I am a business broker and I have facilitated the sale of several commercial cleaning franchises and spoken to the owners of many more. I also have a commercial cleaning business. Every franchisee I have spoken to stated that if they could go back and go it again they would choose to not be a franchisee.
Let me start by saying that I do not necessarily have any problem with franchises. For budding business people franchises offer a structured and simple way to get into an industry. Usually franchises have an established brand identity and a training program. Franchisors are very good at selling franchises and typically have exciting brochures that describe the riches that will flow in once you get started. For some, franchises are the right way to go.
The point of this article is to point out a few items specific the commercial (business to business, not homes) cleaning / janitorial industry. One only has to to a internet search for commercial cleaning and the franchise opportunities are endless. Jani King touts themselves as the largest player here with, Jan Pro, ServiceMaster, Coverall and several others also having a national presence. Even with the size of these franchises they only have 10% market share in this industry. This article pertains to the unit franchises who actually perform the cleaning, not master franchises or area developers.
In a nutshell here is the concept. You purchase a franchise from a franchisor. With the franchise you get training, the equipment to perform the work (usually new) and some startup accounts. You purchase your insurance and bond through the franchisor. Once up an running the franchisor handles the billing, customer relations. Often you are required to purchase your supplies through the franchisor.
Let me stop here and say that a franchise is probably a good choice if you want to do the cleaning yourself and stay small. If you want to grow and add accounts and employees then you need new accounts. You can either get them yourself or purchase them from the franchisor….that brings me to my ten points.
1. Cost: The cost of acquiring new accounts are expensive! Usually they are in the neighborhood of 4x the monthly gross. A $500 account would cost you $2,000 – Ouch!
2. ROI: Using this example and a 40% profit margin it would take you 10 months to just recoup your money. I do not have a problem with fees – this is a competitive business and it costs money to get new business but at 4x this is a profit center for the franchisor not the franchisee.
3. Bidding Accounts With the franchisor bidding the accounts they are setting the price. They then bring them to and in some cases you are required to take it. They have no incentive to try to get the highest price, they just want to get the business.
4. Limitations With a franchise your growth is limited and you are confined to a geographic area.
5. Training I have not been through a franchisor training, but I will say that cleaning is easy! That is one of the beauties of this business – it is simple. There are many excellent internet resources and books that will teach you the tricks of commercial cleaning. Don’t want to do that? You could hire an experienced janitor and he or she could teach you for far less that the cost of their training. You can get all the forms and software you need online for less than $200.
6. You have to buy their equipment or supplies Why not shop around, buy used or only buy as you need to. There are many accounts that do not require the top of the line floor buffer.
7. Do you really need the Brand? Customer loyalty is very low in this business. Most often customers only care about the consistency and quality of the work and the price rather than the name.
8. Are you just buying a job? Most people want to own a business because they want to be rewarded for performing. With a franchise your rewards may be limited.
9. Don’t want to do Sales, Billing or deal with Customer follow up? There are alternatives. There are Janitorial brokers who sell accounts for those who don’t like to sell. You can work as a subcontractor and never have to deal with the customer. You can outsource the billing if you want.
10. Beware of projections and financial promises No one can predict how well you will do in this industry. This business is resilient to economic pressures and will always be in demand but no one can predict the future.
For some franchises, with the option of getting a “business in a box” is irresistible. My advice is to start small, buy what you need as you go and avoid going into debt as much as possible as you go.
Ron Van Orden is the CEO of Building Care Services a Sales and Marketing Solution for janitorial and building maintenance professionals and companies located in Los Angeles, California. http://www.BuildingCareServices.com
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