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Student Balances Handyman Business, School

John Blough always has seen himself as an entrepreneur, but coming up with a business plan was tough going.

Finally, he said to himself, “What am I good at? I’ve got handyman skills.”

Blough, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, started his business, Homestyle, at the beginning of last summer. His primary focus is installing gutter guards, sections of wire fencing that prevent leaves and other debris from entering the gutter while still allowing water to pass through. The business also offers interior and exterior painting as well as staining.

Growing up in Davenport, these were things Blough said he did for family and friends, and around his own house all the time.

The gutter guard is the business’s niche, Blough said. Gutter guards are sold in local hardware stores, and although there are many other varieties on the market, Blough said he’s determined his gutter guard—a 4-foot aluminum sheet that comes from a supplier in Illinois—is the best.

Gutter guards are simple to install, but most of Blough’s clients are either elderly and can’t climb onto a roof to do it or those who would rather pay him to do it. Most of his clients are in Iowa City, but Blough said he’ll travel to surrounding cities as needed.

The toughest part about starting a business is getting the word out, he said.

Right now, he said the biggest selling point is the fact that Homestyle’s services cost at least 40 percent less than any other handyman services in town, he said.

“We can hopefully get business through our pricing,” he said. “That’s where we differentiate.”

Lynn Allendorf, director of UI’s Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory, said cheap pricing is one way to get your name in the game locally, although it’d be difficult as a long-term strategy.

“It’s certainly a ‘get your foot in the door’ strategy,” she said.

Allendorf mentored Blough through the process of putting together a business plan, sorting through financial considerations and developing a public relations strategy.

“She’s been a great reference,” Blough said of Allendorf. “Through this whole learning process, I’ve come to her about ideas.”

Allendorf said she first met Blough went he was a freshman at UI.

“As soon as I met him, I could tell he was a lot more mature than his peers, more ambitious, more anxious to kind of get going on the next phase of his life,” she said. “He’s a real ‘get it done’ type of person.”

Homestyle has one other employee besides Blough, although he said he’ll need to hire more people once summer—the busy season—arrives.

Blough said he’s currently reading Steve Jobs’ biography and finds it interesting how passionate he was. From a young age, Jobs knew he was fascinated by every aspect of computers, Blough said.

“I just have not found that one specific industry I’m so passionate about I can do that for the rest of my life,” he said. “But I’m keeping my eyes open so when that desire comes, I know what to do with it.”

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