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Clean start

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The Molly Maid franchise for Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties wasn't in the best shape when Joe and Sandy Nelson first came upon it.

“They had seen losses in a time they should have been seeing growth,” says Joe Nelson. “It was the post-economic decline era, and they'd seen about a $100,000 decline in sales over their last two years.”

The Nelsons saw enough potential in the franchise to purchase it in February 2015. Since then, they've grown week-over-week sales by some 170%. When they bought the business, it had annual revenues of just less than $600,000. The Nelsons boosted that to more than $700,000 in 2015 and expect about $1.2 million in annual revenues in 2016. Through just 17 weeks of 2016, it was already $162,278 over last year's numbers.

Assembling a strong employee team has keyed the turnaround. That included hiring a customer service manager skilled at handling inquiries and making sales over the phone and cleaning teams capable of offering high-quality service.

“I know what I'm looking for as far as people goes,” says Joe Nelson, an executive at Waste Management for 26 years. “And you're going to turn over a lot of people to start out with to make sure you get what you're looking for. We hired and let go around 80 people in the first year to get 15 good ones.”

Sandy Nelson spearheads employee training, using the couple's own home to teach cleaning techniques and strategies. (She owned a small cleaning company with her grandmother before the couple moved to Florida from St. Louis a few years ago.) Employees work on a commission basis, and the more regular customers they secure the more guaranteed money they make.

The business now has about 30 employees and is always on the lookout for more good hires. It's getting ready to add a 12th cleaning team with a 13th likely soon and started Saturday service. Having plenty of staff on hand allows the Molly Maid franchise to take on customers in a way many lesser-staffed competitors can't.

“It's a bit of a risk, but what has really helped us see most of our growth over the last six months is inventory,” says Joe Nelson. “You can call us today and say I need my house cleaned this afternoon, and we can pull it off. Very few other companies can pull that off. We got a lot of referrals from other companies over the winter because they were completely booked up.”

The Nelsons also focused on advertising their new business, which benefits from being part of a company with international name recognition. They updated their fleet of decade-old cars with 2015 and 2016 models emblazoned with the eye-catching pink Molly Maid logo. “They're probably the most noticeable maid-service vehicles on the road today,” says Joe Nelson.

Direct mailings helped find customers, and one coupon in particular took off: Joe Nelson came up with a strategy to offer $20 off an initial deep clean and then $10 off the first 10 regularly scheduled cleans. That allowed him to have a coupon that said “Save up to $120.” Competitors' coupons, at most, offered savings of $50 or $75.

“It's all about how it looks on paper,” Joe Nelson says. “We put that coupon everywhere — online, in every one of our ads, on our business cards. It has really made a big difference in driving our business.”

Right now the company averages between $20,000 and $25,000 in weekly sales. The goal for the end of this year is to be around $30,000 a week. For 2017, the Nelsons are aiming for $40,000 in weekly sales and hope to grow to around $50,000 a week in 2018. That's a $2.6 million business.

“That's a hefty goal, but it's not as difficult as it sounds,” says Joe Nelson. “If you can make those weekly sales go boom, there you go.”


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