Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Brad Smith began looking into buying a Merry Maids franchise, his best friend who was already a franchisee attempted to discourage him. Why? His friend was worried Smith would have a hard time transitioning to life as a cleaning franchisee in Georgia after his intense work as a police officer in Bosnia. Smith quickly proved his friend wrong, and was even nominated Merry Maids Rookie of the Year his first year in business. Here's what he's learned over the last decade.
Name: Brad Smith
Franchise owned: Merry Maids in Conyers, Ga.
How long have you owned the franchise?
In August 2014 we celebrated 10 years. We started from scratch and now have more than 300 customers and between 20 and 25 employees. We operate four franchise territories in six counties with two offices (and growing).
My dream has always been to have my own business. For years I picked up a copy of Entrepreneur magazine to learn about available opportunities and businesses. Even when I was on active duty as a police officer, I knew I wanted to own my own business. Franchising provided the perfect framework.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
My background is in law enforcement (teaching and public speaking) where I’ve served in a metro-Atlanta police force for more than 30 years. In 1998, I embarked on a one-year peacekeeping mission in Bosnia that turned into five years. My job was working with other international police to help protect civilian human rights and to ensure compliance with the peace agreement. We worked in the civilian sector so the military could handle military tasks.
While there, you really saw the need to help so I volunteered to teach English to children three evenings a week and every Saturday. The entire mission stretched me; it was challenging and humbling to work in a beautiful eastern European country that suffered so much from war.
I credit some of my success with Merry Maids to my time in Bosnia because you see what others go through and you know you can’t quit. I have a special place in my heart for the Bosnian people. So, when a Bosnian immigrant named Zina applied in 2005, I was thrilled to have her. She’s a tough cookie, having been put on a bus as a teen with her little brother and told to get out of the country during war and sparring verbally with snipers on a roof top She doesn’t back down.
Her leadership, communication and computer skills were so good that in time she became our first office manager and is still with us today. I even had the opportunity to visit her Bosnian town and see the school she attended -- talk about an added “background check.” I attended the ceremony when she became a U.S. citizen and saw how proud she was to become an American and work hard.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I knew the Merry Maids name well. My best friend had a very successful Merry Maids franchise in Virginia so I was familiar with the brand. As a police officer I had seen the name as I traveled around the area and it had a really positive connotation for me. Funny, but my friend tried to talk me out of it because he didn’t think I could make the transition from police work, especially coming back after working so intensely in Bosnia. He was concerned but supportive.
I knew I wanted to be affiliated with a business that trained its people well, had the honor and reputation I felt Merry Maids had, and was supportive. When I visited Merry Maids headquarters in Memphis to learn more about the company, I said ‘this is what I want to do and the people I want to work with.’ The best choice I’ve made.
Within 90 days of opening the franchise we were running like a wild horse. In the first year we were nominated for Rookie of the Year. My critic friend was quiet then but happy for us.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The franchise fee was around $37,000. Adding in equipment and expanded marketing, it was around $55,000. It was my choice to invest more into equipment and personnel to grow. We expect to have over a million in revenue in 2014, a fast 10 years’ growth.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I researched various business models and opportunities, but having a friend who already owned a Merry Maids franchise in Virginia helped me get an insider’s view of Merry Maids. The brand name recognition was strong with me and his success was amazing to see.
An example of the name recognition came before we officially opened for business. The moment our phone was connected, it rang and a woman on the other end said, “Finally you guys are open. I keep checking for a Merry Maids here and today I went online and your number popped up.” True story. It was a woman who used Merry Maids in Dallas for years but couldn’t find a franchise after moving to Atlanta. She remained a regular weekly customer for years until she moved.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The challenge for me was actually fast growth. The purchase was extremely reasonable and the brand name pretty much drove business. At the beginning I was doing everything from administration to estimates to actual cleaning. Some of my first and most unexpected struggles were staying ahead of the curve with the growth. I found I couldn’t think about today, rather I needed to think about what I needed for next month, next year. Rapid growth is a wild horse and a challenge, but certainly a nice challenge to have.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
First, know what it is you want. Set your goals, write them down, look at them and keep them. When I was a police officer I spoke to school students about goal setting. One visual technique is to find an inspirational photo and tape it to your mirror so you see it every morning. Then get up and go, dream that goal and make your dreams come true.
The main driver for choosing a franchise is there’s a proven path for success. Someone has already established a system, can help you and you can build on that success by asking questions and learning by challenges and achievements. With franchising you can also apply your own positive skills to add to success and you have built in consultants there to assist.
Associate with other franchises or entrepreneurs who are successful and be open to change within and around you. Help others and always be “teachable.” I’ve found some of the most successful people are those who help and are willing to learn from others.
What’s next for you and your business?
In the last two years we focused on growth and developing our team members and customer base. In 2012 we expanded and in 2013, we expanded again increasing our business area to four franchise territories.
We have people call us from the other side of Atlanta – 50 miles away – and for now, they’re unreachable. But it sure is a nice compliment they wish to have Merry Maids.
Successful growth is only part of my story. I firmly believe in giving back in my own community and on the other side of the world. I am still active with the sheriff’s department reserve unit here in the metro-Atlanta area as a Deputy Sheriff, where I volunteer with many community organizations such as the Georgia Special Olympics and other programs – people helping people.
Through Merry Maids, we support women’s shelters, local food banks and other worthy community groups where we try to help those in need.
This June, the floods in Bosnia devastated entire towns, particularly tragic coming so soon on the heels of war. We worked with the Bosnian Community Center, The World Catholic Church and Yonkafa Project (aid). We collected supplies at the Merry Maids office but had to shift to the community center to accommodate the medicine and hygiene donations that poured in.
We were able to send a 40-foot container with more than 20,000 pounds of relief supplies. Being able to give back in that way is what it’s all about for me. As a team, we recognize our customers are real people and not just accounts. We work to provide the best professional service and support through volunteering to help real people with real needs, locally and globally.