MOLLY MAID Canada
The creation and continuous development of a successful market-leading brand takes an extraordinary level of foresight, ingenuity, passion, hard work and excellent business acumen. It’s exactly the type of success that has been achieved by MOLLY MAID Canada, which now has more than 80 franchisees across the country. In total there are about 435 franchisees throughout the world including the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Portugal.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with MOLLY MAID Canada President & CEO Aaron Abrams from his company’s headquarters in Oakville, Ontario about the tremendous growth the company has achieved over the past 40 years in business.
In the late 1970s, women were entering the workforce at levels never seen before and so somebody needed to look after the housework. It was Chris and Adrienne Stringer who came up with the MOLLY MAID concept of developing a residential cleaning service and soon thereafter the first home was cleaned in Mississauga in 1979.
The following year, businessman Jim MacKenzie and a group of investors approached the Stringers about an interest in acquiring a business and building it into a franchising brand.
“Jim saw an article in the newspaper; it was not about buying a business but rather getting service,” recalls Abrams. “He called Chris and Adrienne and within a week they had a handshake on a deal that would see Jim and his investing group come in and purchase the majority of the company, keeping the Stringers involved, and helping to build out this business and their goal to be a national success story for residential cleaning services.”
Chris and Adrienne Stringer are still involved with the company. In fact they attended the most recent National Convention in Victoria B.C. and handed out the awards at the annual Evening of Excellence gala event.
“It was a true honour for all of us in attendance but particularly those who are recognized for their achievements in the business,” says Abrams.
The first expansion outside of Canada came in 1984 when franchisees were opened for business in the United States and the United Kingdom. Since then the MOLLY MAID brand has also successfully moved into Japan and Portugal. The strength of the franchising model in every industry is that there is one large parent brand and a collection of small businesses, which operate alongside the franchisor.
Abrams has been with MOLLY MAID for just over a decade and has witnessed the brand’s amazing ascent during that time. Prior to joining the business world he was an elite level athlete who played international rugby for Canada. The transition into small business was something that was quite smooth for Abrams because it’s a career path he had always envisioned for himself.
“I think the reason why I had such a passion for getting into franchising was because it’s really a collection of small businesses,” he says.
Abrams’ life experience as both an elite level athlete and now a chief executive in business has provided many parallels and tangents that have served him well, the most notable of which is the requirement to work as a team and having everyone pushing in the same direction towards a common goal.
“I talk about the parallels between sport and business all the time,” remarks Abrams. “We’ve got a corporate team here and I treat them like they’re my teammates. I’m going to be brutally honest with them when I think they’re underperforming and I’m going to be the first to applaud when I think they have a good day or a good week or a good game, as I sometimes say.”
Abrams treats the franchisees as teammates and expects the same from them because franchising is very much a group process. The teams that work best together are the ones that invariably achieve the most favorable results.
“If we can all be in it together and pointed in the same direction, working in partnership to reach common goals, we’re going to achieve wonderful things together,” he says.
Most all suburban and urban markets are prime locations for MOLLY MAID to garner business success. Household income and demographic profiles are scoured to ensure each potential city or region has been properly evaluated. Over the past 40 years the company has managed to penetrate just about every viable market from one side of the country to the other, with perhaps a few still on the radar screen. Additionally, the company will gauge population growth and demographic changes within a region. If a certain territory becomes too large, there is the opportunity for the franchisee to sell off part of their franchise territory to another business person.
“What we’re starting to see now is that some of our franchises are almost getting too big to operate under just one operator so this is where we’re starting to see some franchises actually spread and become more than one franchise so we’re quite fortunate in that sense,” explains Abrams.
An advantage to a MOLLY MAID territorial rights holder selling off a portion of their jurisdiction is that it provides them with a large amount of equity while still being able to continue with their business at full capacity.
The qualification criteria for bringing new franchisees onboard consist of a defined and thorough process. MOLLY MAID Canada is the No.1 residential cleaning company in Canada with the most franchises and by far the highest brand recognition. Because of that Abrams and his team quite often have the luxury of people contacting them in the hopes of being able to acquire a franchise. It is estimated that more than 75% of Canadians are familiar with the MOLLY MAID name, which is a remarkable statistic of recognition for any brand in any industry.
Tens of millions of dollars has been invested into building a brand to the level that it’s at now, and so a great deal of time and effort is dedicated to selecting the best person to join the team as a new franchisee. An in-depth vetting process is critical to ensure that the proper person is selected.
“Not everybody is a franchisee and so we have to be careful about whom we award franchises to because we are very protective of the equity that has been built into our brand over the last 40 years,” notes Abrams.
The qualification process begins with phone calls and emails in order to obtain basic communication between the company and the potential franchisee. For those who continue to show strong potential the process then evolves into developing business plans and cash-flow projections. Abrams or one of his executives will also send the potential new franchisee to visit some of the existing franchisees to help the interested party better understand directly what it’s like to be in this business.
“We bring them into our corporate office regardless of where they’re located. They have to come in to spend time with our team. Both sides need to ascertain if this is the right opportunity. We don’t call it an interview – we call it a Discovery Day to get a sense if we’re the right fit for one another,” explains Abrams. “We need to be working towards a common goal. A good franchisee follows the system and maintains the brand culture and integrity.”
An Established Brand
Attractive aspects to the MOLLY MAID business model are numerous, including the fact it’s an identifiable, established brand and the vast majority of the core work tends to be Monday through Friday with daytime hours. It’s also doubtful that most people would even be able to name another competitor in the residential cleaning business, which further emphasizes just how well the company has managed to corner the market.
An exceptionally powerful, established and proven operating system is at the forefront of how MOLLY MAID trains its team and how to best communicate both internally and with customers. The level of support that comes with owning and operating a franchise is leaps and bounds ahead of a small standalone business.
“All franchises offer certain levels of support but I can tell you that in our organization we have business coaches that work with our franchisees. Every franchisee is assigned a business coach and they work directly with them for performance improvement because we want them to be successful,” says Abrams.
In addition to strong corporate support through the established operating system, Abrams and his executive team offer many incentives to the franchisees as a means of helping to motivate them to be even better in their business. Some of the franchisees have been with MOLLY MAID for more than 30 years.
“Getting together for the Evening of Excellence is just one example of how we work on the bonding process,” notes Abrams. “We also have company meetings twice a year. It’s good to be together and allows everyone to feel like they are part of the MOLLY MAID Canada team.”
It is evident that Abrams is extremely proud of the MOLLY MAID brand and its excellent reputation in the public domain and how it has managed to serve the public so well.
“Jim MacKenzie, who is still our chairman, has always said that businesses aren’t successful – people are. I think the reason why that quote still resonates with us nearly 40 years after he first issued it is because when we’re looking for franchisees we’re looking for the best who will lead their team, their customers and their community,” he says.
There is an unmistakable desire on the part of Abrams and MOLLY MAID to always exceed the level of service they attained the day before. Business is a constant evolution and because of that Abrams embraces new concepts to strengthen the system. A prime example would be the very well-received Green Housekeeping Program that was launched more than 10 years ago. The bio-based green cleaning products are non-toxic, non-reactive and non-corrosive. They are also 100% biodegradable, making them truly environmentally safe.
“We’re using green cleaning solutions in customers’ homes because we know that they’re better for the customers, their families, their pets and the overall environment,” he offers.
Reliability and Integrity
About $4 billion is spent each year in the residential cleaning services industry in Canada. It is a much more competitive market than most people might realize, but unfortunately it’s by no means an even playing field. There are those who play by the rules, such as MOLLY MAID, and then there are the black market infiltrators. It’s estimated that almost 80% of the industry is transacted in the illegal underground, where paying taxes and source deductions to the government is not part of the equation.
MOLLY MAID Canada has been lobbying the government for close to 30 years to try to implement a system similar to the daycare model in Canada whereby if someone uses a legitimate provider they would receive a tax credit or a tax rebate. Many jurisdictions around the world are doing this and while it’s something Abrams would dearly love to see addressed, he remains focused on what is within his control, and that’s making his company the best it can be.
“We stay positive and tell our franchisees that we still have a very big pool to swim in. Our service is unparalleled and our work ends up speaking for itself,” he says. “The trust, reliability, consistency and attention to detail set us apart.”
MOLLY MAID spearheads two national annual campaigns as a means of promoting outstanding corporate citizenship within the community. The first is a campaign called Christmas in July, a comprehensive food drive with the franchisees and their customers. The objective behind the food drive in July is to reverse the trend of having people only thinking about providing donations during holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. There are individuals and families in need of food all year round.
“We did this to remind people that we should be collecting food to keep the food banks well stocked during the months when most people tend to forget about it,” says Abrams.
An annual winter coat drive is the second community initiative that has also proven very successful. Both campaigns are primarily conducted in conjunction with the Salvation Army, although it’s not mandated by head office.
“If the franchisees want to work with other organizations it is fine with us,” remarks Abrams. “We will actually give our franchisees money to spend locally whether it’s to support local charities or local sporting teams or other local initiatives because we want them to be good corporate citizens.”
Looking to the Future
Abrams is very proud and protective of the MOLLY MAID brand. First and foremost, organizational decisions are always made based on evaluating what impact it will have on the brand. Powerful brands attract great partners.
“As much as our franchisees are our business partners we also attract great partners and as a result we are afforded the luxury of working with some of the best in their respective industries, whether it’s insurance, media agencies or cleaning solutions. The partners that we work with that are not our franchise owners are looked upon as an extension of our corporate team,” says Abrams.
In the world of business a company’s success is based directly on the people who are involved and the ability to add growth from both a qualitative and quantitative standpoint. Abrams and his executive team are constantly looking to help the current franchisees be better and to find new franchisees who are going to come into the existing businesses and take them to another level.
“What we’re really trying to do over the next couple of years is continue to make our franchisees better, whether it is the current operators or the future operators,” says Abrams. “We don’t just look at revenue. We want to be the employer of choice.”