The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 4, 2009

Learning the ropes: Franchise owner relied on husband, past experiences


If she had her druthers, Nancy Critchfield would rather be skiing.

It was on the slopes of a local ski resort where the Somerset businesswoman met her husband, Richard. And she continues to be a member of the ski patrol at Seven Springs.

But Critchfield, owner of a multimillion dollar ServiceMaster franchise, which provides disaster restoration services, is just as passionate about her business as her skiing. That zeal became evident as she shared her experiences recently with students at Allegany College of Maryland as part of the Upstarts and Innovators Series, sponsored by Johnstown Area Regional Industries, the Greater Johnstown Keystone Innovation Zone and The Tribune-Democrat.

She got into the business in 1999 based upon her background in management. Prior to taking the lead at the ServiceMaster franchise in Somerset – which also maintains an office in Altoona and serves eight counties – her career included significant time in upper management and executive roles in corporate America.

But her knowledge of the disaster restoration business was, by her own admission, limited. Her husband, owner of Critchfield Construction, provided her only insights into the industry.

“The only thing I knew about the nature of the work was what I learned from my husband during dinner conversations about construction,” Critchfield said.

“But I knew how to implement the proper systems and run a business. If you know how to do those things, you can walk into any business in the country and run it successfully.”

She’s learned the ropes along the way and learned how to let go of those ropes at the same time.

When she joined the business, with a handful of employees, she was more hands-on – performing many of the duties herself.

But over time, she learned to delegate, hiring people with skills more applicable to specific duties, she said.

She said letting go of more and more of the business is one of the greatest challenges entrepreneurs face because most believe they can do it all themselves. Critchfield said she realized with each hire that not only was she more free to lead the business and chart its future, but the quality of the services the company provided continuously improved.

“Everyone I have hired has done a better job at their job than I ever could,” said Critchfield, whose company now employs 35 and is continuing to hire.

“My first real job with the company was doing estimates on the weekends, and I thought I was pretty good at it. I finally hired someone to help out with the estimating process, and I found out they did it much better me. I learned a lot from that.”

Another factor that has influenced the growth of the ServiceMaster business comes from a chemistry similar to the one Critchfield found with her husband on the slopes 22 years ago. The compatability of her company with her husband’s has allowed ServiceMaster to offer customers who have been dealt a disaster a one-stop shop for a total solution.

“Essentially, we’re running both companies together,” she said.

“Don’t tell him I said so, but I would never be where I am without him.”