Turning a Mom-and-Pop Business into a Franchise That Serves 14 States In 9 years, Vincent Lee took a small janitorial business and turned it into a franchise that provides services for huge companies including Nike and FedEx.
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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.
Vincent Lee and his partners started ServiceMaster Facilities Maintenance in 2005, converting a small mom-and-pop business into a franchised location. Today, the company manages more than 800 employees in 14 states, and provides janitorial services for some of the top companies in the U.S., including Nike, FedEx and International Paper. Here's how Lee and his partners grew their business at such a rapid pace.
Name: Vincent Lee, President & CEO of ServiceMaster Facilities Maintenance
My partners and I started our franchise, ServiceMaster Facilities Maintenance, in 2005. Based in Memphis, Tenn., we manage more than 800 employees across 14 states. We've also opened three branch offices to support our business, located in Atlanta, Ga., Newark, N.J. and Nashville, Tenn.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I've co-owned this franchise for more than nine years, along with my three business partners.
I was first introduced to the ServiceMaster Clean brand when I was working with a local franchise owner, Chris McCall of ServiceMaster by Stratos, as a diversity supplier to some of his accounts. Through this relationship we discovered the deep branding, support and background provided by this nationally recognized franchise system.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before transitioning into my franchise career, I spent more than 20 years in the hotel industry managing operations and sales for a number of successful chains including Hilton and The Ritz Carlton. I was first exposed to the business while working at another janitorial company and learned valuable insights into the industry. Interestingly enough, my partners represent even more diverse backgrounds.
André Coleman, vice president and CFO, has a background in finance as well as auto sales; Troy Watson, vice president of operations, is a luxury-clothing designer who has produced clothing for local businessmen and professional athletes.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I spent months researching franchise opportunities with proven systems in place. Not only did I believe ServiceMaster Clean was one of the best franchise systems on the market, I felt there was great synergy in my past experience in the hospitality and, of course, the cleaning industry.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
We spent roughly $75,000, which included the franchise fee, vehicle, equipment and office location set up.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
As an entrepreneur, I make it a point to get most of my advice from people on the ground, doing the work in the trenches every day. In this case, I spoke with people who would soon be my fellow ServiceMaster franchisees. I learned they encounter the same issues that I face day-to-day and also learned how they were able to continue to grow their own business with support from the franchise system. I was then able to pair my past work experience with personal stories and advice, and successfully apply the results in real life scenarios.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
One of the most unexpected challenges I faced when opening my business was determining the right time to start hiring employees and building the team. When we started, my partner André and I were a two-man show. We saw tremendous growth during our first year in the cleaning services industry. As our business quickly expanded, we learned how to hire the right people at the right time and find people that actually wanted to work for us.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
It's important to learn the business first. Learn the ins and outs and all the nuances of the industry before you start hiring people and expanding your business.
What's next for you and your business?
We've come a long way since founding our business with just two employees less than 10 years ago. Now at more than 800 employees in 14 states, we are proud to be ranked as the top janitorial franchise in the ServiceMaster system. We have even won system-wide awards including Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Marion E. Wade Excellence Award for Janitorial Services in 2012. Up next for us is to expand into new markets, including a focus in Atlanta. We are also excited to move beyond the janitorial service line and offer full service facilities maintenance.