In a surprise career move, franchisee finds great pleasure in commercial cleaning business
Fifteen years ago, Julie Hirschauer was in graduate school studying to be a physical therapist. With four boys – one still in diapers – to raise and husband Dennis working in the ministry, Julie found herself looking for ways to earn some extra money. She resisted the idea of Office Pride at first – she really hates cleaning – but 15 years later, she’s an Area Developer in Shelbyville, Ind. with more than 100 employees and billing more than $1 million a year, which puts her within the top 25% of franchisees according to Office Pride’s most recent Franchise Disclosure Document (Item 19). Now 52, Julie talked to us recently about her journey:
How did you find out about Office Pride?
An ad in a newspaper. We were looking for something to supplement his income. I was in grad school. We had four sons, and the youngest was just a baby. We talked to (CEO) Todd Hopkins and initially didn’t think it was the right fit, but some things happened that made us need to make some quick income. We said we’d manage the business but we didn’t want to own it, but within 30 to 45 days, we owned it. I thought, “I hate cleaning, so running a cleaning business? This is kind of stupid to even be talking about.” I say that tongue-in-cheek, because the business really is fun. It’s like one gigantic Monopoly game. It energizes me and allows me to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were punching a time clock somewhere.
What does owning an Office Pride allow you to do that you couldn’t before?
First off, I’m not at anybody’s mercy. I can decide when I’m going to work and how I do my day. I’m rewarded for my hard work. There’s no politics in this. As my company has grown and I’ve been able to put in layers of management, I have tremendous freedoms. I typically take off a week a month and travel and am able to do whatever I want to do. I’ve been in it long enough to know when you think the world is ending, it’s really not. Take a deep breath and see the fun in solving one more problem.
What is your role with Office Pride?
I’m a franchise owner, but also an area developer. On the franchise side of it, in 1998 we started with one $300-a-month account. By January 1999, we were at $15,000. That’s not typical, but we were in a small town. Number one, God blessed us. In a small town, my husband has either married them, buried them or gone to school with them … The business kept growing. We were doing well financially, but honestly I was getting bored with it, so I looked at a possible exit plan. I had graduated and was doing physical therapy plus the business. My husband was doing his ministry plus the business. As an area developer, I work with 20 franchises owners in the Indianapolis market. My role is to be their business coach to help them be successful.
Tell me about your employees.
I teach my managers. The person we’re looking for has a full-time job or is a retiree. They’ve proven that they’re responsible and show up. We’re giving them a flexible part-time job where they can clean the building between 6 and 11. If Junior has a baseball game, you can clean it later. You just can’t find a job like that. Dave Ramsey says, “Go get a part-time job to pay down your debt, go deliver pizzas.” Well, don’t deliver pizzas – clean office buildings.
What are the advantages of the commercial cleaning industry?
Office cleaning is better than residential cleaning because there’s no cycle to it. The office building owner always wants the office cleaned, but homeowners will sometimes call things off. You need recurring income to build a business. Also, it’s much easier to clean an office than a house. In a home, the homeowner is often there and it becomes a social visit, too. If I spend a lot of time visiting with an individual, that’s not good business practice.
How important is it to have cleaning experience before joining Office Pride?
If you have a technician mindset because you just love to clean, it’s the hardest thing. Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Being a technician is easy. It’s almost better to find someone who just wants to own the business. I can teach them the business. I can teach them to be highly successful.
What sets Office Pride apart?
What made Office Pride stick out is spiritual compatibility. The Office Pride mission statement is to honor God in all business relationships.
How large is the opportunity to grow with Office Pride?
That’s the neat thing about this business. There is no ceiling. You can be as big or small as you want … We’re looking for people who want to own a large business. That’s a beautiful business. I don’t know any business that’s like that. We have methods to help you get to whatever level you want to get.
Who are your main customers?
During the recession, I grew more than I ever have. I’m primarily in that small- to medium-sized business niche. If you think about it, the small business owner went through the recession and had a tough time. Many closed their doors, had to let folks go, had to downsize operations. What I think happened is they looked at cutting and realized, “I need to reward myself in one place,” so they didn’t cut us. I’ve had clients who wanted to keep us and said it’s hard financially. And I said, “What can you afford?” Some that were five days a week went down to two days a week. Every one of them is now back up to five. We weathered the storm with them, and that’s a client that isn’t going to let us go. We’re their friend. And that’s ministry, so that’s why it’s fun.
What does your typical day look like?
Initially, they’re out cleaning all night long, catch a little rest and then get out and hustle to find clients during the day. If they have an area developer who can grow the business for them, they’re out all night cleaning and managing staff who are cleaning, and in the afternoon they should get with the area developer for training. As the business grows, it flips. Then the day is spent visiting clients, taking supplies to various accounts, networking. But it can also be, on a beautiful day, taking your laptop onto the back porch, looking out over a beautiful field and thinking, “Wow, how is it that I can go to work sitting here?”
I would say it usually takes about 18 months, but that varies based on how much capital you put in. At zero capital, you have to put in sweat equity – 18 months goes to 24 or 36 months. If you have money to bankroll the business, it can be reduced to three to six months. Operations people will spend more time on operations. Sales people will hire operations more quickly.
Why would you want to own a franchise versus just doing it yourself?
The answer is: I’ve already made all the mistakes. You might as well benefit from that. Statistically, we know that not just Office Pride, but in all kinds of of businesses, a franchise system will give you a higher chance of success than you have on your own, and when I sell a franchise it will be worth a whole lot more money than if I open Julie’s Cleaning Service.
Would you recommend a Office Pride franchise to someone else?
Absolutely. I think it’s the real thing. I’ve been successful at it. It’s not for everybody. You have to have a flexible mind. I may have my day figured out, and within 10 seconds it’s changed, and within six minutes it’s changed again, and in six hours it’s changed again. If you need a lot of structure, this is not the business for you, but if you think that’s fun, you’ll have fun with this.