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Clean Up

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 4:56 p.m. March 16, 2012
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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The business Lynne Dowd runs ostensibly cleans offices, but it's also an entrepreneur-infused job placement center.

Dowd, furthermore, plans to expand the cleaning operation outside of its current domain, which is Manatee and Sarasota counties. She intends to open an office in Tampa by June, and other Gulf Coast locations could follow soon after.

As it is, the company, Cleaning Butlers International, is on a surprising growth surge, considering the lackluster local office market that's led to a glut of vacancies. The firm had $1.1 million in 2011 revenues, up 47% from $750,000 in 2010. Dowd, founder and president, projects the Lakewood Ranch-based firm will surpass $1.5 million in 2012 sales.

The jobs, meanwhile, stem from the company's business model: small-scale franchising, where the cleaning accounts are spread among a cadre of independent business owners/franchisees. The franchisees hire their own employees, crews that work under the Cleaning Butlers flag.

Dowd and her in-house staff of four employees market the business, find the clients and do the billing and scheduling. Dowd then divvies up work among the franchisees.
“We want to build the model here in Sarasota to show what it can do,” says Dowd. “We're a little different.”

The model starts with the franchisee, who can join the firm through an assortment of entry fees. The minimum initial franchise fee is $2,500 and it tops out at $42,000. Fees can be paid over three years, financed through Cleaning Butlers, with at least $800 down.

The fees provide the resources for Dowd and her staff to go find clients for the franchisees. Clients are mostly landlords and property management firms that operate downtown Bradenton and Sarasota office suites and buildings. A big client, says Dowd, is the Bradenton Financial Center, a 123,000-square-foot building in the core of downtown Bradenton.

Dowd also uses the entry fee to train franchisees on safety and cleaning techniques. For example, Cleaning Butlers uses separate mops for bathrooms and break rooms, so germs don't cross-pollinate.

Dowd has signed up 16 franchisees since late 2009, which is where the job placement element comes into play because many were under-employed or flat-out unemployed. The list of franchisees is diverse. It includes laid off construction workers, a onetime IT professional, a commercial pilot and a former Walmart custodian. All franchisees go through three levels of background checks.

“Our goal isn't to have 100 franchisees all over the place,” Dowd says. “We aren't selling (franchises) to just anybody. It would be detrimental to the Cleaning Butler brand if we did that.”

A St. Louis native, Dowd moved to Sarasota in the mid-1990s after a divorce. She started and helped run an ATM business with her uncle, a company that became one of the larger convenience store ATM suppliers in the Southeast.

Dowd first got into commercial cleaning in 2004 with Jan-Pro Cleaning Systems, an industry power. Dowd ran Jan-Pro offices in Augusta, Ga., and Orlando.

But Dowd thought the business model could be tweaked for both franchisees and clients, so she left Jan-Pro to start Cleaning Butlers. A key, says Dowd, is to make sure franchisees are the right fit.

“We are very hands-on,” Dowd says. “We consider ourselves a failure if (franchisees) fail.”


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