Handymen get out of fix

"He has closed his doors and disappeared with all monies franchisees gave him," Ontario franchisee Garry Shearer said yesterday from his Peterborough operation. "When we confronted him and asked to look into the (company) books, he vanished."

The Montreal Gazette
August 29, 2006

Handymen get out of fix
Dial-A-Husband; Two franchisees who were nailed by a scam artist join forces to build their own renovation and installation company
Mike King

Two local businessmen who were left holding the bag in a handyman franchise scam two years ago have survived the setback to build their own renovation and installation company by joining forces.

"It's been a real interesting struggle," said Carmine Maurizio, the first Quebecer to invest in a Dial-A-Husband International Services Inc. franchise in July 2004.

Stephen McCavour followed suit three months later to become the second Dial-A-Husband in the province.

"We dished out $70,000 and $60,000 each," Maurizio said.

Besides the $35,000 franchise fee, he invested that much again on trucks, tools, advertising and workers, only to be left high and dry along with about a dozen other franchisees in Ontario and Calgary by Dial-A-Husband founder Jim Gillingham.

"He has closed his doors and disappeared with all monies franchisees gave him," Ontario franchisee Garry Shearer said yesterday from his Peterborough operation.

"When we confronted him and asked to look into the (company) books, he vanished."

He is thought to be in Canada, but nobody knows where he is, including the police.

Maurizio recalled cornering Gillingham at a Home Depot convention in Toronto last September and having him run out of the building.

"We had security chasing him and he knocked over my partner, Stephen, who was trying to take photos of his licence plate."

Dial-A-Husband, which Gillingham ran with his wife Sharron out of Mississauga, Ont., was dissolved at the end of 2004.

Maurizio, McCavour, Shearer and the few other remaining franchise owners have launched a lawsuit against Gillingham in Ottawa, claiming breach of contract and breach of Ontario's franchising act for not fully disclosing his history.

Shearer noted the Gillinghams are wanted on fraud charges and warrants are out for both for not appearing in court to face the charges against them.

A January 2005 letter from the Suffolk County bureau of licensing in Hauppauge, N.Y., states that there were five open complaints and one closed complaint against Gillingham's Ottawa-based JTG Construction Management LLC.

Maurizio said he and McCavour are succeeding "through sheer determination."

When they operated separately as Dial-A-Husband franchisees, they had two employees each and annual revenue of $80,000. Together, they've made 10 times more money in the past year, with a workforce of 16.

"We combined our 14 years of experience to form a new kind of renovation company offering a full complement of services, ranging from changing your leaky tap to painting your living room, up to completely renovating your basement and bathroom," Maurizio said.

While still operating under the Dial-A-Husband banner, they recently signed on with Home Depot to provide bathroom and basement renovations for the St. Henri and Vaudreuil store locations.

Augusta Design, a division of their company, is the Quebec dealer/installer of ClosetMaid custom closets for Home Depot in Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Granby, Gatineau, Trois Rivieres and Victoriaville.

They are also Quebec and eastern Canada distributors of a new product called Gutter Stuff, a foam filter insert to avoid blocked eavestroughs, and will soon be offering doors and windows.

But don't expect to hire them to take out the garbage, unpack groceries or take on conjugal duties in the bedroom because they are Dial-A-Husbands.

Maurizio admits there were the expected jokes after he invested in the franchise and "some people worried when neighbours saw our trucks in their driveway.

"One guy asked if I would help his mother unload her groceries," he said of one customer call. "Don't ask us to come and change a lightbulb."

The attitude is changing, however, and Maurizio has noticed "people are starting to take us seriously now."

But it's still the wives who call them 90 per cent of the time.

"We tell sheepish husbands we meet - who always insist they know how to do the job, but just don't have the time - that it's more important to be a good father rather than a handy husband," Maurizio said.

For more information, call 514-426-0191.


© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006

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