A franchise system is only as good as its franchisees. It's a phrase commonly repeated among franchisors in search of the right people to help them grow their business and spread their name. And it's no different for those cleaning house. Residential cleaning franchises like Merry Maids, The Maids Home Services and Molly Maid have decades of franchising experience and relentlessly continue their quest to find just the right candidates to build their franchise network.

Here, we ask Sanford L. Friedman, vice president of franchise development for The Maids Home Services; Mike Skitzki, franchise development manager for Molly Maid; and Don Slifer, vice president of market development for Merry Maids, what they look for in franchisees.

Making the Grade
Determining the right criteria is the first step for franchisors looking to select the best people. Good people skills and being financially qualified are among Friedman's list of requirements. He has developed an eye for potential and reports that 99 percent of The Maids Home Services' franchisees have a college education, and 95 percent have come from the corporate world after being downsized or leaving by choice.

Skitzki, meanwhile, finds that someone who has been in the corporate world for a while and has strong management skills, team-building skills and interpersonal skills is usually a good bet. He adds that after 20 years of franchising, Molly Maid has a solid idea of the type of person to look out for. "Twenty-five percent of the system averages over $1 million a year in gross sales," he says. "We can look at those franchise owners and ask, 'What have you done and what makes you successful? Let's find more people like you.'"

Slifer of Merry Maids admits that previous experience in management or business certainly helps; however, he strongly believes it's all in the attitude. Says Slifer, "We're not looking [so much] for somebody with a certain net worth or a certain background as we are for someone who really wants to jump in and get directly involved in developing a business."

As these giants go head-to-head in their search for qualified franchisees, all three depend on outside resources to obtain leads. While Slifer and Skitzki depend largely on online advertising to draw people in, Friedman seeks out the help of major consultant groups. "We have found that the relationship with consultants is a very productive one," says Friedman. "That's our major method of marketing our business model to potential candidates."

The Evaluation
But the ultimate test comes down to how potential franchisees hold up during the selection process that ranges, on average, between one and three months. These three franchises have each established an evaluation period during which they use a variety of strategies to get to know the candidates better, including an online personality profile, background checks and an in-person meeting at the corporate headquarters. This process gives the candidates an equally valuable chance to get their feet wet and determine if it's the right franchise for them. "They should meet the executives, the home office team and other franchise owners, because it's a 10-year agreement," says Skitzki. "It's not unlike a marriage."

As important as it is to select the right people, Slifer reveals he does not end up having to turn a lot of candidates away. He explains, "A lot of people sort themselves out along the way when they look at the requirements, the financial resources they're going to need and the amount of time it may take them to get to the breakeven point and beyond and build a business."

With Experience Comes Wisdom
Friedman, Skitzker and Slifer have arrived at the point where they can pick up on certain warning signs. These initial indications help them determine immediately who won't make a good candidate. "In my history of franchising, I've learned that the two predominant reasons for failure are undercapitalization and people who don't follow the system," says Friedman. "If someone does not have the financial wherewithal to do this, we're not doing them any favors by squeezing a square peg into a round hole. They need to find a different business model that doesn't have the same financial requirement. Also, when we feel that someone isn't really willing to follow our system, we have to address that right away upfront."

Slifer agrees on both points, adding, "Someone who thinks this is a business where you put your name in the phone book and you don't have to do too much and everything comes your way--you can kind of sense that [attitude] in people, and that's certainly a red flag."

Meanwhile, Skitzki carefully listens to candidates' responses when asked about their long-term goals and vision. "If I'm talking to people who have already put thought into what they're looking for, that's a very good sign," he says. "If people don't know what they're looking for beyond the fact that they just want a change, it's much more difficult to identify if, indeed, there's a good fit."

And for those who might prove to be a good match but are a bit reluctant to get involved in a franchise that's all about cleaning, Friedman offers these reassuring words, "No one wakes up first thing in the morning, runs outside and shouts at the top of their lungs they want to go in the residential cleaning business, but when they start to hear about the features of the business model--it's a cash business, you're paid for your services before you perform them, it's regular workday hours, it has repeatability with 22 percent of all our retail customers being weekly cleans and 57 percent being biweekly cleans, it has loyalty with 85 percent of our customers giving us keys to their houses--all of a sudden, the stigma of residential cleaning is overcome."