According to Stats Canada, there were over 14 million households in Canada at last count (2016). That’s up from around 12 million in 2006. That means a lot more people needing their homes cleaned, fixed, renovated, organized, and serviced than ever before. Couple this with an aging population requiring more help at home, and it’s easy to see why many experts think the home care industry is on firm ground for years to come.
So, what’s it like to actually run a business in the home care space? Well, Franchise Canada caught up with franchisees working in interior cleaning, exterior cleaning, repairs and maintenance, storage, and meal planning. Here’s what they told us.
Co-founder: media production agency. Director: summer camp. Franchisee: home cleaning service. Thornhill franchisee Jonathan Shelson’s last three career moves don’t seem to have much in common, but there’s definitely a positive evolution, he says. And he’s glad it led to MaidPro.
With the first two careers, he learned that he wanted to work for himself but also have a flexible work-life balance. The home cleaning industry seemed perfect because there’s generally low overhead, recurring revenue and consistent, knowable work.
Franchising was also a good fit, he says, because while you’re doing it alone, you have a partner. And it’s a unique partnership with MaidPro, he adds. There is a system of course, but there isn’t a franchisee bible with a million commandments to follow.
“They’re really flexible on letting you adapt their business model to your market and your vision for your own franchise. There’s no chief compliance officer.”
Started in Boston in 1991, MaidPro now has over 150 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Shelson opened his in Toronto in 2017, and today has 10 employees cleaning homes mainly in Vaughan, Markham, and Thornhill. He anticipates continued growth, he says, one reason being MaidPro’s recent hiring of more coaching and support specialists.
“One is only responsible for helping franchisees with hiring staff, for example, another for financials, another for customer experience. I can really tailor it.”
The positive career evolution continues, it would appear.
It’s been several years, but Steve Soper can still clearly remember the moment when the lightbulb went off. He’d been searching for a new type of business to start, and he was watching a movie.
“It was a motivational video, and one of the hosts asked the audience: ‘What’s one of the most recession-proof businesses there is?’ He said, ‘It’s a handyman business. Sure, people may stop buying new homes, but they still have stuff breaking down that needs to be fixed.’”
Those words stuck with Soper, and launched him on a fix-it franchise search that eventually led him to Mr. Handyman. He became the Richmond Hill, Ontario franchisee in 2012.
He chose Mr. Handyman over other similar franchises for two reasons. One, their market share appeared to be the largest. And two, the customer experience was top-notch.
“A lot of the other brand concepts out there just hire sub-contractors, and they could show up in a 1990 Dodge Caravan that’s rusted out. So you just don’t have the control over the customer experience.”
Now that he’s been a franchisee for seven years, the biggest benefit of the system is the support he gets from other Mr. Handyman franchisees and the franchise company, Neighborly, the largest service-based franchise company in the world.
Another benefit is how flexible the system is.
“If you want to run with an office and a warehouse and 10 technicians, you can. But you can also run it out of your basement with you, your wife and a couple of technicians. You can’t do that with a lot of other franchises.”
“Organization feels great.” That’s the motto of Stor-X, and it’s been the franchise’s guiding force since Wolf Nickel launched the Richmond, British Columbia business in 1989.
He started franchising in 2012, but Stor-X has been an industry leader in the design and manufacturing of custom designed home storage solutions well before that. At press time, they had a dozen franchisees spread between Vancouver Island and Saskatoon. Some are full-time, others are part-time, but all of them sell and install custom storage units for closets, pantries, laundry rooms, home offices and other spaces.
“What makes us unique is that we’re both the franchise and the factory,” says Nickel. “We’re not just the franchise system; we’re actually providing the product. So there’s no need for the franchisee to go out and find their own supply chain.”
As for what makes an ideal Stor-X franchisee, Nickel says that networking and sales abilities are huge. They don’t really need technical skills, however, he adds, because they can easily be taught how to install the product. Franchisees have come with backgrounds in everything from IT sales to naturopathy.
There is one common attribute shared by almost all Stor-X franchisees, though, and — surprise, surprise — it’s that they believe organization feels great, too.
“At the end of the day, what they’re doing is selling shelves, but what they’re really doing is selling stress relief, they’re selling organization for someone’s home,” says Nickel. “So if that resonates with someone, they’re probably already being on the right road to being a good fit.”
We’ve all been there: It’s 5:30, and you have no idea what you’re going to make for dinner. Will it be the same boring tacos? Chicken and rice? Unhealthy takeout?
With SupperWorks, you don’t really have that problem, says Ottawa-area franchisee Alison Kelly-Quesnel. Each of the franchise’s 10 Ontario stores has healthy and fresh meals that you can pick up, have delivered, or even make yourself in the SupperWorks kitchen. Think dishes like mushroom-smothered sirloin roast, baked lemon schnitzel with lemon butter, creamy Cajun chicken pasta and a rotating cast of others for families, singles, and couples.
Kelly-Quesnel is the franchisee of the Nepean, Orleans, and Kanata, Ontario locations. She says customers are drawn to SupperWorks for a lot of reasons. Convenience is big, of course, but so is the quality of the food and the social aspect of using the kitchen. The variety of ingredients on offer is a plus, too. “They’re family-friendly meals, so they aren’t extreme, but I don’t know if I would have cooked Thai curry for my kids at three and four. So it can open people up to trying new things.”
As a franchisee, the biggest draw for her to SupperWorks is the positive atmosphere.
“Coming from a restaurant franchise, it’s very different. Everyone’s happy here. It’s nice to know that you’re helping busy families or that you’re helping that senior stay in their house a little longer. And from an operations perspective, it’s nice that, unlike a restaurant, I know my orders days ahead of time.”
How’s this for a rise through the ranks? In 2007, Martin Goertzen was hired as one of Window Butler’s first window cleaners. A year later, he became the field manager. Another year later, the operations manager. In 2015, he bought the Ottawa-based company outright to become CEO.
Now he’s looking at the next jump: franchising. This summer, Window Butler will open a location in Kingston, Ontario, marking the start of what Goertzen hopes is a Canada-wide window-cleaning, pressure-washing, and gutter-cleaning franchise company within five years.
“We’ve grown every year, especially as more people know that we’re pretty affordable. But we’re not like the student window cleanings where it’s very basic cleaning, cheap. We’re more expensive than them but the quality is significantly higher.”
They also guarantee satisfaction. If a customer finds any issues with the work within 72 hours of completion, Window Butler will fix it for free.
And then there are those flashy blue and yellow trucks with the big tuxedoed butler on the side. Many Ottawans know them well.
Kingstonians will soon, too, and maybe a lot more Canadians to boot.
“Once we get our foot in the door in Kingston, it’ll grow quickly,” says Goertzen. “Within the next three to five years, I think we’ll be all over Canada. There’s a lot of market out here, there’s always houses to clean windows, and it’s a yearly job, so there’s work all the time.”
By Jordan Whitehouse