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How the Brothers that just do Gutters are Reinventing Contracting

A successful startup to a thriving multi-unit franchise

By narrowing their focus and growing from their mistakes, co-founders Ken and Ryan Parsons took their business from a successful startup to a thriving multi-unit franchise.

For franchisors Ken and Ryan Parsons, co-founders of The Brothers that just do Gutters, franchising was never part of the original plan.

After graduating from college in 1996 with a degree in history, Ken Parsons was sure he wanted to be a history teacher. But after spending a few years working as a substitute, he found himself yet again searching for a job to get him through the summer.

When the owner of a local company approached him about a summer position installing gutters, Ken decided to take it, though he made a point to explain that it was only temporary – his focus was on teaching.

“I worked with him and I saw a little bit of his lifestyle – how he lived and what he had and what he did. And I was like, ‘Man, this seems like a really nice business that he has going here. Maybe it's something that I might be able to do.’ … Before the end of the summer, because he knew I was gonna go back to my job, he said, ‘Hey, why don't you just stay here and I'll teach you everything I know about the business and you could be a gutter guy,” Ken recalls.

Instead of returning to teaching that fall, Ken made the difficult decision to stay on with the company to learn the trade – and developed an unexpected passion for the gutter business.

After investing in a used box truck and an old gutter machine in 1999, Ken made the move from employee to entrepreneur by opening his own business under the name Waterfall Seamless Gutters. Three years later, he recruited his brother, Ryan Parsons, to work with him after Ryan’s job as a graphic designer at a startup fell through.

“(Ken) knew the company I was working for wasn't doing well, and that I really wasn't making any money at all. And eventually I said, ‘You know what, I need to save some money and move on with my life.’ And I actually went and I worked for him. I basically told him that I'd work for him until I found a real job,” Ryan recalls.

The Parsons had no way of knowing it at the time, but that decision would change the direction of the brothers’ careers forever – and ultimately lead the pair to found a thriving franchise system that’s still growing today.

Despite their shared passion for the gutter business, the Parsons say finding their footing in a new industry was challenging early on. As clients began to ask for more services amid a booming construction era, the small company struggled to adapt.

“We had a pretty easy run in the beginning. We were trying to make it better, but new construction was booming. Everyone was building – anybody that had a pickup truck and a hammer was building a home and making money. So we happened to be in business at a really good time,” Ryan says.

Still, the Parsons learned quickly that achieving profitability would require more than just luck and good timing. Pivoting to meet the growing demands of the market, the pair decided to offer additional services like construction and home renovations – a choice they would later regret.

“It was really terrible. It was stressful. We didn't know what we were doing. We were just paying money for stuff and then the bottom fell out. All of a sudden, new construction died. We had to close our construction company and we had to let gutter guys go. And we were back down to, like, one gutter truck and really, my brother and I at one point said, ‘If we can't make it work this year, we'll fire everyone. You and I will go bust our butts for like, two or three years and get out. It was just that close to being over,” Ryan recalls.

Determined to save the business, the Parsons doubled down on their original plan by refocusing the business on gutters – and only gutters.

“We closed down the construction business and got back to what our main focus was. I think that's really important for entrepreneurs to remain focused. If you chase after too many rabbits, you can end up with none – and we almost did,” Ken says.

That decision turned out to be a good one. In 2009, the company changed its name to The Brothers that just do Gutters, simplifying its processes and finally landing on a recipe for success and scalability.

Positioning themselves for success

Through the good times and the challenges, the Parsons made a deliberate effort to position themselves for success as business owners by developing, and sometimes redeveloping, strong operational systems based on criticisms they’d heard from customers about other local contractors.

Those systems helped the business stay competitive and avoid complaints – but they would also prove useful when the brothers started to consider the possibility of franchising in 2007.

“We were building systems all along the way because Ken didn't want to be on a truck and I didn't want to be on a truck for the rest of our lives. We’d watched countless people that we knew that were in the trades: our friends, parents that were electricians, carpenters, you name it, that ended up aging out of their business and their business wasn't worth anything. And if they didn't go to work, they didn't make any money. So we kind of saw a glimpse of what the future could be. … We didn't realize until years into (running the business) that we were actually developing a franchise model. We didn't know anything about franchising, but we knew systems work,” Ryan says.

Despite those early discussions, franchising wouldn’t become a reality for the Parsons for another seven years. But by the time they were ready to meet with a franchise lawyer around 2013, the brothers had established reliable processes and had positioned their brand competitively in their market – qualities that made their business an attractive candidate for franchising.

The right level of support

After stumbling across a webinar hosted by the Internicola Law Firm online, the Parsons scheduled a meeting with franchise lawyer Charles Internicola – a decision that would finally take them from small business owners to franchisors.

“What I really liked is that (Internicola’s team) weren't willing to just franchise anybody that was willing to give them money. They want to make sure that their brands succeed. So, that meant a lot and it was really strange to hire a law firm that quickly became our mentors in franchising. I don't know if they do that for everyone – I don't think that we’re that special – but the amount of time they took outside of the law part was absolutely incredible. They brought us inside of the fold. They took us to conferences. If you’re franchising your business, or even if you already franchised it, they’re hands-down the best firm that is going to cover you,” Ryan says.

The mentorship the Parsons received while working with the Internicola Law Firm included everything from legal advice and support during the FDD development process to helping the co-founders learn to discern good business choices from potentially bad ones while developing their franchise system.

“You could just tell that their culture and everything that they had was what we were looking for – to partner with somebody that had the same kind of values that we have in our business. It certainly was the right choice,” Ken recalls.

“It was hands-down the right choice. The passion that Charles and Brian and their whole team have for franchising was not anything that we’ve seen anywhere else,” Ryan adds.

Doing things right

After years of planning and discussions, the Brothers that just do Gutters became a franchisor in 2014 – and they were determined to do it the right way to secure their brand’s success.

“Charles and Brian and the rest of the staff (at Internicola), they don't just have a passion for the law stuff and the legalese things. They have a passion about business in general, especially when it comes to the franchise model. They have experience on both sides – the franchisor side and the franchisee side of things. That was something that we specifically wanted when we were choosing a franchise lawyer,” Ken says.

In addition to making sure the company’s legal needs were met, the Parsons were also committed to making sure their future franchisees would be successful – something they believed was important for sustainability.

“We wanted to make sure that our business was not only going to be good for Ryan and I, but also for the franchisees as well, because in a lot of our research when we were becoming a franchise, the biggest complaint was the franchisees were getting the shaft from the franchisor. And we didn't want that kind of business at all – otherwise, we weren't going to do a franchise,” Ken says.

With the guidance of Internicola, the Parsons stayed true to that goal. Even today, from large territory offerings to franchisee training and support, field staff training, marketing assistance, a contact center, and technology like iPads and a digital portal to streamline processes, the Brothers that just do Gutters have constructed a strong system dedicated to setting their franchisees up for success.

Beyond Internicola’s enthusiasm for ideas like franchisee support, Ryan says the team was also quick to point out when the founders’ ideas might not work – something the Parsons believe was valuable for protecting the brand over the long-term.

“As many ideas as Ken and I had about what we wanted in the FDD, sometimes it didn't cross the finish line because Charles was interested in protecting us as we grow, as we scale. He’s always thinking far ahead of where the business is at and truly setting us up for success. And his team is phenomenal. Any one of them that reaches out any time, we’re willing to do anything for them because we really do feel that they’re willing to do anything for us,” Ryan says.

That discerning attitude ultimately paid off for the Brothers that just do Gutters. Since offering their first franchise opportunity in 2014, the brand has expanded to include 100 franchise territories across the U.S.

As they continue to grow, the Parsons are proud of the choices they’ve made along the way that have led to their success – including their work with the Internicola Law Firm.

“Internicola Law Firm is just such a well-rounded law firm when it comes to all your franchise needs, and also protecting you as a franchisor. They're just very thorough – they make sure that you have all your ducks in a row and that you're not going to open yourself up for something down the road that can get you into trouble. They just do an all-around great job. They have a great culture, a great team. They're a firm that has character and integrity. I wouldn't think about partnering with anybody else when it comes to that part of the business,” Ken says.

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