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Top Franchise Leaders: Rick Isaacson, CEO of SERVPRO

The cleaning and restoration franchise's top executive reflects on the business's goals and successes.

The son of SERVPRO founders Ted and Doris Isaacson, Rick Isaacson was a firsthand witness growing up to what it takes to successfully grow a family-owned business. What his parents started in 1967 has grown into a cleaning and restoration company with more than 2,000 franchisees, and Rick, who has worked for the brand for more than 35-plus years, is now CEO. 

Since joining the company in 1985, Isaacson has held several important roles and understands the ins and outs of what makes a franchise system profitable. He has served as assistant marketing manager, vice president of marketing, executive vice president and was appointed to his current role in 2019.

SERVPRO is now a nationwide company and one of the top franchises in North America, placing #8 on this year’s Franchise 500 list from Entrepreneur.

Isaacson spoke with 1851 Franchise to explain how SERVPRO has grown into one of America’s best franchising opportunities.

1851 Franchise: What void does SERVPRO fill? What was missing in the space before?

Rick Isaacson: SERVPRO is a trusted, national cleanup mitigation and restoration solution for both residential and commercial properties. The brand was created to fill a need for trusted national leadership that provides coverage to the entire United States.

1851: What inspired you to start?

Isaacson: My father, Ted Isaacson, founded the business in 1967 for the main purpose of enjoying the freedoms that entrepreneurship offers. He had a knack for finding solutions that help people and started with very little but had a dream of creating a national system of franchise owners. He lived on the road, training franchise owners and recruiting new people to join the SERVPRO team. They were truly the “entrepreneurs” described in SERVPRO’s purpose of “Helping Entrepreneurs Succeed!”

1851: What are you doing well right now?

Isaacson: We can scale our resources nationwide and into Canada to meet the demands of any size property loss. We have also been able to educate consumers on the benefits of using a professional cleanup and restoration company and establish the amount of brand awareness needed for category leadership.

1851: What are your brand’s differentiators?

Isaacson: SERVPRO is built on the foundation of outstanding customer service, industry-leading training and the success of following a proven system. We have the largest footprint in our industry, boasting more than 2,000 franchise locations in the United States and Canada. We’ve earned the reputation as #1 in the cleanup and restoration industry and specialize in fire and water damage, specialty cleaning, mold, biohazard, and so much more. 

We place an emphasis on preparedness, offering solutions for homes and businesses to prepare in advance for any type of loss. We also focus on restoring property versus simply replacing it, which helps preserve costs and the environment around us. Finally, SERVPRO has been redefining the mitigation and restoration industries since its founding in 1967 by placing a large emphasis on training. In addition to training at the regional level, SERVPRO® developed the National Training Center in 1992 to teach restoration and mitigation skills to franchise owners and insurance industry employees. SERVPRO is an approved IICRC Training School that offers year-round classes in the following categories: Fire Restoration, Water Restoration, Carpet Cleaning, Upholstery Cleaning, and Applied Structural Drying.

1851: What were some learning opportunities that SERVPRO leveraged to get where it is now?

Isaacson: SERVPRO franchise owners pride themselves on being “ready for whatever happens.” Our franchisees have a “never say no” mentality, working together with other owners to make sure we are able to satisfy all of our customers’ and clients’ cleanup, remediation and restoration needs, which allows us to “Keep it Green,” as we like to say. Through this approach, coupled with our storm response teams, we learned how to provide solutions to a variety of challenging damage situations. We pride ourselves on rushing in when others are running out – whether that is in response to a natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood or tornado or cleaning up after a home or business water or fire loss.

1851: What are some of SERVPRO's most important milestones over the past five years?

Isaacson: In 1988, SERVPRO relocated the company from Sacramento to the Metro Nashville area. This strategic move put SERVPRO in a more centrally located area within 600 miles of 50 percent of the U.S. population. In the late 1990s, SERVPRO added the National Accounts Division to begin building relationships with national insurance partners and commercial partners. In 2004, SERVPRO added the National Advertising Program to help grow our brand awareness and begin promoting SERVPRO’s services on national television. In March 2019, the investment firm Blackstone acquired a majority stake in SERVPRO.

In 2021, we rebranded to ensure our message encompassed the services provided; the old descriptor of “fire and water cleanup and restoration” did not fully capture the work our teams do. The brand now offers full-service restoration, from A to Z, and the new descriptor better encompasses this: Cleaning. Restoration. Construction. 

In May of this year, SERVPRO reached the milestone of 2,000 franchises. SERVPRO’s mission is to build a team of quality people with the purpose of helping entrepreneurs succeed. SERVPRO changes family trees, and this 2,000th franchise milestone reaffirms how far we have come and outlines the bright future we still have ahead serving our customers across the U.S. and Canada. We are so very proud of our MVP owners and teammates. The SERVPRO System has grown because we stayed focused on developing a team of quality people, not rushing to add numbers without regard to their quality. We grew because we stay committed to trying “to be the premier cleaning and restoration company in the world” and the best company in our industry. And we will continue to grow because we work to find ways to help entrepreneurs succeed — just like Ted did back in 1969! 

1851: What does your ideal franchisee look like?

Isaacson: The ideal SERVPRO owner is an entrepreneur looking for an opportunity in a high-demand, recession-resistant industry. Helpful background skills and experiences include sales and/or management, any restoration-related sector, construction or remodeling, property management services, insurance-related services and commercial cleaning and janitorial services. SERVPRO welcomes and encourages military experience and veterans.

1851: How does SERVPRO support franchisees?

Isaacson: The SERVPRO brand and its franchisees share a strong partnership, working together to set and achieve goals that have allowed us to grow each year for more than half a century. Our long-standing strategy for growing our brand is to invest in franchisee training and support and commit resources to continually improving our infrastructure.

SERVPRO HQ provides ongoing training and support to its franchise teammates. The SERVPRO Owner experience begins with a 15-day, in-house, hands-on training program at our headquarters training facility. Designed primarily for new franchise owners, but also a valuable course for franchise employees, the program covers all aspects of Fire Restoration, Water Restoration, Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning, and Mold Mitigation. Ongoing support is provided through franchise business consulting, marketing and national advertising, training, and key resort area resources to help improve each franchise. Continuing education opportunities and classes are offered for franchise owners and teammates.

1851: What growth plans does the brand have in the coming years?

Isaacson: The goal is to have a franchise or license in every part of the United States and Canada that needs our services. We plan to continue growing our service line offerings through an increased focus on construction and commercial services. The total unit goal is really predicated on developing every total addressable market that we can identify that serves the consumer well and provides a strong growing business for our franchise owners.