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December 2009
Dry It Out with the Pros
By Casey Jacobus

     Ron Weatherly always knew he wanted to be in business for himself; he just didn’t know what that business might be. After starting Austin Peay State University in Tennessee with a business major, he tried a number of things, including landscaping, cleaning homes and apartments, carpet cleaning and various sales jobs.

     Eventually he moved to the Charlotte area to work for an uncle in the textile industry. As he shifted from plant to plant, shutting them down and laying off their employees, it occurred to him that textiles might not be a lasting career path.

     After considering many different options, Weatherly remembered from his experience cleaning carpets that every time it rained he had clients who needed the water in their basements sucked up and their carpets dried out.  He believed there might be an opportunity for a new business in basement waterproofing. For two and a half years, Weatherly worked a third shift at Beal Manufacturing, so he could start up Dry-Pro Basement Systems during the day and on weekends.

     “There were only two problems,” laughs Weatherly as he remembers. “There weren’t many homes with basements in this area and, in 1999, we were in the middle of a draught.”

     Fortunately for the young business, it soon started raining. And, despite the limited number of basements, there were a lot of houses with crawl spaces and water problems. Soon, business was good enough that Weatherly invited his younger brother Rudy, just out of the Marines, to help. Ron would handle sales, while Rudy oversaw installations.

     Although Rudy has since passed away, Ron has looked to other family members for additional help. In 2003, when Ron Weatherly Sr. retired from the military, where he had been a crew leader on a Chinook helicopter, Ron Jr. hired him to run the production department. Ron’s wife, Holly, manages the office, and even his mother, Roberta, has helped out with the bookkeeping, making Dry-Pro a true family affair.

     “When I hired my father, he had only one condition,” says Weatherly, “and that was that we would always do the right thing no matter what. If that made us a profit, great; however,  the outcome of that thinking was not so much profit as growth. We have grown every year since we’ve been in business, except for last year when the economy took a plunge.”

     Weatherly soon found an opportunity to link up with Basement Systems & Foundation Support Works International Contractor network, a group of over 300 of the best foundation repair and waterproofing contractors in the world. This gave Dry-Pro access to patented products, comprehensive training and support. Dry-Pro’s staff receives over 1,000 hours of product and installation training each year.

     While Dry-Pro was the first to bring Basement Systems solutions to dirt floor crawl spaces in the Charlotte area, there are now over 17 companies competing with similar products. Weatherly has decided to diversify his revenue stream to deal with all types of foundation problems, as well as the issue of mold remediation. He has hired the most experienced people he could find to build a first class foundation division. In 2006, he and Derik Newton purchased Advanta Clean, a mold remediation and duct cleaning company that had been in the business for over 15 years.

     “We are now focused on being able to handle all foundation problems that a home owner might have,” says Weatherly. “That way we are not so dependent upon nature and whether it rains or not.”

 

Finding solutions

     Dry-Pro is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, is a member of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry), and was recently given the Angie’s List Super Service Award. In 2006 and, again in 2007, Weatherly was named Business Person of the Year by NARI. While Weatherly is pleased to have received this recognition, he believes it is the way he runs his company that truly sets him apart from the competition.

     “Although there is a lot of competition in the market place, there is also a lot of distrust,” says Weatherly. “The thing we work hardest at is building trust with our customers.”

     When someone calls Dry-Pro, Weatherly says a staff member will sit down with the potential customer and ask questions about what they want to accomplish. Dry-Pro then draws up a solution to the customer’s problem based on the variety of patented products available to permanently solve the problem.

     “We do what we say when we say we will do it,” Weatherly asserts. “Our system design specialists are on time and keep the customer completely informed.”

     Dry-Pro has the testimonials to back up Weatherly’s assertions. Paul Lee, a Charlotte customer, says, “Everyone from Dry-Pro was a true professional. These people know what they are doing.”

     Another customer, Darrell Mabry, also of Charlotte, says of Dry-Pro, “You did what you said you would do—when you said you would do it—for the amount you quoted, and all with absolutely no inconvenience to me. I am most impressed.”

     Basement waterproofing as a business has been around since the 1930s or 40s, but not a lot of new thinking was applied to the business until about 1990. Today contractors know that the negative effects of a wet or damp crawlspace affect the whole house. Since air flows upwards, it brings the humidity from the crawlspace with it.  The effects on the home can include dust mites, mold, swollen doors and windows, smelly damp carpets, buckling hardwood floors, increased heating and cooling bills, and aggravated asthma and allergies.

     Where once contractors relied on cleaning the gutters or installing drains to prevent water leaking into basements, there are now sub-floor drainage systems and sump pump systems. New wall coating systems, paneling and vapor barriers can heal damp, ugly basement walls. Wooden subfloors in basements are being replaced with waterproof flooring systems. Mold problems are being fought with superior new dehumidifiers.

     In the Carolinas, many homes are built with dirt crawl spaces rather than basements. The building code requires that these spaces be vented, perhaps because it was once believed that moisture would flow out through the vents. However, in a climate with high humidity, the vents simply let warm humid air into the crawl space where the cool ground cools the air and the relative humidity goes up. Since the warm air flows upward, the relative high humidity goes up in the house causing rot, mold, and energy loss and attracting pests.

     Dry-Pro’s solution has been to treat crawl spaces more like basements. After fixing any water leaks, it focuses on sealing the house off from the earth around it, sealing all air leaks to the outside, and then installing a dehumidifier system to keep the crawl space air dry.

 

The foundation of success

     Most customers call Dry-Pro because their basement is flooded or there is a crack in the drywall. Sometimes there is a musty smell in the basement or signs of mold. Or, perhaps a termite exterminator or HVAC repairman has suggested there might be a problem. Weatherly says few customers know exactly what they need. It is up to Dry-Pro to help them select the most practical and permanent solution for their unique situation.

     Todd Davidson, owner of a brick and wood-framed house in the SouthPark area, is a typical customer. When he began noticing cracks in the foundation of his 44-year- old home, he called Dry-Pro. He was particularly concerned with a large separation crack in a front window of the house.

     “The damage caused by the settlement at my home was quite alarming and had me concerned about how to fix the problem,” says Davidson.

     Dry-Pro utilized the Push Pier System by Foundation Supportworks to solve Davidson’s problem. It installed two rugged steel tube sections, with a capacity of over 33,000 pounds, at a depth of approximately 10 feet. L-shaped foundation support brackets were positioned below and against the footings and hydraulic cylinders were used to lift the foundation back toward a level position. The Push Piers, which carry a lifetime warranty, effectively stabilized the foundation.

     “The Dry-Pro inspector took time to analyze the issues and develop a cost-effective and efficient way to correct the problem once and for all,” reports Davidson. “I am impressed with the results and am confident of their long-term effects.”

     Weatherly says that the majority of Dry-Pro’s business comes from referrals, primarily from HVAC contractors, Realtors or pest exterminators. Weatherly works as hard at building relationships with the owners and managers of these companies as he does with his homeowner customers. With his father running the production end, Weatherly spends much of his own time in sales and marketing.

     “Our relationships are not built on a one-time meeting,” he explains. “It takes time to build high trust relationships.”

 

Unmatched expertise

     Weatherly also works hard at building an experienced and professional staff. Mentored himself by several employers over the years, he believes strongly in helping his employees grow and succeed. He encourages them to attend yearly conventions and to receive ongoing training and education. The company also holds weekly production and sales meetings.

     “Our greatest asset is our employees,” asserts Weatherly. “Our plans for our business are to continue to find talented people and to put them in the right seat on the bus.”

     Investing in staff is particularly important as Dry-Pro moves into the future. Weatherly’s plan is to make Dry-Pro the only company in the Charlotte area to handle all of the problems related to foundations that a homeowner might have. He envisions Dry-Pro as a one-stop shop, without the need to subcontract any work. He also anticipates returning to the pattern of yearly growth by diversifying Dry-Pro’s revenue stream and by expanding the company’s market.

     “We want Dry-Pro to be the experts in all foundation problems,” Weatherly explains. “This is a cyclical business. The challenge has always been how to manage growth and cash flow when there is little or no rain.”

     In addition to offering products to solve moisture problems in crawl spaces and waterproofing problems in basements, Dry-Pro can now solve foundation settlement and repair problems, including wood rot. And, with the partnership of Advanta Clean, it is moving into the mold remediation and duct cleaning business. All of which should help to make Dry-Pro less dependent upon rain.

     Weatherly also foresees expanding the company’s service area, which traditionally has been mostly in the Charlotte market. He believes Dry-Pro can easily serve a market radius within a two-hour drive from its central location, just off I-85. He particularly sees the potential of expanding to the surrounding areas.

     “This is a very exciting time right now,” says Weatherly. “Last year was a little screwy, but the economy is beginning to pick up and these are the times that market share is gained.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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