For Rent-A-Husband, odd jobs are no problem

January 11, 1998

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

For Rent-A-Husband, odd jobs are no problem


Staff Writer

Bob O'Connor started running whimsical newspaper ads for his new Rent-A-Husband business in December 1995.

The hope was that the ads - aimed at wives tired of nagging their husbands to do odd jobs around the house - would bring in enough work to keep him and one employee busy in the winter months when his main business, REO Enterprises Inc., got slow.

Offering to do any odd job, no matter how small, Rent-A-Husband filled a niche in the home improvement industry, said O'Connor, 50, of Hagerstown, who started getting calls right away.


Just over a year later, it has flourished from a seasonal sideline into a business in its own right, he said.

It also led to the formation of three other new businesses and the acquisition of a store in Frederick, Md., said O'Connor, who now employs 13 full-time and two part-time workers in addition to himself.

"I don't have time to do any of the work anymore. I'm just doing estimates and running the businesses,"' he said.

All the businesses are run under the umbrella of REO Enterprises, which O'Connor started in early 1995 after leaving a management position at Grove Worldwide.

Through REO Enterprises, he offers home inspections and commercial building.

Rent-A-Husband covers the range of odd jobs.

Decks R Us, started in March, offers deck building.

The Cleaning Doctor, started in April, provides residential cleaning.

Professional Painters at Work, meant to fill a high demand for painting jobs, came next, in May.

In September, O'Connor bought an existing wallpaper store on Thomas Jefferson Boulevard in Frederick called Hang It Up.

The plan was to use the business as a foothold to expand his other businesses into Frederick County, O'Connor said.

It's working, he said, estimating that Frederick County is providing about 20 percent of his overall business at this point.

And it's growing, said O'Connor, who said the acquisition has led him to consider other business ventures as well.

About a month and a half ago, he started offering a line of discounted window blinds and shades with free measuring and installation, he said.

At the beginning of this year, O'Connor hired two part-time employees to call apartment complexes to try to get their maintenance work and fellow contractors to coordinate jobs with them.

"I decided I was just going to let this thing go as far as it goes and not hold back," said O'Connor, who said he's finding it's no harder to run several businesses with a lot of employees than one business with a couple of employees.

His ultimate goal - which he's not sure if he'll reach - is to have storefronts in both Washington and Frederick counties offering "one stop shopping" of services and products to busy people planning home improvement projects of all sizes.

"Let's face it. The normal homeowner just doesn't have time anymore," he said.

He's far from that goal now, he said.

But given the whirlwind growth he experienced last year, O'Connor said, he wouldn't be surprised if it became a reality by next year.

While he knew there was a niche for an odd jobs business like Rent-A-Husband, he said, he was surprised by how quickly it took off.

By March, he and his first employee were so overwhelmed by the amount of business rolling in, he started hiring others with a range of experience to fill the need.

In the peak period last summer, he was up to 22 employees, he said.

Given the potential for the deck business from new construction in both counties, and good response to the other businesses, O'Connor said he expects he'll have between 25 and 30 employees this summer.

But no matter how much business Rent-A-Husband generates, he said, he's not going to get choosy about what odd jobs he'll take.

A lot of calls come from older people, single mothers and first-time homeowners who just need some help, O'Connor said.

"Even though we've gotten larger, I won't drop that 'no job is too small.' That's what put this whole thing together, and I refuse to go away from that because there still is a need," he said.

Rent-A-Husband's phone number is 301-733-4033.

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