To expand, first choose your lifestyle, as two ‘zees show
Jason Judson and his family use St. Louis as a hub for their growing Two Men operation.
Life’s many attachments and entanglements have a way of tying a person’s life down to a single geographic location. Dreaming of winters in Key West? Tell that to your operations manager expecting you down at the store. Summers at the cabin? Don’t forget about that site selection tour already on the docket. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to set up a multi-unit franchise portfolio that’s structured around the places you want to be, rather than cementing your life in place.
This is actually a possibility, as two interstate franchise operations have found with two very different experiences in franchising: One, a multi-unit Two Men and a Truck franchisee in business with his family across much of the central U.S., the other a Cleaning Authority franchisee in Maine who scaled up his business after buying two territories in Florida, allowing his family—including four kids—to live the snowbird lifestyle.
Conquering the heartland
Jason Judson’s older brother John first purchased their Two Men and a Truck franchise in St. Louis back in the mid-1990s, when Jason worked in the automotive repair industry in Detroit. Their fast success with the franchise eventually became “way more than expected,” leading Judson to pack up for the Gateway City to share in the success and workload of a fast-growing location. It is now the hub of a seven-area business that includes five territories in Chicago, six in Boston, along with units in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Portland, Maine, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Newark, New Jersey, among others.
“We’re running a dual business model,” Judson said, describing the business he runs with his brother, sister-in-law and another business partner. Their operation uses its St. Louis office as the home office to manage back-office, marketing and accounting functions for its other, far-flung locations. Their other approach involves watching the company’s intranet, which shares key franchisee metrics, to identify struggling Two Men and a Truck franchisees whose units are in need of a turnaround.
“You have to have a bench of people to do it,” Judson said of operating dispersed franchised units. “You can’t just say we’re going to buy X and figure it out and turn it around. You have to have people in the pipeline to do it and that’s the biggest challenge—it’s been an interesting adventure.”
With seven territories and countless trucks, managers and employees holding it all together, he said the key is developing repeatable systems and finding—and, quite critically, holding onto—key employees who can be trusted to run each unit at a high level, without having to keep the executive team flying from one location to the next.
The Judson Two Men operation has since stopped looking for struggling franchises, in favor of further expanding within the major metropolitan markets they’re already in. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he noted. “You learn from your mistakes, and we try to impart our knowledge on our partners, take a lot of the guesswork out for them.”
Providing “skin in the game” for location managers is a key part of the equation, ensuring they are working in their own and the company’s best interest without the need for direct supervision from the executive team.
Skip and Laure Ford have Cleaning Authority locations in Maine and Florida.
“Geographically, it’s easier to get to the closer places, and I generally don’t want to go to the East Coast in the winter time,” he said. “We try to get there at least once a quarter, but again, we have owner-partners so it’s not as pressing.”
As the business climate continues to shift, Judson said finding quality employees has become tougher, but the organization has doubled down on its “employee-friendly, employee-focused” culture that is designed to provide opportunities for lower-level employees and make a job at any of their locations a pleasurable enterprise.
“When you have to focus on staffing so much, it really takes away from your being able to drive your core business, which is providing outstanding customer service,” he said. “We don’t ask anybody to do anything that we wouldn’t do ourselves as a leader, and that’s really important for people to understand.”
East Coast snowbirds
Along the Eastern Seaboard, Skip Ford left the IT industry six years ago to launch his first Cleaning Authority franchise in Freeport, Maine, just north of Portland. Although he and his wife had owned real estate, they were looking for something new to work toward and for greater work-life flexibility.
“We were at a place where we thought it would be interesting and fun and challenging,” Ford said of his family’s move into franchising. “It’s been all of those things.”
In six years of business up in moose country, Ford has seen double-digit growth every year with The Cleaning Authority. Ready to up the ante with a second unit, he started talking with the corporate office, looking for available territories in Florida.
“It’s cold up here,” he said of their home in Maine. “We do a lot of vacationing” in Florida, “and we know there are big offices down there, lots of people and good density, which is what we like.”
In preparation for splitting their time between locations more than 1,200 miles apart, Ford began hosting leadership classes at the Freeport office to groom employees to move up and, ideally, turn his entire staff into a team of self-starters.
“A year ago I had nobody I could move up to take over any of the positions in Maine, and today I have two already moved up and two more likely to move up—we’ve put a lot of energy into that,” he said.
In addition to the in-house training courses, Ford adopted a “never stop hiring” mantra to ensure their bench of trustworthy, skilled managers and employees would never dry up—the key to making the split-location lifestyle a reality. He also pays close attention to a handful of metrics, both internal and customer facing, which allow him to ensure no standards are slipping, regardless of his current location.
“We keep a very close eye on 5-10 things that are important to measure how successful we are at that point in time,” he said. “If we see something trending in the wrong direction we put a lot of energy into it.”
Less than a year after opening their Cleaning Authority location in Boca Raton, Florida, Ford has discovered a few regional differences, both in terms of culture and logistics. Compared with the staff in Maine, employees at the Florida office liked to take more partial days off, which has ripple effects that showed up in that location’s metrics. With the South Florida area being much more urbanized than Freeport, traffic screwed up the workflow of employees in the field, so they now work to schedule a day’s work in a circular pattern where employees will end their day as close to the office as possible.
“We want them to get out of their last house by 4 or 4:30 and have them close to the office so they’re not coming through traffic,” Ford added. “It makes for a better end of the day for the cleaners, gets them back to the office sooner and helps us get our office closed out.”
Asked if his experience in Florida might lead to additional locations in other places, Ford said he’s open to the idea, as long as he could keep working on the business’ future, rather than day-to-day headaches.
“I would consider other states,” he said, but “they would need to be along the East Coast and in … oceanfront communities,” he said. “I would not be interested in anything on the West Coast or Midwest—it has more to do with where I want to be, where I want to hang out and where I want to bring my family.”