With unemployment at levels not seen since the 1930s, many people are turning to franchising to get control of their lives back by starting their own business. And now more than ever, it is essential to make sure that any business you're contemplating is going to do well in tough times, since they seem to be here to stay--at least for the foreseeable future.
Quite often, the secret to finding a fantastic recession-proof niche is to focus on the "dirty jobs" that people usually don't even consider when researching business ideas. Such service businesses are especially strong if a person is highly unlikely to do the job for themselves even when times are tough. Often these industry segments are marked by high margins, strong and consistent demand and minimal competition-a sure recipe for success in any business climate.
Best of all, many of these businesses are what we call "executive franchises." Even though they may go to market with dirty or disgusting jobs, it's not the franchise owner that will be providing the service. The franchisee hires people to do the actual work and typically focuses on the marketing side of the business instead of jumping in the trenches.
So what are some examples of these types of businesses? Let's have some fun looking at five great examples of these "dirty job" businesses:
Restoration services : This type of business is a perennial favorite because of two distinct characteristics. First, the types of problems it addresses don't care a hoot whether there is a recession or not. Fires burn causing smoke damage, pipes burst flooding the basement and sewers back up into houses in any kind of economic cycle. These events provide a steady stream of work for restoration companies, year after year. Second, the cost of the restoration work is almost always paid for by insurance companies. It doesn't matter if a homeowner has lost a job as long as they maintain their insurance, because it is the company that authorizes the work to be done and pays the bill. It may not be pretty to follow up on these sorts of disasters, but it can be lucrative.
Cleaning duct work : A typical house or commercial building has loads of duct work, sheet metal and pipes running through the walls and ceilings. Whether their purpose is to move air for heating and cooling, to vent dryers and other appliances or to facilitate wiring, these ducts are magnets for dust, dirt and even dead critters. They need to be cleaned on a semi-regular basis to manage air quality and fight pollutants and allergens that accumulate in the systems. Though the equipment to do this job correctly isn't terribly expensive, it is far more of an investment than a homeowner or landlord is likely to make. Best of all, it is fairly easy to build a recurring stream of income in this business by contracting for a regular periodic maintenance service after an initial deep cleaning. It may seem crass to say but there is a lot of money to be found among the dirt in those ducts.
Cleaning grease: Commercial grease is a fabulous foundation for a business, because absolutely no one likes grease or wants anything to do with cleaning it up. This means that anyone in the business of cleaning grease, whether in traps and grills or ventilation hoods and pipes, is going to find lots of ready customers and very little organized competition. The ability to set up almost an annuity stream of repeat business in this segment is also fantastic because businesses like restaurants have inspectors that come through regularly. They can't afford not to have their grease cleaned up on a very regular basis and they sure as heck don't want to do it themselves.
Cleaning public restrooms : Another fantastic example is a business set up to clean public restrooms. The typical bar or restaurant has dozens of employees from cooks to waiters to greeters to bartenders to managers--and not one of them wants to have anything to do with cleaning the restrooms. In spite of this, it is a job that must be done on a very regular basis--typically at least once per day. In addition to cleaning the restrooms, businesses in this field offer a number of highly profitable supplemental services such as providing deodorization devices and maintaining inventories of necessary supplies. This is one of those services where you can get customers for life if you do a good job because the decision makers that own or manage a business would like nothing better than to never have to think about their toilets again.
Commercial janitorial services : This can be another fabulous opportunity. All commercial office buildings need to be cleaned on a regular basis, and the landlord usually contracts out this service for the entire building and includes the expense in the maintenance costs of each lease. Industry statistics show that the overwhelming majority of janitorial companies are local mom-and-pop operators, noted for a lack of dependability over time, and industry estimates are that as many as 30 percent of all contracts turn over each year. This opportunity can mean a very low-investment business for franchisees, who usually do the cleaning themselves with some helpers. It can also be a fantastic executive opportunity for a master license franchisee who contracts to develop an entire city or state. The cleaning is typically superficial (empty wastebaskets and vacuum), making it fast and easy to accomplish, and the money for providing this service can be very attractive.
These are just a few examples of "dirty jobs" that can be a sweet success for an executive franchisee who wants to find a safe and solid opportunity in the tough times we're all experiencing. The best way to sort through these types of opportunities and find the best ones out of the lot may be to use a consultant to steer you in the right direction. These seasoned professionals are actively working in the franchise market every day and usually have a good idea of which industries and companies are faring the best. They can't do your due diligence or make decisions for you, but their services are free and they can often save you quite a bit of time narrowing down your search.
Regardless of how you pick the companies you want to look into, it is still essential that you do thorough research. In these tough times, that includes calling a significant number of existing franchisees to verify your impressions prior to making a final decision on any franchise opportunity. Take the time you need to make sure you find a franchise that thrives during tough times and you'll be one of the few people who are happy about the economy during the next few years of recovery.
Jeff Elgin has almost 20 years of experience franchising, both as a franchisee and a senior franchise company executive. He's currently the CEO of FranChoice Inc., a company that provides free consulting to consumers looking for a franchise that best meets their needs.