Electrical Service Owners Begin Franchise Of National Ramp Company To Serve S. Florida

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The human body doesn't cater to a recession.

Bank bailouts or no, a fall can still put someone out of work for a while. Age takes its toll despite shaky consumer confidence.

And that's exactly what Jim Wright has found since the February opening of his Naples American Ramp Systems franchise.

Wright's franchise is one of 40 throughout the nation that sell and install American Ramp Systems Inc. steel access ramps for the disabled on homes and for events like high school graduation ceremonies.

"The demand is there," Wright said.

Wright has installed $12,000 in ramps this year. Most of the sales are rentals installed on the homes of people with work-related injuries. Wright plans to sell $50,000 by year-end.

An AmRamp ramp, which can range from $150 to $1,000 depending on the ramp's size, is "not a luxury item," Wright said. Many of his clients need ramps to climb up the front steps of their home, he said.

Wright first looked into an AmRamp franchise last year after the building stand-still ate away 75 percent of the contracts at his Naples-based electrical contracting business, Wright Electrical Services Inc.

Wright said he was unsure what the demand for ramps would be like locally.

"I just kept thinking that Florida is so flat and I didn't know if ramps would be needed here," Wright said.

After talking with case workers and rehabilitation specialists in Southwest Florida, Wright found his market, he said.

Wright is trained to install each ramp to American Disability Act standards and is AmRamp Naples' only installer. Like most AmRamp franchises, Wright's sales are evenly divided between rental and permanent ramps.

Company-wide AmRamp sales grew by 31 percent from 2007 to 2008. The company is a large provider for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which pays for ramps installed on the homes of wounded troops. Wright has seen some of that business in Florida.

"What's making our business successful is the way health care is practiced in this country: No one wants to keep you in the hospital," said AmRamp President Julian Gordon from the company's Boston headquarters.

The other part of that success are franchise owners like Wright who get the product out in the market instead of sitting on shelves, Gordon said.

And there are more people "who have lost a job or are mid-career and are looking for another option" who are interested in franchises during a recession, said International Franchise Association spokeswoman Alisa Harrison.

While the credit crunch will put a dent in the number of franchises around in 2009, more are attracted to a system that "allows you to get the business for yourself but not by yourself," she said.

AmRamp will choose seven new franchises this year, as it has since 2006, from about 80 applicants looking only for those that have the "fire in their belly" it takes to start a new business, Gordon said.

Wright is one of those franchisees. He continues to run both his electrical services business and AmRamp Naples out of the same warehouse off Progress Avenue where he keeps a stock of ramp material there.

Being the only franchise in South Florida, Wright has driven as far away as Key West for an installation, Most of the installation business is directed his way from the AmRamp call center in Boston that helps with finding insurance money for customers who have funding concerns.

The AmRamp support network on top of a good product was key in getting business going in Southwest Florida, Wright said.

And that's the same with any franchise, he said, noting: "If all you're doing is getting a name it's not worth it,"

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