Image One USA
Clear communication and customer service help Image One USA sell more franchises.
By Mark Lawton, Knighthouse Media
Image One USA franchisees succeed by paying attention to the basics. “I think that’s why so many companies have such a high turnover of clients,” President Tim Conn says. “Lack of communication and lack of service.”
Image One franchisees have a list of specific tasks that include dusting, emptying garbage cans, vacuuming, cleaning restrooms and so on. “If these basic things are done, there is no issue,” Conn says. “In many cases, companies are not doing inspections or not paying attention to what the cleaning crew is doing. They do great in the honeymoon period, but then start cutting corners. Sometimes, we walk into an account we took over the from the competition and it will look like it hasn’t been dusted in six months.”
To prevent the cutting of corners, Image One franchise owners regularly conduct on-site inspections and contact clients to make sure they are satisfied.
Today, the company has 104 franchises with the vast majority in the Chicago-metropolitan area, though there are also Image One franchises in Florida, Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville, Denver and Dallas. In February, Franchise Business Review, an independent research firm, named Image One USA one of the top 200 franchises to own.
Conn has extensive experience in the cleaning field. He founded an independent janitorial company in 1985 that he operated for 15 years. Then, he partnered with Mike Schuchman to operate a national master franchise. When the licensing agreement expired, Conn and Schuchman – who retired in 2018 – formed Image One in 2011 and began selling franchises for commercial cleaning.
Image One franchises clean all sorts of commercial spaces. “It’s very diverse,” Conn says. “It depends on the franchise owner and what they select as their niche market. In the beginning, they will clean any place that has a toilet and a garbage can. As they find a niche they like, they can focus on that particular market.” Different markets include movie theaters, schools, condominium complexes, car dealerships, banks, medical and general office space.
There is a great deal of competition in the commercial cleaning market. There are a dozen franchise operations, national non-franchised operations and thousands of smaller companies, Conn says. “Anyone who buys a broom and a mop can be in this business,” he says. “It’s very competitive, but can be very lucrative if done right.”
Image One’s largest franchise bills $96,000 a month. “He has a substantial business with probably a dozen employees, an operations manager and salesperson,” Conn says. “We have a handful at around $50,000 a month and a bunch that are billing around $30,000 a month.”
While the basics of cleaning have remained consistent since Conn joined the industry, the technology has changed greatly. In 1985, everyone used upright vacuums. By the early 1990s, backpack vacuums were in use. “That saved us 30 percent of the time on vacuuming,” Conn says.
By 2010, battery backpacks came into play. “You’re not dealing with cords so that saves time,” he says. “A lot of little mom-and-pop companies don’t make that investment. What they don’t realize is the return on investment because they [would] save so much time.”
Now robotics such as floor scrubbers are making an entrance into cleaning. “The crew cleans the restroom and empties the trash and the auto scrubbers have the floor cleaned,” Conn says, adding that “having technology to replace what was once a larger labor pool is a big deal.”
Training and Support
“We wanted to do things differently,” Conn says. “We are one of the only cleaning franchises that teach the franchise owner how to get clients and build their business. We are teaching our franchise owners not only how to clean, but how to sell new clients, hire employees and a run a business.”
New franchise owners start off with a week of vigorous training. During the day they learn about operations, accounting, sales, developing a list of goals and other aspects of the franchise. In the evenings, they join another franchise owner and learn about stripping floors, vacuuming and other aspects of cleaning.
In the second week of training, a national business developer from Image One visits and assists the new franchise owner in networking, going door to door, making contacts at the local chamber of commerce and other activities.
A month after that, Image One sends out an operations team to work with the franchise owner on his or her goals and further put together plans. After that, an accountability coach talks with the franchisee every 10 days to two weeks. “Like anything else, it’s a numbers game,” Conn says. “If they do enough cold calls and walk-ins, they are going to make those sales.”
Image One has developed software to handle billing and collections for the franchises. “I don’t want these guys to be so overwhelmed with running a business that they don’t get the invoice out on time,” Conn says.
Image One charges an initial franchise fee of about $50,000 and an ongoing 15 percent of all business. The company will help the franchisees finance “a good portion of that,” Conn says. Image One also supplies equipment – garbage barrels, wet vacuums and so forth – to get started.
“We are having great growth,” Conn says. “I think that is going to continue. By the end of 2021, we aim to have 50 franchise owners that are billing $50,000 a month. By then we will be in several more markets.”
While other franchises may come and go, Conn says, cleaning is here to stay. “Is owning a janitorial franchise sexy?” Conn asks. “No, we’re not a glamorous business. But our service will always be needed. It doesn’t go away in a recession and it’s not just a fad.”