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You didn't marry a handyman? // Try renting one

On a crisp spring morning, Karen Foster watches with a satisfied smile as her husband Bob resurrects a fence knocked down by deep winter snow.

Across the yard, her husband Kaile hammers nails into the foundation of a new garden shed. Soon, one of the husbands will begin building a sandbox for her two young children.

Karen's real husband, John, is at work. The two men laboring in her neat back yard are from Rent-A-Husband, a handyman business powered by a catchy slogan that hits home with many homeowners: "For Those Jobs That Never Get Done."

Rent-A-Husband's owner, Kaile Warren Jr., says the name and slogan came to him in the middle of the night after he fell asleep on the couch. It's been sticking in customers' minds ever since.

"It gives handymen an identity," Warren said. "Nobody can remember Jones Construction . . . . But they see Rent-A-Husband, they smile, they laugh and they remember it."

A few months ago, Warren's business operated under the fairly forgettable moniker of MelBren Construction. He had one employee and kept busy.

Now, he says he's got six "husbands" and enough work to hire 20 more.

And, now that he has trademarked the Rent-A-Husband name, slogan and logo, his plans to sell franchises across the country have generated letters of interest from wanna-be husbands nationwide.

Warren said his husbands should be prepared for a variety of work. While he and Bob worked in the Fosters' back yard, another husband was doing laundry for a senior citizen, he said.

"It's funny. We're renovating a restaurant at the Maine College of Art and doing laundry at the same time," said Warren, who is 37 and divorced.

At the moment, Warren's rent-a-husbands are all men. He said he'd like to change that.

"I think it would be neat to have female husbands," he said. "My mother was a general contractor."

Most of Rent-A-Husband's customers are women. And many of the customers, or their husbands, have the ability to do the jobs Warren is hired to get done. But they don't have the time or the motivation.

"Everywhere I go to look at a job, I hear the same thing. "We don't have the time to do it' or "We don't have the tools to do it' or "We just plain don't have the desire to do it,' " he said.

Warren said some people have been offended by the Rent-A-Husband name. Some men have hired him under the condition he doesn't park his distinctive black-and-white Rent-A-Husband van in front of their homes.

"I try to explain to them it's just a promotion," he said. "But most people love the concept and they love the name."

He's also proud that no job is too small for the rent-a-husbands, who charge a $20 minimum fee for such pesky tasks as moving tables, fixing screens or hanging pictures.

"A lot of contractors think that this is beneath them," he said. "But I do a lot of jobs that take 15 minutes."

Warren fields phone calls in a loftlike space on Portland's waterfront that serves as his home and Rent-A-Husband's headquarters. And he admits there are some domestic chores that aren't getting done there.

Karen Foster, meanwhile, is looking forward to using her new-and-improved back yard this summer.

"My husband was definitely going to build the sandbox. And he was talking about getting a friend and fixing the fence," she said. "But he works. I work. We don't have any time. And I want to enjoy the yard this summer."

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