Jack Milholm worked as a handyman for 25 years, then eight months ago everything changed. The economy was tanking, and in one day, all six of the jobs he had lined up for the year canceled.
He was lucky and soon after got a job with an auto body shop, and he's happy to have the work.
"It was just always feast or famine in that business," he said.
While Mr. Milholm's story may not be common in the handyman industry, it does reflect how challenging these times are for a professional Mr. Fix It who works on his own.
The hired fix-it person, long the go-to person for repairing a fence, installing a tile floor or painting the porch, could be somewhat of a dying breed, according to some people.
More homeowners are moving toward larger companies like the Chattanooga-based franchise Andy OnCall for home repairs, said Barry Frizzell, general manager of the Chattanooga-area Andy OnCall.
"They're using us because of the security -- we're fully insured and bonded, and we do perform background checks on all of our craftsman," he said. "We are an established company with a long record with the BBB."
Companies like Andy OnCall are growing -- the 15-year-old company has 56 franchises nationwide, and Mr. Frizzell said all of his contractors are busy with work.
But others also report their home improvements and repairs business is holding up -- even as some like Mr. Milholm have exited the field.
Terry Summerlin owns Handy T's Handyman Services in Ooltewah, and business has been steady for him.
"I think right now, with the housing market the way it is, it's a good time to be in this business," he said. "People are trying to fix up their homes."
Still others worry about keeping up with the cost of all the insurance they must carry. Joey Moore, owner of Moore Handyman Services, estimates he pays about $6,000 for insurance each year on his three vehicles, workman's comp and to insure his tools.
Mr. Moore, whose background is in home construction, said there isn't much he doesn't know about home repairs, and he wonders if the craftsmen at larger companies have the knowledge base the old-fashioned handyman has.
"They don't have as wide of a range of stuff like we do," he said, adding that in the event of an unexpected problem, he has all of his tools and supplies in his truck.