As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Delatte, COO and President of Home Clean Heroes. Joe has pretty much seen it all. He is former owner and operator of his own home services franchise and has years of experience in product development, marketing, sales, customer service and strategic planning. He is a native of New Orleans but grew up in Illinois and has been a Virginia resident for 30 years. Joe knows first-hand the challenges and the rewards of operating your own franchise, meeting customer expectations, hiring and developing employees and managing to your bottom line. When not time-travelling, Joe can be found on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay fishing, as well as spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Most of my background is in corporate marketing/advertising and operations in telecommunications & media. During that time I saw the changes technology was having and how much of an influence it had on what I was doing. I decided I wanted to not only start my own business, but start a business that would not be constantly changing and affected by shifts in technology, especially to the point it would become obsolete. I started looking for franchise opportunities in the service industry that I knew would be in high demand, would not go out of style or become obsolete, and I could then use my experience in marketing and operations. That’s how I got started in franchising as an owner.
One of the other reasons I chose a franchise opportunity is because I wanted to be able to adopt a proven system with a really strong brand that I felt proud of. I didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of defining a brand. The second reason was that I really wanted to take my passion and build and operate a business that I felt made people happy. Customer service is the glue between the message and how the service gets delivered. That piece of the opportunity really appealed to me, the ability to understand how to manage customers’ expectations and build a product or service and lead a team that could understand that as well. I owned and operated a Window Genie franchise for three years.
I met Kevin Wilson and Brian Garrison, the CEO and COO of Buzz Franchise Brands when they were researching the concept for a third brand to develop in their portfolio. They were secret shopping and my window cleaning company was one they shopped. I ended up staying in touch with the BFB team and when they launched Home Clean Heroes, Kevin gave me the opportunity to come on board and be the operations director. We started franchising in 2018, launched our first franchisee in 2019, launched Atlanta in 2020 and just signed Tampa in December.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
One of the things that led Buzz Franchise Brands to develop Home Clean Heroes was feedback from the consultant network. A lot of the more well-known and established residential cleaning brands were sold out in a lot of markets so inventory was an issue. This was a business category and model that is in high demand and it always will be. With BFB’s history of being able to build high quality, well supported franchise opportunities, a new entry into the industry would be welcomed by the consultants.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It’s funny now looking back, but I am a hands-on fix-it kind of a guy. We always talk about that with franchisees, whether they are going to be hands on in an owner/manager type role, or if they’re more hands off and want to be more of an owner/investor. When I came out of corporate America and was running this home services company, I enjoyed working in the business — it got me out of the office and got my hands dirty. The first mistake I remember making is falling off a second story ladder into a pile of mulch. The homeowner came out and was deathly scared I had broken my back. So, here I was, the guy who was not supposed to be up there to begin with, and laying in the mulch. I had this great epiphany. This was not what I should be doing in my business. It turned me around.
The other one was working on a piece of equipment in the shop that happened to be a high-pressure roof washing system full of bleach. Instead of getting someone else to fix it, I decided I could do it myself. You know what happened? I gave myself a full facial of bleach that sent me straight to the doctor. Luckily, there was no serious injuries or damage, but again, another epiphany. I needed to be offering the vision and coaching I’ve obtained, that is my strong suit.
Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
From a personal perspective with Home Clean Heroes, it would be making people happy, focusing on understanding and meeting customers’ expectations and that we could stand apart. Whoever does that the best in this type of a business wins. At the end of the day, customers don’t want to have to change cleaning companies. They want high integrity with a level of quality that satisfies them. That’s what we focus on doing. That’s what you have to educate and continue to inform employees about. They understand how important this is to our brand.
Part of the vision for the brand is really iconic. It’s heroic. As a student of marketing, I know how important the brand position and brand promise are. It’s a really relevant brand promise these days to provide heroic levels of service, but heroic and customer service/satisfaction really dovetail. That means you’re taking it to the next level. In a COVID environment, our role is to provide a clean and healthier home. When the pandemic began in February and March, we didn’t stick our head in the sand. We found ways to double down and find a better way to clean, better ways to avoid cross contamination, and we were early in on all kinds of personal protection equipment so our cleaners and customers would be protected. The purpose AND vision all begin and end with the question of, “What can we do to be heroic in the home?”
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Treat everyone like adults and like family and have them be as inclusive in the business goals and achievements as possible. I learned that by running my own company, specifically for employees. Employees in a home services company work very hard and their day can look like a big long task list. At the end of the day, they know they just have another one tomorrow. It’s important to let them know what their role is in the success of the company, Let them know when we achieve our goals and celebrate them.
For customers, it is always meeting and exceeding expectations. You have to really set your employees up for success and bridge the gap between customer expectations and what your employees are really expected to do in the home to meet expectations. That can’t just be words. We did this when we made the transition to our current field management software system, Serviceminder.io. One of the biggest components of this software is a communication link which provides a three-way text thread of communication. Rather than simply pushing a text that says when we’ll arrive, this is a real text conversation. You can scroll back through and respond and reply. Your reply goes to the office manager and is also seen by the crew in the field. That thread is also attached to your account. It becomes a very conversational relationship instead of transactional, and with that we’ve turned a cleaning service into a relationship.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
There are a few. Do the right thing. You have to understand what the environment is and do the right thing for the customer. Don’t live for the revenue or moment. Treating your employees as family and as adults so that they’re part of your business is a critical one, too.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I joined the Home Clean Heroes team, we were still in a very steep learning curve. We built our corporate owned operation from the ground up in order to understand and prove the business model for our future franchisees. A lot of tools for doing the work were here already, but this business requires a lot of efficiency in order to be able to operate profitably in the field. Route structures have to be properly aligned, drive times need to be minimized, and the business owner must manage to the gross margin of the business. We needed to understand where the deficiencies were. Early on it was taking our teams too long to complete work through the course of the day and driving up our labor costs. We started managing profitability down to the route and individual job level, shifting them around so we could minimize windshield time. That was a continuous focus on how we train and track the activity.
I’m a problem solver to a fault. My wife will tell you, she’s constantly saying “I just want you to listen. Not solve.” When I see a problem — as this was presented — I’m all in with all of the analysis, grunt work and working with the teams and managing change. In the beginning it was difficult, but we needed to change software. Our current software wasn’t giving us the visibility to get where we needed to be. That was uncomfortable for people.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well today. When the pandemic hit, people went through a turtle period and they withdrew. Customers were locked down. Some customers were concerned about letting anyone into their homes and chose to skip services. But, after a while they came to the realization the home was dirty and candidly they were tired of waiting. Overall, the cleaning business industry saw business drop 30%-40% March through April compared to last year. Because the service we provide is such an integral part of our customer’s lives, we were able to reestablish and by Q4 are back on track. That speaks to the stability of the residential cleaning industry and the need. Customers require a brand and people they can trust. Our cleaners are background checked, bonded, insured, and customers knew they could feel comfortable with cleaners coming back into the home. We leaned into the difficult times and were guided by the principle of doing what’s right.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It needs to be a sustainable business model that will stand the test of time. You have to prove the economics of the model and like Home Clean Heroes, if you want to franchise, make it easily replicated.
- Develop and refine tools & systems that allow success as a business owner. Is it a routing software? A loyalty program? Whatever it is that will keep you engaged, tracking properly and always innovating is key.
- Treat employees and customers as family and understand that relationship. As the owner, you can be that bridge between the two. You have to understand what the job is and what you need to do to make the customer happy, you also have to make sure that you have a solid plan to make that happen.
- Capturing info and bringing it back to the team so that you communicate. Systems and tools help us do this, but it’s very personal. You’re setting the team up for success when they go into the home to provide a service. If you don’t do that you completely undermine the trust and integrity.
- Understand that mistakes will happen, and work hard to make them right.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Frank Batton Sr. was the owner of Landmark Communications when I first started working. He was a visionary and was very casual with the environment and culture he created. He had the ability to operate and communicate with you one on one as an equal, regardless of the fact that I was a 25-year-old kid starting in a career working with a seasoned veteran entrepreneur. He had built a media empire, but he would talk and work with me at my level without being condescending. It’s a natural mindset and ability to work with and communicate with people.
Kevin Wilson is the same way at Buzz Franchise Brands. I always aspire to be that type of leader. Whoever I am talking with, I want them to feel like I connect and I relate to them the same as any other person in the company. They taught me that whole big vision of treating your employees as adults and keeping them clued in on every part of the business. That doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in. That’s the secret sauce, the magic formula. People who don’t do that will struggle to recruit, keep and get the right kind of achievements out of their employees as well.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If there were a movement I could start, it would be for us to all treat each other as equals and not look down on anyone. Your position, race, creed, age, gender, whatever that might be — treating everyone like equals because at the end of the day, we are. This was never clearer to me than when I realized that customers were talking down to my employees in a service industry. There are people who don’t get it. They will talk down to our employees and treat them not as equals but it’s ultimately just a lack of respect. As a result, I spend a lot of time with my employees preparing them for that. When you see that happen just understand that person is wrong, not you. I want them to know that’s how I see them, and always will.