Can Contractors Survive Franchise Machines?

The internet was supposed to get us access to more information and choices, and to empower consumers.

But the story I'm about to tell you is a dark and troubling look at some very basic ways that searching for services on the web could actually empower a new brand of misleading and dishonest service providers.

The story begins in my apartment -- my shower stall, to be specific.

Like many of us, the last year we  were confined to our homes. And things that we've ignored in the past all of a sudden loom large.  I was haunted by grout -- nothing terrible, just years since the bathroom tile had been redone. So, I went looking for a contractor and a quote. 

I did the contractor hunt and looked on Houzz, Angie's List, Yelp, and more. And all roads pointed me to the aptly named Sir Grout. Great reviews, really professional web marketing, and so I asked for a quote. And in a snap, they were in my apartment. Richard Gonzalez was an owner, and he was professional and prompt. The quote was high, I thought -- but maybe worth paying a bit extra to have the job done right.



Flash-forward, I ordered the service in the summer of 2020 -- and then things got weird.

The job was done about 80%, but the shower shelf area was left undone. When I asked the “technician,” he said, "Oh, yeah, can't do that -- the guy who did the estimate should have told you that needs a tile contractor." OK, so first warning. "Sir Grout" now says "We don't do tile" and "Read the warranty."

Had a bunch of back and forths with Eddie Moleros (he was a second “owner” who jumped in to address missing work). Finally, he agreed to send a “technician” to finish the job for an additional $200.

Problem solved. Shower tile replaced and grouted. Ta-da. 

Seven months later, the work performed by Sir Grout disintegrated.


In response to my complaints, Eddie was defensive and then just downright mean, noting "We don't do tile work," "this was your fault," and "the employee who did your job no longer works for the company."

I began to dig deeper, and found tons of unhappy customers on Yelp and on the Better Business Bureau website, all saying things that reflected my experience. They mentioned half-completed jobs, nasty emails from Eddie saying the customer needed to "move on and get some help," and worse.

So why hadn't I seen them before? Well, it turns out that there are tons of very similar positive posts that drowned out the very specific negative ones. Are they fake? I can't say.

But I did post my own negative reviews of Sir Grout.

And I did find out this: Sir Grout isn't a company of local contractors. It's a franchise.

So I went to the owners of the franchise, Jeff Gill and Tom Lindberg, and the weirdness got deeper. It turns out that neither of them were contractors. In fact, Jeff was a head hunter whose resume says he'd worked for Steve Jobs.

Does ANYONE who works for Sir Grout have experience with tile or grout or contracting? I asked that question, but got no response via email or LinkedIn. What is clear is that the franchise that they offer is a web marketing machine, spewing out content across social channels. And while Sir Grout hires local technicians at $15  an hour, the profit nears 100% to local franchisees who kick 6% of their income back to the home office.

I assumed that when I showed Jeff a picture of what the Sir Grout work looked like just six months after it was completed, he'd kick into gear.

But it turns out he didn't have the authority to direct his franchisees to repair work they'd done or refund customers.

Now to be fair, if you're a contractor, there are always customers who will complain. It's part of the job to deal with them. But Sir Grout seems to be confident that it can bully and belittle unhappy customers into just going away, lost in the sea of happy customers and paid social media ads.

Since water was leaking into my walls,  I reached out to neighbors in my building to find a new contractor. He was recommended, came quickly, did the work with care and precision, and was honest and respectful. He earned far more than $15 an hour, and says he spends no money on social media. He only works by referral.

The new contractor was immediately shocked at what he found in my shower. "Whoever did this job used water-soluble glue to attach the new tiles. This was leaking within days of the job being finished," he said. He recorded a video on his phone that showed the underlying glue-like putty. 

Finally, Eddie offered to refund my $200 and even pay the new contractor I hired to repair the job. But, just when I thought we'd solved the problem, there was a kicker. 

"Hello Steven,

As I am willing to provide you the compensation you are requesting, I do ask in return that all negative reviews/comments be removed first from Yelp, Google, BBB, CA, FB, Houzz, etc. Further, I will draw up a basic agreement that states this and will also state going forward, you will hold us harmless should you experience any future issues with your bathroom tile or otherwise and you will not post negative reviews/comments about Sir Grout myself, or the franchisor. As soon as this is completed and verified, I will immediately send you the funds.

Eddie Moleros 

Sir Grout"

I have to say I was shocked at this offer. This wasn’t Sir Grout agreeing to refund the funds they charged for work that was performed poorly. This was -- in my opinion -- a bribe to get me to remove honest and accurate feedback that would inform other potential customers. Needless to say, I didn’t take funds or remove the posts.

As best as  I can discern, no one at Sir Grout, either at the headquarters or the local franchisee, has any actual experience as a contractor, working with tile and grout. It is a fictional brand that presents itself as an expert in tile work, literally taking work out of the hands of local contractors by out marketing them while they try their best to do what they've spent their lives doing, high-quality craftsmanship.

My questions to Sir Grout's franchisor about how they ascertain the quality of local technicians, how they train technicals, how they set standards for quality, and how they train local franchisees in social media, customer support and how to resolve what should be the occasional customer complains all went unanswered.

Jeff Gill has begun another franchise called Germinator that does mobile sanitizing & disinfecting. "Invisible enemies are everywhere," says Germinator. Says Gill, "When COVID-19 hit and the phones stopped ringing at Sir Grout, we did not hesitate to acknowledge the circumstances… we enacted a plan."

Yelp says it is concerned about vendors who pay people to take down negative reviews, and is investigating. Eddie continues to post that the damage was "not his fault," nor his responsibility. He says, "read your warrantee," yet despite multiple requests, there is no warranty on the Sir Grout website and no link to any warranty. 

The internet has given an unfair advantage to sites that aggregate local craftsmen and unskilled amateur handymen by simply out- marketing them and then overcharging. But when you want a repair done in your home, marketing prowess can't replace careful craftspeople.

1 comment about "Can Contractors Survive Franchise Machines?".
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  1. Meliah Cranmer from LaborChart, March 16, 2021 at 3:15 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing and the heads up! Similar story in janitorial staffing: 

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