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A Sweeping Change

Industry advancements are altering perceptions of what a typical maid franchise is.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When Dan Bishop founded The Maids Home Services more than 20 years ago, the typical residential cleaning franchisee was a part-timer running the business out of his or her home. Bishop was looking for something different for his franchise. "We took somewhat of an opposite tact and targeted businesspeople" to become franchisees.

When he went after this market, though, Bishop encountered some resistance-this potential batch of franchisees associated running a residential cleaning business with getting out the mop and broom. "In the early days, it was very difficult to get a corporate person excited about [the concept] of cleaning," he says.

Yet thanks to technology initiatives and rising demand for these services, more corporate employees are getting very excited about the concept of cleaning. Today a typical franchisee for The Maids, Molly Maid Inc., Merry Maids or other residential cleaning franchises runs his or her business from a corporate office, has dozens of employees and hundreds of clients. Some are running multiple locations and earning revenues into the millions.

"Our society is changing. Over the last 10 years, the consumer demand for housecleaning has been very high, because both people in the home work. Basically, nobody has time to clean anymore," says Vance Mehrens, vice president for Merry Maids. "Because of that, [corporate types] have seen that the opportunities are great."

To take advantage of these opportunities, franchisors are seeking and catering to more business-minded prospects. "We stopped looking for people seeking a supplemental income, and we ratcheted up the [initial investment] amount. We also made it much more of an executive-type franchise," says Greg Longe, president and CEO of Molly Maid. "We set them up to become a bigger enterprise, so we needed people who had the goal and ambition to build a big business."

Management experience is key for prospects. "Probably the most ideal background is someone who's had experience dealing with and managing service workers," Mehrens says. "Our [employees] are the key to our successful business, so experience in hiring the right people and motivating service-level workers is beneficial."

The adaptation and implementation of different technology has also been beneficial to residential cleaning franchises. The Maids has GPS installed in all its cars. Merry Maids franchisees use the Web-based Media Builder program to create customized ads, coupons and flyers. Molly Maid created the Customer Care program to help franchisees with planning, scheduling and other administrative tasks. "We recognized the lift [the burden] of some of this forecasting and scheduling in order to allow the franchisees to spread their wings," Longe says of Customer Care.

While bigger is better in today's residential cleaning franchises, there's still room in some systems for smaller owner/operators. "Smaller towns in particular always have areas with room for growth. We do have franchisees who are very happy operating a small business, and are comfortable with the income the business produces," Longe says. "Obviously, everybody is looking for the larger franchisees, but given certain circumstances, we still bring in smaller owners from time to time."

Overall, though, residential cleaning franchises are going to continue to think big when looking toward the future. "I see very aggressive multi-store operators coming on board," Bishop says. "Franchisees aren't just limited to their own cities anymore, so multi-city operators and people who have that kind of experience are the ones we're talking to today."