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Home-Cleaning Franchises See Double-Digit Growth

With more dual-income households, fewer are home to do the chores

By Jae-Bok YoungStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 9, 1993



BOSTON

`I HAVE to clean the house, but I don't have time."

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This sounds familiar in many American households where both husband and wife are working full time these days.

Spending hours scrubbing the bathroom or washing windows may not be the best way to enjoy a weekend, but the lack of time to clean is welcome news for the nation's fast-growing $10 billion home-cleaning industry.

"There is more work out there than we're able to handle," says Dan Bishop, president of The Maids International, a national house-cleaning service franchise in Omaha, Neb. His firm had $20 million in sales in 1992, up from $15 million in 1991.

Merry Maids, the nation's No. 1 provider of cleaning services, also located in Omaha, saw its 1992 sales jump 19 percent to $95 million.

The growth is fueled by the increasing number of women in the work force as well as more dual-income families. More than 65 percent of women are working, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Mr. Bishop notes that 85 percent of Maids International's customers are women who don't have time to clean house. "Once they get used to the professional cleaning service, they don't seem to let go of it," he says.

There are more than 1,500 home-cleaning franchises in the US, according to Jim Fowler, franchising services manager of Merry Maids. Last year the number of Merry Maids franchisees grew to 620, up from 550 in 1991.

Bishop says that his firm competes with other franchises like Molly Maid or Maid Brigade, but the main competition comes from private individuals who perform about 90 percent of all the out-of-home cleaning work done in this country.

Concerned about security, many people look for established firms like Merry Maids that are licensed, bonded, and insured. "Our customers feel comfortable giving a house key to somebody they can rely on," Mr. Fowler says.

"Being a great house cleaner is not the most important. The fact that you're honest is the major concern," says Jeff Campbell, owner of The Clean Team, which does 17,000 house cleanings a year in San Francisco. His firm generates $750,000 annually.

In 1991, Mr. Campbell and his partners launched a new franchise called WorkEnders in Boca Raton, Fla., which attracted 73 franchisees within a year. When it comes to the operation, "We're the new kids on the block," says Gary Goranson, president of WorkEnders. Compared to a name brand franchise like Merry Maids, which costs $19,500, WorkEnders charges only $3,000 to $9,000.

FRANCHISORS make money by charging 5 to 7 percent of the sales volume of a franchisee. Bishop of Maids International says a franchisee needs about $31,000 to $41,000 in working capital. Entrepreneurs who are on a limited budget, however, can turn to "blue-collar franchises," such as WorkEnders or Jani-King International, Bishop says.

Cynthia Cone, a resident in Lakeland, Fla., became a WorkerEnders franchisee last October. After finishing several weeks of training, she now has a team of three people cleaning 50 houses on a regular basis.

"It is a lot of work to develop new markets," Ms. Cone says, adding that the home-cleaning business is not for everyone.

When she cleans her client's home for the first time - which she calls "catch-up" cleaning - Cone charges $150 to $250. "Some houses are very, very dirty," she says. After the initial cleaning, the rate goes down to $40 to $65, depending on the size of the house.

On average a cleaning employee is paid about $7 to $10 per hour. In order to run a profitable operation, a team of three workers needs to clean at least 30 houses per week. Some people who have hired a professional cleaning service say that they quit using it because they were not satisfied. "I would rather find a woman who I can trust and have her come to my home once a week," a Boston resident says.

This kind of arrangement raises legal questions. Since the Zoe Baird case, "our franchisees have received a lot of calls from people across the United States who are suddenly very concerned about the issue of taxes and whether or not the person who cleans their home is an illegal alien," Bishop says.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, if a worker is paid more than $50 in a calendar quarter, the employer is liable, at minimum, for Social Security and Medicare taxes.

"There are a lot of people who don't know how to clean house," Campbell says.

For those who want to clean their own homes, he provides helpful tips in his books such as "Speed Cleaning" and "Clutter Control." "Although people enjoy a clean house, they don't enjoy cleaning it," he says.