Just out of Michigan State, David R. Povlitz wasn't just looking for a job. He was searching, literally door-to-door, for a calling. On that first day of job hunting, at five in the morning, he solicited Detroit businesses--a bowling alley, a bakery, bars, office buildings--to see if they needed any kind of help whatsoever.
"At the end of the day," he says, "I didn't get one lead."
He did get noticed, however. By the son of the owner of a janitorial supply company. He took Povlitz under his wing, teaching him about cleaning equipment and supplies, and encouraging him to find work in the business.
Povlitz soon struck gold.
Today Povlitz is chairman of Anago Cleaning Systems, the 78th largest franchise in the United States, according to Entrepreneur magazine's 2009 Franchise 500. The company has jumped from No. 194 in 2008 and is the 19th fastest-growing franchise in America. It's a rare franchise that someone can start for less than $50,000. Povlitz says the company's attitude--"I won't let you fail; let me help you grow"--has contributed to its growth. But the explosion in the domestic service industry, a steady supply of immigrant labor and a quick learning curve for workers haven't hurt, either.
"Even a caveman can do it," Povlitz says, echoing the GEICO insurance motto. "The teachers aren't cleaning schools, the nurses aren't cleaning doctors' offices, and the bankers won't clean the bank."
Indeed, it's been his willingness to dig into the dirty business that has catapulted Povlitz to mogul status. Early on he dove into the biggest, messiest gigs, including cleaning up after a Rolling Stones concert at the Pontiac Silverdome. He calls his drive "hunger."
Here's how he got that job: One day Povlitz barged into the Silverdome uninvited and started cleaning the concourse walkways with a state-of-the-art Clarke Autoscrubber. The facility's architect stopped him and asked him what he was doing. Impressed by the results, he helped Povlitz get a three-year contract to clean the stadium.
In those early days, in the 1970s, Povlitz enlisted his three brothers to run the new company, which they called Imperial Professional Building Maintenance. They designed new ways to cut costs and lower their bids for contracts. At the stadium, for example, they swept two rows into one aisle instead of sweeping one row into an adjacent aisle, consolidating trash pickup. For restroom work, Povlitz came up with the idea of using an orchard sprayer to apply disinfectant to bathrooms--a common practice today.
The brothers worked together for 15 years before splitting up and selling the company in the late 1980s. Povlitz retired in Florida but decided to take a job at top janitorial franchiser Jani-King to study its ways. After a few months, he came out of retirement and started Anago, which scored its first franchisee in 1991. Now there are 1,233 locations and counting. "Our business is essentially recession-resistant," he says.
At age 60, Povlitz is married with two grown children. He enjoys fishing and taking his boat out on the Intracoastal Waterway of Broward County, Fla., where he lives the good life. He has no plans for a second retirement. "I don't think so," he says. "I'm having too much fun."