Pillar To Post
In May, after many years of service to RadioShack, Bennett Benoit began operations as a franchise owner in Fort Worth with home inspection business Pillar To Post Home Inspectors.
Benoit, 56, will provide home inspection services to buyers and sellers throughout Tarrant and Johnson counties. He turned to Pillar To Post after 25 years with RadioShack Corp., where he ended his career as senior vice president of supply chain services and COO.
“I left June of 2017,” he said.
One thing he knew was that he didn’t want to jump back into working in corporate America.
“That’s just not who I am,” he said. “I chose not to pursue another corporate position so that I could pursue something with a flexible schedule with a better work-life balance.”
And, having run his own business several years ago, he was ready to be out on his own, albeit with the backing of a fast-growing franchise operation.
Also, he was ready to get his hands a little dirty. “I’ve always been that handy guy doing remodeling and so on,” he said.
So Pillar To Post seemed a natural fit.
Benoit’s journey to his new venture, however, was anything but typical.
Benoit grew up near Sugar Land, did some industrial machinist work and owned a small construction company for a few years in the ’80s in Houston. But then the bottom dropped out of the economy following an oil bust and the construction business took a heavy hit. That’s when Benoit joined the Navy, where he spent seven years operating nuclear power plants on Navy ballistic missile submarines.
“I really liked what I did, particularly the engineering aspect of it and serving the country,” he said. The only downside was that he was married and had two kids. “I’d disappear for two and a half, three months at a time, which is pretty tough on the family life.”
His status as a veteran is a plus for Pillar To Post, which has been named the No.1 veteran-friendly franchise by Entrepreneur Magazine and G.I. Jobs and has also been recognized with five-star VetFran status from the International Franchise Association.
Leaving the service in 1992, Benoit returned to the Houston area and got involved with a telecommunications company doing cable TV installation, and construction with a company called Amerilink.
“I started out at the bottom as a cable TV installer and ended managing a three-state area — Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana — for all the operations for Amerilink,” he said.
The company had grown to be pretty big in the satellite business, which is where RadioShack entered the picture.
It bought the company in 1999. In 2001, Benoit got the opportunity to move to Fort Worth and get involved in RadioShack’s repair business; eventually he was in charge of that business for several years.
“We had, I think it was 44 repair centers at the time,” he said. “We were repairing all electronics that people would bring back for warranty or extended warranty service.”
The first big corporate layoff was in 2001, when RadioShack shed about 10 percent of its employees.
“From then all the way through the bankruptcy there was just that cloud hanging over our heads that there’s another reduction of force coming, another layoff, and so a lot of people dealt with that in different ways,” he said.
For Benoit, there was a lot of opportunity.
“Before I left after the first bankruptcy, I was really managing all of the supply chain and logistics for RadioShack,” he said.
He left in June 2015, but his RadioShack career wasn’t finished. The Fort Worth-based electronics retailer’s new owners, General Wireless, called in February 2017 and he returned to run supply-chain operations once again.
“I knew how things worked. I was good at what I did. I was not one of those guys who would preach from the pulpit, if you know what I mean,” he said. “I’m more of a people-person manager.”
Benoit said that when the company had problems filling orders for Black Friday, he and his staff started looking at the previous years’s fill rates and how long it took to get orders out.
One part of the solution was for the distribution center to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
“I had to make that call. It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We need to make sure we can get the orders filled, but I tell you I was there with them.
“So we worked double shifts Saturday, Sunday, Monday and I was there elbow to elbow with these guys filling orders, packing boxes. That’s just the kind of guy that I am.”
That was one reason he came back to RadioShack when asked. “There’s a lot of good people that if I could help make this thing work I was going to do it,” he said.
As things turned bleaker for RadioShack, Benoit left in June 2017 and began to look at his options. His wife, Nicole, works as assistant precinct administrator at Tarrant County Commissioner Precinct Four, so he didn’t consider moving an option.
He had looked at the home inspection business earlier in his career and began looking at it again.
He was also looking at buying some small trucking companies, but those investments were a bit high, he thought.
“I just wasn’t comfortable making that leap,” he said. “So I kind of happened back upon the home inspection opportunity and reached out to the Pillar To Post guys and did a little research there. And it just felt right for me.”
According to the 2018 Franchise 500, startup costs for a Pillar To Post franchise are between $34,400 and $42,600. The company website says its franchise fee is $21,900 and notes that it offers financing for $9,000 of that fee and also offers a discount for military veterans.
With his Navy experience, the structure wiring background with Amerilink, and lots of building and finish-out work with warehousing operations for RadioShack, Benoit felt that it “all sort of tied together for me.”
He said it became a “no-brainer.”
“I knew I didn’t want to do it myself. I didn’t want to have to build or design marketing plans and logos and what the business was going to look like. I just wanted to step in and run it and do it from the operation side, which going with them really allowed me to do,” he said.
Benoit bought the franchise in November, then went through the licensing process with the Texas Real Estate Commission. He took classes through the Champions School of Real Estate and was told it would take three to six months to finish the training.
“So I just jumped in with both feet and applied myself and three months to the day — it might’ve been three months and a day — not only had I finished training, but I’d already passed the exams,” he said.
It did prove to be a good fit.
“While there’s a lot of training requirements, a lot of it was sort of review for me. Electrical theory, that’s something that I can just kind of breeze through. Home construction was second nature.”
He noted something that happened in his past that proved fortuitous.
“For better or worse, one of the things I can kind of look back on now as a grown man and one of the unfortunate things that happened in my life is my father lost his arm when I was three years old,” he said. “He lost his right arm, and he was right handed, in a pipeline explosion in Louisiana.
“And so from the age of about four, five years old anytime something needed to be done, me and my brother were the ones that were doing it and dad’s saying, ‘Put your wrench here,’ ‘Turn it that way,’ and ‘Put a hammer here,’ et cetera. So fixing things, understanding how things work really came second to our whole family,” he said.
Now as Benoit begins to market himself and the Pillar To Post services, he gets to implement an old saying that he says is something he has tried to do his whole career: Think customers first.
“It’s kind of something I try to live. There are plenty of obstacles that may come up during an inspection, during the process of setting up the inspection. And so as long as there’s a guiding principle for me of making sure we’re doing what’s right for the customer, I think in the end it all takes care of itself.
“So I’m making the decisions that are in their best interest and then, ultimately, I think that pays dividends for me.”
Could RadioShack be coming back? Read more: www.fortworthbusiness.com/news/radioback-fort-worth-electronics-retailer-returns-from-the-brink/article_a7f0261e-975b-11e8-91b3-3b746840ba1d.html