Paul M. McConnell
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing
A writer, philosopher, scientist and statesman, Benjamin Franklin was also an inventor. Philadelphia’s favorite son reportedly designed a second-floor toilet for his home and imported the first bathtub to America. It’s fitting that this sage innovator is the inspiration for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, a national franchise that Entrepreneur magazine recently ranked as one of the top plumbing franchises. Ron Williams spotted the opportunity in 2002.
He was the seventh franchisee in the U.S. to make an investment. In 2014, Franchise Times listed the company in the top 300 (No. 238) franchise companies in worldwide sales. The company—which handles residential plumbing, from fixing leaky toilets to bathroom renovations—has offices in Wilmington and Milford to cover the state. “People like the consistency of using the same company, particularly if they move throughout the area, or if they have homes both in Wilmington or at the beach,” says Williams, who started his career in the HVAC industry. Along with following a trusted brand, customers also like knowing the plumber has an A+ rating and is accredited by Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware. “It shines a spotlight on you,” says Williams, who’s also a member of the board of directors.
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing takes advantage of opportunities to promote its services at BBB events. “We sponsor mixers, and we do advertising to share information about our products and services with the BBB’s many members,” Williams says. For instance, the company is a sponsor of the BBB’s 50th anniversary celebration. Williams also appreciates that people have a way to resolve any issues through the BBB in a “quick manner.” “Customers need to have a voice if they’re not getting treated well,” he says. “In my company, we will do whatever it takes to satisfy them.” Name recognition, accreditation and an A+ rating will benefit Benjamin Franklin Plumbing as it expands. Williams plans to open a Pennsylvania site within a few years.
In the 1970s, developers felt that a site along I-95 was the ideal setting for a major shopping mall, which would draw residents from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. Visible from the busy interstate, the site also offered high visibility from the road. These visionaries were right. When Christiana Mall opened in 1978, it was met with open arms and open wallets. Today, it’s one of the most successful malls in the country, with more than 18 million annual visitors. “Half our shoppers travel from surrounding states to take advantage of Delaware’s tax-free shopping,” says Steven Chambliss, senior general manager of the mall, which is owned by Chicago-based General Growth Properties.
The mall has been expanded three times (1999, 2009 and 2014). In addition to the anchors—Nordstrom, Macy’s, Target and JCPenney, an original anchor—the center includes such retailers as Apple, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Armani Exchange and Urban Outfitters. Shoppers can dine at The Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen and BRIO Tuscan Grille, along with a number of quick-casual concepts, such as Panera Bread. (The restaurants are destinations in and of themselves.) Christiana Mall joined Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware in 2013. “We appreciate the association with the BBB and the respect and status that comes with being part of this association,” Chambliss says. “It adds value to our center.”
Between technology and mixers, it’s easy to communicate with BBB staff and members. The online directory is also highly accessible to consumers. “It’s very efficient,” he says. “It fits in well with everyone’s busy schedules.” As the community grows and trends change, the mall is working to stay ahead of the curve, Chambliss says. “Christiana Mall remains the preferred place for people who want to meet over coffee, shop, eat and catch up on the latest fashion trends.”
Services & Supplies
Professional housecleaning was taking a toll on Janet Killian’s body. After the third shot of cortisone to treat tendinitis in her elbow, she had to make some business decisions. But leaving detailed residential cleaning to others worried her. At the time, Gemini, which Killian founded in 1984, had only a few commercial clients. Nevertheless, a mentor suggested that Killian devote her energies to that sector. Although nervous, she took the plunge and hired a salesperson. Business grew slowly but steadily with the help of an acquisition of a competitor’s accounts, including a bank with locations from Chester, Pa., to Rehoboth Beach. Her persistence paid off. In 2014, the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce named Killian its Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year. Killian also took the advice of someone who suggested she join Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware.
“I like that when someone searches for information about Gemini, they see that I’m an accredited business—a few of my customers even require it,” Killian says. “I do the same when I’m looking for a business. It matters.” Her website prominently displays the BBB logo, as well as the fact she is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise. Gemini Janitorial Services has expanded to include carpet and floor care, windows and new construction cleanup, yet Killian plans to keep her business small. “Our customers aren’t a number,” she says, “and that’s why we’ve had so many customers for so long.” The Gemini team still cleans for George & Lynch, a local construction firm, which was her first client. Being small also means she can make onsite visits when staff are cleaning. She also plans to stay involved in the BBB. Says Killian: “It’s just a valuable resource that provides a lot of opportunities.”
You could say that homebuilding is in Brian Lessard’s blood. His family has been building homes since the 1940s. Lessard entered the family business with his father, Adelard “Addie” Lessard, in 1978 when the company moved to Delaware from New York. Lessard’s grandfather, Daniel, was also a builder, and now Lessard’s children— Christina, Brian and Michelle—are also involved in the company, which has offices in Camden-Wyoming and Lewes. The family is committed to keeping the company small. Says Lessard: “We want a personal relationship with the customer at all times.”
Indeed, Lessard Builders designs a home to suit the customer’s life style. “People have different needs,” he says. “They shouldn’t be forced into an established floor plan.” He starts by asking customers questions about their preferences. For instance, buyers may want two owner’s suites because one spouse suffers from a sleep disorder, not because they need a guestroom for the inlaws. Lessard even asks if the owner is left-handed or right-handed. “It matters when you’re designing a house,” he says. Staying small also allows Lessard Builders to give back to the community and to form relationships with area vendors, particularly those in Kent and Sussex counties.
Much of the building materials have a low carbon footprint, meaning they come from the state or the region. It’s not enough for manufacturers to rest on an energy-efficiency rating, they must also prove they’re worthy of them. Many of the builder’s clients are relocating to Delaware from Washington, D.C.; New Jersey and New York. He knows many turned to Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware for a list of contractors. The company, rated A+, has been accredited since 2010. “Customers look for trustworthiness, good faith and integrity in a contractor, and that’s what the BBB and Lessard Builders stand for,” Lessard says. “They can look to the BBB for honest opinions.”
David N. Williams and John L. Williams
Law Firm, P.A.
Forty years ago, David N. Williams started his law practice with an eye on the future. He was the first lawyer in Delaware with a master’s in taxation, and he decided to incorporate The Williams Law Firm at a time when colleagues were still in general partnerships. Now in its second generation, the firm remains at the forefront of business law. Clients in Delaware and across the country have called on the Wilmington-based firm for assistance with sophisticated and complex transactions, and the firm has represented national, publicly traded companies in high-stakes litigation. Its IncNow (Agents and Corporations Inc.) division helps businesses form a limited liability company (LLC), establish a Series LLC or incorporate in Delaware.
In addition to business formations and litigation, the firm handles such business matters as disputes and transactions, opinion letters, the purchase and sale of businesses, trademarks and creditor rights in bankruptcy. Estate planning matters include wills, trusts, asset protection, administration and litigation. Not surprisingly, the lawyers see the value in Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware’s mediation service, which brings together unsatisfied consumers and a business to resolve a problem. “We’ve never had clients of the firm who’ve had to use it, but it’s comforting for them to know it’s there,” says John L. Williams, David’s son. A good rating is the next best thing to a referral from a friend or family member, he adds. “When people are trying to find a lawyer and they don’t know one from another, a BBB listing can be a distinguishing factor,” Williams says. Instead of basing a decision solely on a service provider’s website, consumers can also learn about the company on the BBB site and read the reviews and/or complaints. “It’s a credibility booster,” he says. “It’s about trust, and trust is the foundation of our law firm.”