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Fish sticks & rice fueled Two Maids founder


The name Two Maids and a Mop makes perfect sense for a residential cleaning service, until you begin to hear about the franchisor’s extreme thriftiness while growing the business, and you start to do the math. And then you can’t help worrying, which maid gets the mop?

But rest assured, while Ron Holt existed on a daily diet of fish sticks and Minute rice during the building of his residential cleaning franchise, he’s since loosened the purse strings a bit. He no longer thinks it’s a good idea to have office staff hand write the banking info on the back of every check in order to save the cost of a $5 (with inflation, perhaps $10) stamp from the bank.

And yes, he admits, ruefully, he was on the receiving end of some serious ribbing over that penny-wise decision.

In his defense: “When it comes to investing in technology, I will take a swing,” he says in reference to the home run they scored with their app, among other innovations. But the thrifty DNA that created the business still lives on. Seems you can take the wallet out of a man’s pants pocket, but you can’t take the dollars in the man’s wallet out.

Three pairs of shoes

Today Two Maids and a Mop is a multi-million dollar business, and yet Holt owns three pairs of shoes, one of which is flip-flops. “Once you become a frugal, obsessed person, you always stay that way,” he confesses. (To his credit, he claims his wife has at least a dozen pairs of shoes.)

Holt is that guy who had a comfortable six-figure salary in corporate America, but harbored an insatiable entrepreneurial itch. In his case, he was a director of a lab for an international company. “It was a comfortable job with a nice career path,” he says. “I just wasn’t satisfied; I felt trapped.”

Like most executives who cross over to the entrepreneurial side, he didn’t feel his ideas were being well-received by management. So on one particularly bad-traffic day, he made a life-changing decision all entrepreneurs do—to have no life. “Once I closed that car door, I became a different person,” he says. He decided it was the last time he’d feel so powerless—no matter how much he had to sacrifice in the process.

Ron Holt

Ron Holt

A frantic pace

One of the drivers of his entrepreneurial journey, he says, is that he grew up in a small, rural town, where “the sky was not the limit.” He moved to Atlanta to enlarge his world, but corporate America wasn’t big enough.

While still working at the lab, he started researching potential companies with reoccurring revenue streams, and working a second job at night and on weekends. “I was in my mid-20s and my supervisors were teenagers,” Holt says about those part-time jobs. “It was a frantic pace, but I did it with a reason.” He bought used clothes on eBay and, no surprise here, had the social life a Tibetan monk strives for.

Just as the late Steve Jobs simplified his life by always wearing the same uniform of black mock turtleneck and jeans every day, Holt ate the same dinner of frozen fish sticks and Minute Rice for years. Fish sticks, because he liked them and they were easy to cook; Minute rice because although more expensive than buying bulk rice, it took just minutes from boil to plate. And as we all know, time is money.

Holt finally settled on residential cleaning because it was a fragmented industry. People might be good at cleaning, he points out, but most weren’t good at cleaning and business. It was also an industry that had yet to embrace technology, and therefore one he felt he could differentiate his offering from the competition via tech innovations. He trademarked the name, which wasn’t registered by the West Coast company using it at the time, because it told people exactly what the business does.

Corporate stores first

The first office opened in Pensacola, Florida, where office space was cheap and the fish sticks plentiful. Before offering franchises, Holt opened 12 offices across five states as corporate stores. His vision of robots cleaning has been replaced by an app that allows customers the ease of booking or rescheduling appointments, paying and providing feedback—all from their phone. “We’re the Uber of the cleaning world,” he says.

Another innovation is his Pay for Performance program, where cleaning staff is paid according to the ranking received from the customer. The app also allows the franchisee to see which employees were on the job and for how long.

Pay for Performance, he states on his website, allows employees to feel in control, and to act like an owner, since their compensation depends on them performing at a top level. It’s also a good selling point for franchisees, he says.

Franchising became his growth vehicle after he attended his first International Franchise Association convention and met Subway’s founder Fred DeLuca. “It was like meeting a superstar,” he says. The late DeLuca told him to “be wary. Always be the same person you were at the beginning.” (Note to check processors: don’t break the bank’s stamp; it may not get replaced.)

He converted 11 of the 12 offices to franchises; moved the headquarters to Birmingham, Alabama; and brought on a partner, David Luke, as the “operations and systems guy.” They now have 31 locations in nine states and D.C., with plans to expand to 100 stores over the next four to five years. His goal, Holt adds, is to get all the units up to $1 million in sales within four years of opening.

He still works hard—although he mixes his diet up a bit. For lunch, he occasionally treats himself to a bag of chips and a Coke.

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