A clean broom
Rachel Ray not only provides jobs and a business model for working mums, but her business is all about taking the pressure off them.
Because of her experience of being a working mum who wasn't a big fan of housework, she knew there was a market for a cleaning service which not only helped busy families keep on top of the domestic chores, but did this in the kind of flexible way that works for mums on the run.
With a background in chartered accountancy, she could also see the business sense in starting up Bright and Beautiful Home. After all, the number of mums who work has increased significantly in recent years and is one trend which is not likely to be a passing fad.
After starting out as an accountant, Rachel moved into business consultancy and while she was working for the family property maintenance business she noticed that the clients were asking for cleaning services. “I realised no-one was really providing a professional service to managing a home with a view to taking the pressure off working women,” she said.
She thought most cleaning firms did not communicate properly with their customers and were not professional enough. Her business model is all about being prompt at getting back to people and being polite. “We provide a seamless service,” she says. “We give people a detailed quote which is tailored to their individual needs.”
She adds: “You want people to be easy to get hold of and fit around your lifestyle when you are a busy working parent. A lot of clients seemed embarrassed to say to previous cleaners if they felt things were not being done right. We make sure they feel comfortable about telling us what they want.”
When she started the business she was the kind of person who needed her firm's help. “I was never very good at housework,” she says. “I had two young children aged one and a half and four at the time. I was working three days a week on my business consultancy on a freelance basis. It was stressful.”
She started developing a team of cleaners, most of whom are mums, and business picked up very quickly. Soon she was at the point where she decided to give up her lucrative consultancy contracts and focus on developing the business. Within a year of starting the business she was working on it full time. “I took the long-term view. I realised early on that I could franchise the prototype of the business if I made it duplicable. I built it that way from the beginning. It was very structured and clear and aimed to provide the ideal business model for hitting the ground running,” she says.
She adds that the franchise is built on her four or five years of experience of what works.
For instance, she built up her team of cleaners by word of mouth. Her first cleaner – and later franchisee – was someone who worked at the playgroup her daughter attended. She also advertised locally and online. She had 10 staff by the end of the first year. Rachel is passionate about providing a business that works not just for her clients, but also for her team members. “Flexibility is the main need of our clients, but also of our team members. They want family friendly hours. They are mums who want to do something practical that fits around their children. They love cleaning and are offering a service for those who don't,” she says. “It's about empowering women.”
She adds that when she is interviewing she asks potential cleaners what their own housework routine is. “If they say they are a bit OCD that's perfect,” says Rachel.
The business started franchising last June and she already has six franchisees, including two in London. She is based in Altrincham. She hopes to cover the whole of the UK and has had inquiries from northern Scotland to the southern coast of England. Her aim is to have 20 franchisees over the next year.
Potential franchisees email and are sent a prospectus giving them all the facts and figures about the business. They then have a chat on the phone followed by a face to face meeting. Rachel says it is a mutual decision about whether they and she wants to go forward with buying the franchise. It costs £9,900 plus VAT. Rachel says earnings depend on how much effort is put into the business, but she calculates that with approximately 75-100 clients a franchisee could earn £50K plus a year. The emphasis is on getting regular clients who pay on a monthly standing order so there is a regular cash flow.
For her as well as her team of cleaners the business offers a great work life balance. Rachel's daughters, Ruby and Lily, are now nine and six and a half. “It's about quality of life. That's a big factor for me,” she says. “Franchise owners do not clean and they can manage the business so that the service can be delivered by the team during the school holidays and they only have to do a little administrative work.
Rachel says she doesn't expect the current financial situation to be a hindrance to business. “We have built the business up during a recession and managed to achieve growth. Often mums are under more pressure and are having to do more hours as a result of economic problems,” she says. “We are the first generation of women who are working in such great numbers after having children. The need for our business is not going to go away.”