As she approached 50, Karen Kelly swapped a successful corporate career, controlling multi-million pound budgets for the likes of Virgin and Disney, for her own startup business in the flourishing domestic cleaning sector.
She founded Cleanhome in 2010 with the aim of running a successful money-making venture whilst spending more time with friends and family. The business went from strength to strength, and in 2012 Kelly took the leap into franchising.
With 16 franchisees now flying the Cleanhome flag, Kelly offers flexibility to cleaning professionals looking to start their own business, with comprehensive training and state-of-the-art cloud-based technical support thrown in. She spoke to Business Advice about the attributes she considers important for franchisors and what it’s like to turn down Richard Branson.
Q&A subject: Cleanhome, founder, Karen Kelly
• Franchised since: 2012
• Number of franchisees: 16
• Network turnover: £500,000
• Typical start-up cost: £9,995 + VAT
(1) Describe your business.
Cleanhome offers ambitious entrepreneurs a rewarding business opportunity in the domestic cleaning industry. The company promotes a flexible business model with a robust training programme for every franchisee and ongoing head office support. Cleanhome’s bespoke cloud-based operational system enables franchisees to run their business flexibly from anywhere in the world.
(2) What did you do before you founded Cleanhome?
I previously worked for Virgin Atlantic as head of sales for the UK and Ireland and in the Disneyland Paris UK operation as UK country director.
I started as an account executive at Virgin in 1991, when the company was still a fairly new operation, and was promoted to the position of a national account manager before securing the first global contract with Lehman Brothers and being further promoted to the role of head of sales. I was responsible for the training of all national account executives and created multi-skilled teams and multi-skilled managers.
I was with Virgin for ten years but after 9/11 I knew that the airline would have to change and I decided that it would be the right time to go elsewhere. Richard Branson will always be my idol, so it was a huge compliment when he asked me to stay – but I stuck to my guns.
I took a sabbatical and then secured the position of country director for the Disneyland Paris UK operation, based in Hammersmith. I was responsible for the sales channels and marketing, had a team of 22 people and managed a multi-million pound budget.
(3) Why did you decide it was the right time to start a business?
About five years ago, when I was approaching 50, I felt the time was right to start my own business. I no longer wanted to spend long hours commuting to London every day and wanted to spend more time with my friends and family so I decided to build a business that would allow me to do just that but would also be profitable and become a pension pot in the long-term.
(4) It’s quite a leap from corporate high flyer to starting a domestic cleaning franchise! Why this sector, and why did you franchise the business?
I wanted it to be something that I knew about, whether as an operator or as a consumer, something that was a growth industry, something that was relatively low cost to set up, but from which you could get very good rewards, something with no commuting, something that was flexible so I could achieve a good work/life balance, and something that would give me a pension and be an ongoing source of income. Unbelievably, I found domestic cleaning ticked every single box and in addition I could use my sales and recruitment skills to sell to the clients and recruit cleaners.
I established Cleanhome in the Thames Valley right after the economic downturn and within 23 months the turnover was £72,319 – 80 per cent of which was profit.
The business model proved successful as well as recession-proof. I felt a lot of people could benefit from its flexibility and from the unlimited potential it offered and after two years I decided to franchise the business. I started to build infrastructure to support other franchisees and created a prospectus to tell people about how successful our business model had proved to be.
Cleanhome is about building relationships between cleaners and customers, and I knew that with the right people operating their own Cleanhome franchise, they would have a huge commitment to build very successful businesses and expand the brand right across the country.
(5) Do you think your experience gives you a good perspective on supporting and growing individual franchisees?
I have had a lifelong passion for training and helping people to make the most of their talents. My experience in managing and training sales executives at Virgin Atlantic and Disney came in useful, as I was able to use this experience to tailor my approach to suit my franchisees’ specific business needs.
I also place a lot of importance on compliance. Many franchise operations don’t teach all the legislation issues franchisees need to know about. It’s essential that the franchisees understand all legal aspects of our business – from the terms and conditions of our contracts to the employment laws that they will come across.
From my experience I also know that it’s important not to overwhelm people with too much information all at once which is why I have combined the legal training with developmental exercises, which include role-playing and shadowing experienced franchisees. I believe it’s really important to build your knowledge and confidence in a training room rather than missing out on signing a client from lack of confidence.
(6) Cleaning and technology are not obvious bedfellows, but you’ve focused on tech to make things easier for your franchisees to run their business – what are your systems?
I really wanted to put flexibility at the heart of Cleanhome and allow my franchisees to work from anywhere where they could get Internet access. Developing tailored cloud software that would allow them to do just that was a priority for me. When investing into a Cleanhome franchise, franchisees are given full access to the software and are trained on how to make the most of it.
Genesys, our unique cloud-based operation system, provides a dashboard view of the entire franchise, giving franchisees an immediate and holistic view of the status of the business. It also organises all the financial and administrative aspects of the business by acting as a virtual assistant.
Most of our franchisees have never run a business before so it was vital that Genesys supported them in running the back end of the business efficiently – the administration, legal and finance and technical functions – so they could spend the vast majority of their time dealing with clients, enabling them to focus on growing their business. Our software enables franchisees to identify the areas of the business that require attention and allows them to prioritise their workload according to the business needs, which is fundamental for the network’s growth.
Developing cloud software tailored to our business has not only enhanced the work/life balance of our franchisees, it has also freed up capital for investment in areas such as ongoing training which has helped Cleanhome franchisees to grow their operations with some of them now running multiple sites.
(7) What’s the best thing about being a franchisor?
The most rewarding aspect of being a franchisor is that I can take the skills I learnt in my previous roles such as recruitment, sales and finances and pass them on to other people to help them build successful businesses. I set each of the franchisees off with the right knowledge and tools to put their dreams into action, I support and help them when they need it, and then just watch them grow and have the most amazing success. Helping people achieve their career dreams brings me a huge amount of satisfaction.
(8) Name three attributes you look for in your franchisees?
Someone who is keen to learn, enthusiastic/driven and a people person.
Want to learn more about starting a business? Read some of the best and worst advice ever given to founder of socially-led university comparison site University Compare, Owen O’Neill.
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