Frantz Building Services—From Military Service to the American Entrepreneurial Dream
Owensboro, Kentucky, located on the Ohio River in Western Kentucky, is the fourth largest city in Kentucky. Coal mining and agriculture have been instrumental in shaping the city and its culture. The local residents are known as honest, hardworking people. It’s a beautiful, quiet river town—a great place to raise a family. And it is in Owensboro where an honest, hardworking couple started Frantz Building Services.
The Early Days—Overcoming Adversity
It is an American ideal that those who have an idea—a dream of creating a new future—can pursue that idea and know that success or failure hinges largely upon their efforts. It is precisely this dream—this opportunity—that compelled Bernard and Gerfriede Frantz to create and grow Frantz Building Services in Owensboro.
Gerfriede (a native of Germany) and her family were refugees who had fled their home in Czechoslovakia after Germany lost the war in 1945. They landed in Massbach, Germany and were taken in by a farming family and began the process of slowly rebuilding their lives using hard work and determination. Gerfriede was able to attend business school and returned to Massbach where she met Bernard in 1961.
Bernard was a handsome 21-year-old Sergeant in the U.S. Army and she was impressed that he had accomplished that rank at such a young age. He was meticulous, detailed, and learned to do things by the book. After they married in 1962, he completed a second tour in Korea and later fought in the Vietnam War. After his enlistment was up, they both knew it was time for a career change. The wars taught them both to live by modest means. They were survivors. It was a perfect match for two kindred souls.
Following The American Dream
Bernard and Gerfriede eventually settled in Owensboro, Bernard’s hometown. He worked as a boilermaker, a job that left him dissatisfied. The work was unsteady and the incessant traveling kept him from his family. Bernard Frantz dreamed of owning his own business. During this time, Bernard’s friend had a small garage fire that resulted in the insurance company paying a very high price for a contractor to take the contents away for cleaning. When the items were returned, they didn’t look much better. Then the idea came to him, “If they can charge a lot of money and do a sub-par job and maintain business, then I know that I can do a GOOD job and get paid too.” So in 1985, with the help of his wife, Bernard stepped into the world of entrepreneurship and founded what is now known as Frantz Building Services, Inc. Teaming his military background of strategic planning and determination with his wife’s intense work ethic, Bernard and Gerfriede began selling by day and cleaning by night.
Growing as a Family and as a Business
Gerfriede did the books and cleaned. Bernard cleaned and sold. In 1992, his son-in-law Mark Tong joined the business, leaving a construction career behind. Like Bernard, Mark sold during the day and cleaned at night. He immersed himself in the business, growing the business incrementally and eventually succeeding Bernard in 2000. Just like her mother, Kathy Tong, Mark’s wife and Bernard and Gerfriede’s daughter, took over the bookkeeping.
Bernard and Mark bonded through a mutual business philosophy that was strict on policy and procedures. “I thrived in this environment. I wanted to feel like I was pleasing our clients and that gave me satisfaction. That was exactly how Bernard felt about how we provided service to our customers.”
Mark remembers, “Bernard’s DNA has run through my veins and those of my children. I took his management style and made it my own. Our number one priority was to do the job right for the customer before worrying about a profit.”
Under Mark’s steady leadership the company grew by 200%. They kept customers loyal and grew by word of mouth and by delivering on promises and doing things right. “The key for us was customer retention; our customers stayed with us and were good references,” Mark said.
“Here is what is special about my parents,” says Jordan Tong, Mark and Kathy’s oldest son, who refers to his parents as solid, dependable “salt of the Earth” types. “They had no formal business training. They used hard work combined with high integrity, patience, and perseverance. Together those traits make growth inevitable.”
He remembers time spent with Bernard and Gerfriede, working on projects with his two siblings on how to be organized and ready. Those lessons continued through high school where all three children worked at Frantz Building Services and learned to succeed through diligence and hard work.
The Third Generation and Expanding to Three States
Jordan received a Civil Engineering Degree from Tennessee Technological University but his aspirations were built upon becoming an entrepreneur like his father and grandfather. Although he had never considered working in the family business again, his parents had different plans for him. It made sense. A family business like Frantz Building Services needed the next generation’s youthful exuberance and trained mind to grow further. Jordan was the logical choice to take the company to the next stage.
Jordan employed a simple but effective philosophy: replicate what worked in Owensboro in other geographies. Indiana was the first new territory he worked to develop outside of Kentucky.
The company quickly became more complex. Jordan was asked to systemize processes. An avid reader of business and self-improvement books, Jordan knew to reach beyond his own knowledge and experience to gain key insights. He brought in the best industry experts to help him refine the company. “I believe that surrounding yourself with people who have different skill sets to complement your own is critical to success in today’s business world. We have hired managers from larger corporations with deep experience and supplemented that with industry experts where needed,” says Jordan. “Having a strong management team has fueled our success and growth.”
The next new territory was Nashville, Tennessee. “We want to grow the business aggressively by serving our customers well and at the same time serving our valuable team members well.”
In 2013, Jordan became President of Frantz Building Services. By 2016, under his helm, the company had grown to more than 300 employees and increased revenue by almost 500%.
At the Heart of It All
The spirit of Frantz Building Services has been to give customers an experience that is more than they expect. The company and its employees pride themselves on delivering services that not only make a facility look clean but feel clean. From Bernard through Mark and now on to Jordan, hard work and dedication to a job done right the first time has led to more and more satisfied customers.
Of equal importance is the dedication displayed by Frantz owners and managers alike to their employees and the communities they serve.
“What I am most proud of about our company is that we are often able to use our company to care for people – to give them an opportunity. We are able to use our company as a ministry for people who have made mistakes in the past. We give them a chance to change. Many have been rehabilitated, even one of our branch managers has overcome hardships. He is a phenomenal leader! If we hear of an employee that needs extra help, we often step in and help. We have always been a close-knit family and I feel that extends to our workers as well,” says Kathy Tong.
“We like to be involved in our communities. We give a percentage of our revenue to community organizations. In Owensboro, we work with Friends of Sinners, a drug recovery organization. We are very involved there and have hired many people who have graduated from that program. We believe that people deserve a second chance, sometimes even more. We stand by people during hard times, and it really cements our relationship. The people on our team know that we are there for them,” says Jordan Tong.
Family and extended family make this business strong, and the desire to serve customers makes it successful. Kathy Tong is thankful for how things have gone and hopeful that the fourth generation of family members will be ready when the time comes.
Mark sums up the family business and motivation perfectly. “We are a Christian family. Our values are instilled in the company. We look for those same values in the people that we work with. The success of our business is built on the foundation of our beliefs and the actions we take guided by those beliefs.”