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May 2012
Battling The Elements
By Craig Dixon

     Ordo ab chao...out of chaos, comes order.

     Mother Nature isn’t always a kind mistress. The chaos of natural disasters is an ever-present threat to homes and businesses. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires are the obvious—but even mold and contaminated air can destroy the prosperity of a home or business. Since 1994, Huntersville-based AdvantaClean has stood guard against the elements, great and small.

     AdvantaClean rose from the debris of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. CEO and founder Jeff Dudan, then fresh out-of-college, got his first hands-on experience working in recovery and restoration during post-Andrew cleanup efforts.

     Dudan had begun his entrepreneurial journey as a marketing major at Appalachian State University. During that time, he and a friend launched their first business, D&D Painting (short for Dudan and Davidson), in Boone, N.C.

     “I wanted to stay in Boone over the summer, but couldn’t find work, so we employed ourselves. We quickly secured contracts with all of the major apartment complexes in the area, coming in to handle jobs when student leases were up,” he recalls.

     When graduation came, Dudan and Davidson handed off the college-town painting business to their younger brothers, but continued to pursue the lifestyle of entrepreneurs.

     “When I graduated, I determined that I always wanted to work for myself,” he says. In the wake of Hurricane Andrew’s destruction, Dudan saw an opportunity to help Florida’s communities, and also build a business.

     “A friend called and suggested I come down to help with the restoration effort. I only intended to be down there for three months, but it turned into three years,” he adds.

     Those three years would prove crucial to the formation of AdvantaClean. Disaster cleanup, indoor air quality, and mold remediation were all part of the equation, and he learned the tricks of the trade by getting his hands dirty.

     After a few years of contracting with other firms involved in the recovery effort, Dudan set his sights on starting his own business in the same field. In 1994, Dudan and three partners opened the first Loss Control and Recovery office in Central Florida. Things moved quickly from there and Dudan returned to North Carolina to open a second office, in Charlotte.

 

Building from Scratch

     Loss Control and Recovery primarily worked on insurance recovery claims, covering ground in the four major areas that AdvantaClean operates today: residential, commercial, governmental, and storm response.

     In 2000, Loss Control and Recovery was rebranded as AdvantaClean Services, a lean and technologically-adept business. Dudan was laying the groundwork to multiply his services (and successes) on a nationwide scale. Today, the Charlotte region is home to his rapidly growing company which is headquartered on a 22,000-square-foot campus and run by a staff of 30.

     Dirty air ducts can be a source of indoor air pollution. AdvantaClean serves as a nemesis to the bacteria, mold, and viruses that manifest themselves in buildings—both commercial and residential—as breeding grounds.

     Water damage brings its own suite of problems, but AdvantaClean is well equipped for handling this as well. Broken pipes, leaks or heavy rains can bring on heavy costs—and create another ideal environment for mold to thrive if not dealt with promptly. AdvantaClean is available 24 hours day to deal with such emergencies.

     AdvantaClean’s website offers detailed reports on the everyday threats that could be lurking in the air ducts or damp corners of one’s home or workplace.

     “More than anything, we’re environmental professionals. AdvantaClean offices are strategically located to respond to natural disasters, and if need be, to mobilize assets from all over the country,” Dudan remarks.

     While AdvantaClean has assets all over the U.S., their onsite fleet is a small army of flatbed trucks, mobile generators, passenger vans, equipment trailers, and catastrophe response vehicles sporting the AdvantaClean trademarked orange-and-blue color scheme.

     Ready to roll at any time, Hurricane Katrina was one such instance. With many parts of the Gulf wrecked and New Orleans in an apocalyptic state, the region was in bad need of AdvantaClean’s specialized services. They hit the ground the moment the flood waters receded and continued servicing the area for another four years, generating a significant amount of revenue for the firm.

     In 2008, AdvantaClean began selling franchises to the public, opening the doors for interested investors. Their success has been notable. As of 2012, 105 of the nearly 1,000 territories available have been awarded.

     “We always intended to become a major player at the national level. I’m not sure my partners always took me seriously, but they at least humored me,” Dudan says of his company’s now-national presence.

 

A Culture of Success

     Not just anyone can walk up and buy into the AdvantaClean brand. Ideal candidates are those who are driven to succeed and committed to following the franchise model that Dudan has put in place.

     “AdvantaClean’s team is committed to being successful, and they understand the model is solid. Between their commitment and consistency, it’s amazing how well the people that they send to us fit hand in glove with the company,” notes Bob Henricks of Sandler Sales, AdvantaClean’s sales training partner.

     Dudan emphasizes the importance of homogeneity among franchisees, ensuring smooth operation within the brand.

     “The AdvantaClean nation promotes a culture of success. If they follow the plan we’ve laid out, they will be successful,” Dudan confidently asserts. “When asked, our franchise owners have unanimously said that they’d do it all over again. That’s a point of pride and a testament to the power of our business model,” he adds.

     AdvantaClean franchises now operate nationwide; AdvantaClean is also registered to operate in Canada.

     “We’re a servant-based culture and care about our community and our families. Intellectual humility is important as well—admitting that you don’t know everything and are willing to learn,” he adds, underscoring AdvantaClean’s commitment to professional training.

     Financing from the Small Business Administration is available for potential AdvantaClean franchisees, a big selling point for those looking to own their own business.

     “Each franchise creates three to four new jobs. With the initial franchising fee at just $44,900, it’s easier to get into financially than many other opportunities,” Dudan says.

     AdvantaClean’s franchises have had an incredibly high success rate, which he attributes to the financial ease of introducing the service into new markets. Dudan estimates the total initial investment for a franchise to be between $80,000 and $150,000.

     Entrepreneur magazine has taken note of AdvantaClean’s successful franchise model, placing the company in its Franchise 500 two years in a row; No. 257 in 2012, up from No. 291 in 2011. It was also ranked in Entrepreneur’s Fastest-Growing, No. 69, and Top Home-based, No. 75 lists in 2012. In 2011, they were ranked No. 5 in Franchise Business Review.

 

Burdens of Business

     “We’re a recession-resistant business,” he adds. The numbers back up his statement, as they’ve weathered an economic storm in what have been turbulent times for many other industries. However, every business has its burdens.

     Rising fuel costs are affecting businesses of all sizes. AdvantaClean has found ways to cut fuel costs by adding same-day service discounts, encouraging technicians to consolidate the number of trips needed. Scheduling appointments by proximity to one another helps too, reducing the number of back-and-forth trips across town.

     They play it smart with their call center too. Instead of always driving to do an estimate, they’ll try to ascertain the extent of a problem beforehand, requesting photos and detailed descriptions through their engagement center. Even what would seem obvious—reconfirming a call the day beforehand—helps too, saving valuable time and money.

     AdvantaClean’s business model is guided by what Dudan calls the 5 Es: Expectation, Engagement, Education, Emulation, and Empowerment. While all concepts are crucial elements to the business, engagement is the most notable from an outsider’s perspective, as everything ties back to this.

     “We can monitor our performance in real-time and communicate with our franchisees on a daily basis. We’re in touch with them two to three times a day. We have an integrated platform that has really given us an edge, allowing us handle all of the backend work” he says.

     AdvantaClean’s onsite call center is itself referred to as the ‘engagement center’ and operates on a national scale. It is from here that appointments are made for clients.

     “We can send work to our franchisees from the center here, keeping them focused more on getting the job done and less on administration,” says Ashley Nixon, Engagement Center manager.

     AdvantaClean also puts on weekly webinars and educational events to keep their franchise operators and employees up-to-date on protocols and proper procedures. Their internal social network requires each franchise operator to keep in close contact on a daily basis, sharing their daily objectives and observations. This information exchange keeps AdvantaClean’s ship running tight, with Dudan at the helm.

     AdvantaClean engages their customers too. A fresh, tightly designed website greets visitors, offering relevant information to potential customers.

     Decorating Dudan’s office walls are various thought-provoking quotes meant to carry lessons about succeeding with the AdvantaClean business model. It is clear that education (one of the five Es) remains important, even at the top of the company

     “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself,” one of them reads. “If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a chance,” another reads, highlighting AdvantaClean’s commitment to a tight organization.

     “I’m not even sure where some of these quotes comes from, but they’re lessons that we’ve taken in growing the business, making sure that we improve and learning from mistakes along the way. If you come back next year, they may be a little different,” he notes.

     Asked about the future, Dudan says, “In 10 years, I’d imagine AdvantaClean will still be going strong. We’d like to see ourselves become a billion dollar company. Everything depends on the success of our franchises and I really see the future of our business going environmental.

     “We are moving into more preventative work. Our day-to-day operations are in air quality and mold remediation. While disaster response will be a component, we’ll be handling jobs that aren’t as response-based, and we’ll be doing jobs that promote energy efficiency,” he adds.

     With AdvantaClean’s steady growth, success-proven franchise model, and a commitment to improving the health and happiness of its clients, the brand seems poised for prosperity in the years to come. With no storm too big, and no air duct too small, Mother Nature might have a bit of the wind knocked out of her when she faces off against AdvantaClean.

Craig Dixon is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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