Chris Perez was working as a Delta Air Lines in-flight crew scheduler for flight attendants in late March when he was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated that industry.

“It’s tough,” the Vinings resident said. “I was only there for three months. I was the last new hire before (the outbreak). I came in and started training in December and was on the floor after six weeks of training. Then we started cancelling trips from China when COVID started coming, the department got pretty crazy and things got hectic.”

Perez was unemployed until July, when he started a new job as north Atlanta territory manager for Pool Scouts, a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based pool cleaning franchise owned by Buzz Franchise Brands. He is one of three metro Atlanta residents the Neighbor interviewed about changing not only their jobs but their careers during the pandemic.

Perez was able to get the Pool Scouts position through a connection he had made with Brandon Fish, who he had worked with previously when doing restaurant marketing for MapMeLocal, a search engine optimization (SEO) agency starting in the fall 2018, shortly after graduating from college.

Fish is a local franchisee with Oxi Fresh, a carpet-cleaning business that signed an agreement with FranBridge Capital, an Atlanta-based private equity firm that also bought four metro Atlanta franchise units from Pool Scouts. Perez also had previously worked with FranBridge’s Christian Pillat at MapMeLocal.

“I’ve only cleaned the pool in my house before,” he said. “The learning curve is huge, but it’s something that was planned for by the partners. If they wanted to hire someone with pool-cleaning skills, they could have. But they hired someone with a strong character, work ethic and integrity.

“All the pool skills are learnable, but what it comes down to is providing the service and caring about the service you provide for are the most important thing. Not everyone cares for our customers as much as we do.”

May 1, Milton residents Lee and Joyce Fields bought Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa’s 5-year-old Sandy Springs location, a franchise that is part of the Feasterville-Trevose, Pennsylvania-based company with 460 locations in the United States and Canada.

Lee has worked for more than 40 years in the corporate world as an executive, business consultant and salesman in multiple industries, most recently as chief growth officer for Aprio, a Sandy Springs-based, CPA-led business advisory firm. His wife Joyce spent nine years as an orthopedic nurse, including a stint at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sandy Springs, before becoming a stay-at-home mom for their two children, who today are adults.

“It was a big one, just with COVID, especially with everything that happened with that,” she said of the risk they were taking with the new ventures. “But I felt like our dream team we have here and also Lee and I have been married 30 years, so I know how Lee operates. We’re both hands on; we’re both hard workers. So I have faith.”

For Lee, the change to Hand and Stone wasn’t that big of a risk given he had taken some previous leaps of faith, leaving IBM to help found Answerthink, a startup that specialized in business consulting, benchmarking and technology implementations. It went public two years after its inception and today is The Hackett Group.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a couple of instances where we acquired others and others acquired us, so I’m kind of used to that,” he said. “Risk taking is a very, very personal thing. I think the first time or two that you do it, if you have some success, then you have enough intestinal fortitude to say, ‘I can do anything. And, by the way, if I don’t know what it is, I’ll figure it out along the way.’ That’s kind of been my driving mentality.”

The couple spent about a year and a half researching and interviewing with franchises before deciding on Hand and Stone, which met their criteria of a business in the health and wellness industry that is recession-resistant and has a recurring-revenue model.

On top of the franchise fee, they paid an extra $100,000 to renovate the 3,800-square-foot facility, which closed in March due to the pandemic, before reopening it in June. With no experience in the massage and facial realm, they hired Bev Landis as the general manager, whom they met through Hand and Stone’s corporate staff.

In February Landis was laid off from her job as Hand and Stone’s regional operations manager supporting 35 spas in Georgia and New York, including the Sandy Springs one.

“It was a failing business (with) absentee owners (and) didn’t have great leadership in place,” she said. “So, the business was very challenging for me and any of the ops managers who visited it. You had to pump yourself up when you walked in the door. You were going to make all of these recommendations and none of them would happen every time you visited.

“It was really exciting for me because I knew this spa could be successful if I could just get somebody to listen.”

Though the ownership has changed, the Fieldses rehired most of the employees the business had previously, except for some front-desk staff that “were not in a good place,” Landis said. She added the shift has been very positive.

“Now we’re starting to get to know our members,” Landis said. “The team is really happy. … It makes all the difference in the world to not have an absentee owner. It’s really, really critical in this business.”

Perez, who is managing a territory that includes Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, east Cobb and Suwanee, is looking to hire more staff as Pool Scouts grows locally.

“Running into Brandon was just like a godsend and the opportunity he gave me, I just feel so blessed to have it,” he said. “I am glad I was able to get it. But Christian and Brandon believed in me based on the work I’d done for them.”

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