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November 2009
Keeping it in Mint Condition
By Carol Gifford

     Business might be downright messy if you are a commercial cleaning company planning to steadily expand until it saturates the $120 billion industry. But for Fort Mill, S.C.-based Mint Condition Franchising—named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s top 500 franchise operations in 2008—is cleaning up, with business continuing to grow during the recession.

     “Even in this economy, businesses still need a cleaning service,” says Jack Saumby, president of Mint Condition Franchising, Inc. “Our model is recession-resistant. Our industry is probably one of the most fragmented of any; nobody dominates the market in any geographic region. You can take over just two to four percent of a marketplace, and you will have a successful business.

     “Right now, unemployment in the Charlotte metro area is about 12 percent, but we’re still growing. We target small to medium-sized office buildings and stay away from those sectors experiencing some upheaval, such as housing or automobile-related companies.”

     Mint Condition Franchising offers commercial cleaning and janitorial services for businesses, including medical, banks, office and professional buildings. Two key attributes of a successful commercial janitorial company, says Saumby, are having strong systems in place and hiring and retaining the right people.

 

Learning How to Clean Up

     “People think that since they know how to clean their home, they can run a cleaning business,” says Saumby.  “But it’s not the same thing as cleaning your house. You have to be able to differentiate between the business end and the actual cleaning.”

     For example, he said one key to pricing cleaning jobs accurately is to understand how to figure out the cost of cleaning different-sized spaces.

     “We purchased a software program designed for the janitorial industry to figure out exactly how long it will take us to vacuum 1,000 square feet or clean the desks, rest rooms and break rooms,” he says. In addition, customers want janitorial services to do several things: provide competitive pricing, use safe products, and provide a dependable consistent service, says Saumby.

     “What would you think if you found out that the person cleaning your office had first cleaned the urinal with the rag they were using to wipe the top of your desk?” asks Saumby. “That would never happen with our cleaning system. And we use the same color-coded cleaning system whether its medical, office or professional buildings.”

     According to Saumby, Mint Condition Franchising uses reusable and ecofriendly products that are more costly upfront, but allow for increased usage and are better for the environment. The microfiber cloth system used for cleaning patient rooms in medical office buildings is the same system used in any office environment.

     Their specialized cleaning system is and taught to all franchise owners in the company’s headquarters by Ron Colello and Joe Hendricks, two of the company’s Fortune 500 executives hired to manage training, sales and operations. They’ve introduced the color-coded system that avoids cross-contamination.

     The system uses different color microfiber cloths for different cleaning purposes, laundered after each cleaning, that last for 1,000 to 2,000 machine washes. Instead of the traditional mop and bucket to clean the floor, the company uses a two-compartment bucket design and germicidal cleaner, so personnel are only putting clean water on the floor. Additionally, the company uses only S.C. Johnson green seal-approved chemicals.

     For vacuuming purposes, the company uses a four-stage HEPA vacuum ergonomically designed as an 11-pound backpack with a 99.7 percent effective filter endorsed by the American Lung Association that allows for cleaner, more efficient vacuuming.

     “Today with the swine flu scare, people are really concerned that their offices and working conditions are clean and sanitary,” says Saumby. “But it doesn’t cost any more to clean offices at a hospital grade level than it does with conventional cleaning.

     “Our use of green cleaning materials and a systematic cleaning routine makes our company more health-friendly as well as cost effective,” says Saumby.

 

Customers Recognize the Difference

     “I like the way they run their business,” says customer Ann Reap, facility manager at Senderra Funding, a mortgage bank located in Fort Mill. She has worked with Mint Condition for over two years now to clean their 45,000-square-foot professional office building. The company cleans five times a week and, on a monthly basis, maintains its 15,000 square feet of unfinished space.

     “They are very professional, responsive and proactive,” Reap explains. “Instead of just assuming that things are going well, my cleaning crew manager checks the work personally and is in regular contact with me to make sure I’m satisfied with the job.”

     Marsha Burch, an administrator for Davis, Steele & Iron, a steel fabricator, has employed Mint Condition cleaning crews for the past three years and she appreciates the company’s trustworthiness and flexibility. A cleaning crew cleans the two-story building two nights a week.

     “A few months ago we asked Mint Condition to change the days it cleans our office and it was quickly accommodated. Also, the cleaning crew is trustworthy,” says Burch, who trusts them and their ability to keep the building secure.

     “They come and let themselves in,” says Burch, “and then lock up, set the security alarm, and leave the building. We’ve never had any problems.”

     Mint Condition Franchising has grown to 80-plus individual franchises in Charlotte and 145 in total, with a diverse clientele base that includes office, professional, medical, schools, churches, and other buildings. The company also has 10 master franchises, or executives, who have bought the rights to develop “hot” regional areas with a 400,000-plus population.

     Through its tested and successful model, Mint Condition Franchising offers individuals two levels of opportunity. They can join the company as individual franchisees as a way to either work full-time or supplement another income stream, or begin a master franchise, recruiting new customers and training other individual franchisees how to grow their own area cleaning businesses.

     Saumby attributes his company’s success to three factors: using a special software program to provide accurate cleaning estimates to customers; utilizing the same comprehensive cleaning system for all sites throughout their franchise model, and an in-house telemarketing center that eliminates cold-calling and provides on-going assistance with developing and maintaining a customer base.

 

Starting From the Ground Up

     Mint Condition Franchising began in 1987 in Charlotte as Maintenance World, Inc., an independent commercial cleaning company started by Saumby, who had relocated from the Houston to Charlotte area. A Buffalo native, Saumby was a former sales executive with Honeywell in Houston until the 1984 recession led him to a new profession. He took over a floundering janitorial business, growing the company from $200,000 to over $1 million in revenue in just four years.

     Saumby and his wife, Marcy, a co-owner of Mint Condition Franchising, decided to relocate to Charlotte in 1987 to be closer to their families on the east coast. They opened a cleaning company in an area with a strong and growing office environment.

     “Business was booming in the Charlotte region,” says Saumby. “We worked really, really hard, making cold calls all day and cleaning at night. It was a hard way to start a business. I had to learn from all my mistakes—and I made plenty—but I had a strong desire to own my own business and be successful.”

     The Saumbys grew their new company to the eighth largest in the Charlotte market in just eight years. Then when the company reached the 100-employee mark, Saumby realized he needed to make some changes to grow further.

     He took time to study the franchising business and evaluate different models before he converted his Charlotte business into a franchise model in 1995-96. His quality model attracted interest and new franchise owners, but was a path very different from most other franchise company models. The Mint Condition model includes guaranteed cleaning contracts and low franchise turnover. Other franchise models have higher upfront fees and increased fees for lost accounts, leading to failures, often resulting in 30 to 40% turnover, and litigation against the franchisor.

     In contrast, Saumby studied and built a scalable franchise system, allowing individuals and master franchises to buy in at a certain level and grow if and when they desire. His patience paid off.

     The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES), a national multi-franchise marketing program now offers Mint Condition Franchising, Inc. master franchises for sale. The company expects to add eight to 10 master franchises each year, a rate that will take another 10 years to saturate the U.S., says Saumby, who adds that steady growth is fine.

      Master franchise owners can buy a territory for about $100,000, based on size, a fee that is much less expensive than some competitors, says Saumby. The 10 master franchisees own the rights to major metro areas across the country from Pennsylvania to California.

     “At the master franchise level, we attract executives who may have worked in other businesses and been downsized, or decide to take more control of their lives instead of being dependent on corporate America,” explains Saumby. “These are people with proven skill sets who know what they want and recognize the value in our system that allows them to concentrate on building their business and know that a quality assurance system is in place to retain customers.”

     Sunil Marolia, who owns an Orange County, Calif., master franchise, says he wanted to find a business that he could grow in spite of the recession and it was Mint Condition Franchising’s business model that attracted him.

     “The recurring revenue stream was a major attraction and I could see the long-term benefits of developing the business,” explains Marolia, an engineer who had owned a software company that he later sold to Hewlett Packard. “The early years of business development lead to sustainable and profitable revenue for subsequent years, and the model includes a strategy of customer retention.”

     Individuals can become franchise owners with an investment of about $3,000 and most enter the business to supplement another source of income. They decide how much business or hours they want to put into the company and how they want to structure their cleaning. Some do it themselves, while others hire employees that they supervise, or some combination of the two. Since most cleaning is done at night, franchise owners can often work daytime hours at another job and then head to work at the Mint Condition franchise in the evening.

     Saumby offers them guidance and help reviewing legal documents such as the federal disclosure document that all franchisees must sign, showing them, step by step, what they’re paying for and what will be provided for them.

     “I started with the company about three years ago and built up my business to where I have seven employees and spend about 40 hours a week supervising their work,” says Andrew Strong, who lives in Charlotte and supplements his school district janitorial job with his Mint Condition work. “It’s a great company to work with.  They are very responsive to what I need and want. I can decide how many hours I work and how many employees I want to hire.”

     Strong said his franchise has nine cleaning accounts with offices in Charlotte, Fort Mill and Rock Hill and most of his jobs are done in the evening.

     “I plan on staying and growing with the company,” says Strong. “It’s a way for me to have my own business while Mint Condition handles most paperwork and finds the accounts.”

     Saumby says franchise owners can make as much money in their secondary income with Mint Condition, Inc. as they do in their daytime jobs, and that some owners who were downsized in the recession, made up the deficient by increasing the hours they spend on their franchise work.

     “Our model includes the customer base so franchises can keep working on what’s important to them—providing high-quality service resulting in recurring revenue,” says Saumby.

     Saumby’s franchise business philosophy is to “look for the right people, not necessarily the people with the most money.”

     “You don’t work this hard if it is all just about money,” says Saumby. “My idea is to build a high-quality franchise system that will last.”

Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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