A Window Washer Puts Workers in Kilts to Skirt Competition and Build Its Brand

A unique cleaning franchise recently expanded to the U.S. from Vancouver, British Columbia, via Scotland.
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This story appears in the June 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

It's a notion all of us have had at one time or another: Looking up at a window washer, the clean glass glinting in the sun, we've thought, "The only thing missing from this scene is a kilt." OK, so maybe that thought only crossed the mind of Nicholas Brand, a second-generation Scotsman in Richmond, British Columbia, who took the idea and ran with it.

In 2002, after a night of spitballing business concepts with friends (and perhaps downing a pint or two), Brand began cleaning windows in the Vancouver area clad in a black golf shirt, steel-toed boots, knee-high socks and the tartan of the Wallace clan, hand-stitched by his wife.

The bizarre concept took hold, and by 2006 he had brought on board business partner Brent Hohlweg, who helped push the window cleaning, pressure washing and gutter cleaning service over the $1 million threshold.

But Brand wasn't content to limit the idea to the Vancouver area, so in 2009, Tressa Wood, a former executive with 1-800-Got-Junk? and 1-800-Plumber, joined the company as CEO and partner to get the kilted ones ready for franchising.

Men In Kilts made its American debut in April, opening its first stateside franchise in Seattle. Next it will target Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Los Angeles and all other major cities in the U.S. and Canada. We caught up with Wood, who gave us a little peek at what's under the kilt. (For the record, it's usually shorts, or black leggings in cold weather.) 

We're guessing this isn't for everyone.
The kilt is mandatory, and the guys have to be comfortable with the amount of attention they get. They go to Starbucks in their kilts and people laugh. We're in growth mode, so we need people ready to dig in, who want to have fun but work hard. If you're really shy and don't want people laughing and pointing and staring, this isn't a good fit. You need to be able to rock the kilt.

Why window washing? Why not plumbers in kilts?
In Canada, there's no national window-cleaning brand. In the United States there are one or two others, but they don't have the same service offering. There's definitely an opportunity here on the business side. Some people see our kilts and it resonates. Other people are like, "What, is that for real?" Some can't get enough of it.

What do you do when it's cold out?
We have to look at regional opportunities in colder weather areas. We may look at snow removal or painting. One of the great things about our brand name is that it's sort of generic. We can add revenue streams as needed. There's definitely an opportunity to regionalize services as we grow.

How do you advertise?
We haven't done much advertising. Mainly, people have been approaching us. Our business is so funny and different, it makes people laugh. These days, it's hard to be a brand and not do anything and still make people smile. It's really unique, almost viral. We've gotten lots of franchising inquiries and haven't done anything.

Have you thought about international expansion?
We thought about the United Kingdom and Scotland, but wondered if it would be a big deal. I'm sure there are lots of people over there cleaning windows wearing kilts.


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