Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, February 21 2012Snapshot: Sharon Dillard, CEO, Get A Grip
Texas native Sharon Dillard is CEO of Get A Grip Inc., a kitchen and bathroom surface restoration company and one of the nation’s fastest-growing franchise businesses (ranking 393 in this year’s Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500, up 74 places from its prior listing). What began in 1999 with the help of her husband, Cub, and two sons, Ryan and Austin, is now a $2 million a year company with dealerships and franchises in 30 locations in 17 states. Before starting Get A Grip, Dillard worked with high-end fashion companies for many years, gaining a savvy and intuitive marketing sense. In 2010, New Mexico Business Weekly recognized Dillard as Top CEO for her leadership, and the company has also been recognized for outstanding innovation, creativity and workmanship.
Womenetics: I read that your son, Ryan, enticed you to launch Get A Grip Inc. What exactly did he see that appealed to you?
Dillard: He discovered how one could restore, without removal, worn bathtubs and countertops. He also saw the potential to reach out to a larger clientele, but that the company needed marketing help. He immediately thought of me and my extensive marketing and sales experience.
Womenetics: Do you think the home restoration business is expanding so much because people are not moving from house to house like they once did?
Dillard: Yes, people can’t move because they don’t what to take the hit on their home. They realize that they need to stay in their home and fix it up. The great news about what we do is that we can do the work in one day at one-third of the cost of replacing. Also, we are a green company; we keep materials out of landfills. We believe in the reuse-what-you-have philosophy.
Womenetics: Does your company hold the patent on the product, or how did you obtain it?
Dillard: Get A Grip owns the patent on the non-skid surface material, which we call the Bio-Inlay. We also hold several trade and service marks on techniques and equipment.
Womenetics: How did you finance the launch of your company?
Dillard: In the beginning, I put the business together with my own money and cash flow generated by the business. Then we got so big that we had to start offering franchises. I hired two franchise attorneys and an ad agency to redesign and give us the right documents, material and look to bring us up to a professional franchise business. So we went to the bank to borrow money to cover these additional expenses.
Dillard: We opened 11 dealerships before offering franchises in the fourth quarter of 2007. We now have 13 franchise locations across the country. The cost depends on the population of the area that franchisees wish to service. There is also an advertising fee, again based on population.
Womenetics: As you transitioned from the fashion industry, what strengths did you bring to the company?
Dillard: In my previous career I learned how to get organized and work on deadlines. Also, in the fashion industry you are trained to look at details, and this really helped me when it was time to leap into putting a business together. I also believe in finding the right people for the task or position, because I’m not an expert in public relations, accounting, in putting together a logo or website design. And I’m not a technician who can apply the product. And I’m certainly not a lawyer or expert in the details of franchising. So I found those people, which is a definite strength.
Womenetics: How have you worked together as a family?
Dillard: In the beginning, it was a little different working with family members because we had all worked with different companies for a very long time. We had to find the best use of our talents, and the good news is that we all have different talents. I coordinate advertising for the franchises and work with them on advertising and growing their businesses. My older son does the technician training and helps the franchisees with any technical support along with our technical consultant. My husband coordinates the potential franchisee end: the financing and other logistics. My younger son oversees all aspects of the company’s safety program.
Womenetics: Are you really the boss in the company?
Dillard: Yes and no. I set the tone, but we all participate based on our roles.
Womenetics: Who most influenced you in your life?
Dillard: Most definitely my grandmother. She was savvy and full of life. She shared her wisdom, strength and experience.
Womenetics: Do you miss the fashion industry?
Dillard: I miss the fast energy that it had. But no, I’m much happier now. I have a more casual lifestyle now: no more suits and pantyhose. Those corporate formal days are gone! I wear jeans to work and love my life, which is more balanced. I have time now for family, for friends, for riding my horses and for playing with my granddaughter.
Check out more stories about women who left one field to pursue another:
Son's Sippy Cup Game Gives Rise to Company
Ugly Sock Moment Spawns a Business
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.