project. He gives an estimated price on the phone based on normal conditions.

* If the customer wants a handyman to come out to give an estimate, there's a trip charge. Charge between $69 and $99. This concept has been proven successful by electrical, plumbing, and HVAC companies.

* The handyman markup is a minimum of 100% to 125% for labor and 25% to 35% for materials.

Once systems are in place, growth in this business has big potential. Personnel can easily be increased. Growth, of course, depends on the recruiting of new technicians and marketing the company effectively enough to keep them busy. Success requires a tremendous number of leads and a continuing, aggressive, marketing effort.

As this market develops, technology will play a bigger and more critical role than it has in full-service remodeling. The ability to use technology will quickly become a competitive advantage, especially when it comes to functions such as estimating, e-mail communication, job costing, accounting, material purchasing, payment and scheduling, and the creation of a custom profile of the house as part of a centralized database (for maintenance contracts).

Photo: Mark Robert Halper

It's my guess that before long, large companies devoted exclusively to handyman services will be common. Owens Corning and ServiceMaster are already doing this and, at my last count, there were eight handyman franchises in operation. --Walt Stoeppelwerth is a publisher of management and estimating information for professional remodelers. (800) 638-8292;;