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Dina Dwyer-Owens

DENNE GOLDSTEIN | Close-Up Profiles

D is for dynamo, and is that and more. as chairwoman and CEO of The Dwyer Group, she is more than just another pretty face. She is a passionate, emotional individual with excellent business skills who is driven to succeed, and the record shows it.

Although The Dwyer Group has been around since the early ’80s, it’s only in the last three years that Dwyer-Owens burst upon the landscape scene. That is when The Dwyer Group began franchising The Grounds Guys, a lawn maintenance business.

The Grounds Guys is now considered The Dwyer Group’s hottest property, creating a lot of excitement in the landscape industry. In the short period of just a few years, The Grounds Guys recently added its 100th franchisee.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Let’s roll the calendar back to 1963. The Dwyers were blessed with six children, Dina being born in the middle. Her father, Don Dwyer, was involved in various business ventures, but he seemed to have wanderlust as well.

The family moved from New York to Connecticut, to California, and eventually ended up in Waco, Texas. Dina Dwyer was just eight years old at that time. There, Don Dwyer opened a barbeque restaurant (and thought about franchising it), a full-service steak restaurant, and some car washes. Along the way, he also began to accumulate real estate. Don Dwyer always seemed to come up with various business ideas. He liked the idea of franchising, so whatever business he opened, he always looked at the possibility of franchising.

During her high school years, Dina Dwyer worked at the car wash pumping gas, among other things. “My dad wanted me to learn how to sell, so I was selling polish work and detail jobs.” She also became a cheerleader and managed to perform at Friday night football games, but come Saturday morning, she had to get up early and go to work.

“Dad made us buy our cars, and he would give us a small allowance for gas to go back and forth to school, but otherwise we had to pay for our own gas and our own insurance. He said my mom raised us as kids until we were 12, and that’s when he took over. It was all about going to work and teaching us work ethics. As a teenager, I didn’t always like the guy, but I’m so grateful now for the time I spent with him,” she said.

“My dad wanted me to go to Baylor; he wanted me to learn, but his main reason for sending me there was that he knew that I was a networker. He knew I would meet a lot of people, and that one day those relationships would make a lot of sense for me and the business.”

“I very much wanted to continue in cheerleading, but I was working for my father 30 hours a week and didn’t have the time,” said Dwyer-Owens. “After two and a half years, I finally told him, ‘Something has to give. I don’t feel I’m giving my best to you as an employee or to my school work because I’m stretched pretty thin, so I think I should do one or the other.’”

He told her to take a semester off, get her real estate license and work side- by-side with him for the semester. “Then we can talk about what you might do,” he said. She never went back to Baylor. She worked with her father in the real estate company for a long time. “I learned so much so fast; some were the hardest lessons that still serve me well today.”

Here she was, a young lady of 22, who had just gotten her real estate license. Her dad was buying apartment properties, and he wanted her to manage those properties. Dwyer-Owens didn’t know anything about apartment management. He pointed to a couple who had been running the property for 30 years and said, “Ask them to teach you.” She learned fast.

In the late ’80s, with the country in the throes of the savings and loan crises, one day her father called her into his office and told her, “I’m not able to make the mortgage payments on this one piece of property. You need to go and talk to the banker. You need to ask him to forgive half of the five million dollar note, and then I can make the payments.” Dwyer-Owens said, “Are you kidding me? What if he says no?” He repeated, “I need them to forgive half the note, then I can make the payments.”

She continued, “I was so angry. My dad taught us when we were angry to go and record it, and when we simmered down, we should destroy the tapes. I was so mad at him. I think I probably made a recording of how much I hated him.”

She did meet with the banker the following day, and explained what was going on and told him he had choices, either he could work with them or take back the property. A few weeks later, the banker called and said he couldn’t do 50 percent, but he could forgive 40 percent, and said they need to keep 10 percent in reserve. She could not believe her ears. Then the banker said, “Thank you for coming to us with options.” Dwyer- Owens was stunned.

Among other business plans, Don Dwyer had a vision: to collect a variety of franchise companies that could serve the same customer. For example, if you had someone come in and clean your carpets, and you liked the work that was done, he felt you would ask the carpet cleaner if he knew of a plumber, or an electrician, or a lawn maintenance guy.

With this mindset, in 1981 he started Rainbow International. By now, the whole family (all six kids), were working in the business. “I think my dad’s vision was to have enough companies or departments to handle the unique talents of each of the kids,” said Dwyer-Owens. “I was running the real estate business, but I spent a lot of time with him on franchising.”

He acquired Mr. Rooter, and then started Air Serve, a heating and air conditioning company. In 1993, Don Dwyer took his company public, and then started Mr. Electric in 1994. Unfortunately, he died that same year. In 1996, they started Mr. Appliance, and in 1998, they acquired Glass Doctor.

By 2003, the family realized that they were too small a company and the stock was too closely held to be a public company. They merged with private equity groups and appreciate those relationships.

“About three years ago, Mike Bidwell, who is president of The Dwyer Group, showed me a magazine article about Sunshine Grounds, a company in Canada,” said Dwyer-Owens. “I liked what I read and reached out to Tim and Peter van Stralen, to discuss the possibility of working together. We worked out a winning arrangement. We changed the name to The Grounds Guys and started franchising in the U.S.; they franchise in Canada. The relationship has exceeded our expectations.”

On a personal level, Dina Dwyer- Owens and Mike Owens have been married for 23 years. They have two children, a daughter, Dani, 22, and a son, Mikey, who is 18. Dani is considering opening her own business and Mikey is still in high school and loves the outdoors.

Dina Dwyer-Owens is proud of what her father, her siblings, and her team of associates and franchisees have built. As she reflects back, she is so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend that time with her father. He taught her a lot.

Dina Dwyer-Owens loves what she is doing. She is passionate and is driven to make The Dwyer Group a world-class franchise organization; she wants to see how high is high. She is truly her father’s daughter.

 
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