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 Ron Holt, Founder & CEO of Two Maids & A Mop, a national residential cleaning franchise. Ron graduated from the University of Georgia and worked as a chemical technician and laboratory director before becoming an entrepreneur. After purchasing a small cleaning business in 2003 and branding it as Two Maids & A Mop, he grew the business into twelve company owned locations and later opened the first franchise store in Tampa, FL. The company currently has 88 locations open and operating and has been ranked as a Top Job Creator by Inc., in addition to being an Inc. 5000 company.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
I began working in a lab as a bench chemist. I was straight out of college and one of the youngest employees, but I quickly noticed that age and experience don’t necessarily translate to good management. I saw a need for better communication skills within the lab and through that experience, I discovered a love for management. When I started communicating better, it was noticed by my superiors, and I was quickly promoted to the role of managing the lab by age 24.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I had no formal business education, but when I heard my boss talking about the stock market, it prompted me to go to the bookstore and read up on the topic. I picked up a book about Warren Buffett and that was my first introduction to the concept of recurring revenue, which inspired my desire for business ownership. Buffett owns many business concepts that are considered “boring,” but that method is actually quite strategic because it makes it easier to succeed. Most people want to be part of a more flashy business, but to me, Buffett made being “cheap” and boring seem appealing. I wanted to be in a service industry that, quite frankly, wasn’t appealing to other entrepreneurs. By choosing residential cleaning, I chose to invest in a business that isn’t necessarily flashy or exciting, but the mindset of being cheap and stable like Buffet helped me save money to open the business.
Because I never had a formal business training or huge investment starting out, I knew I couldn’t outspend or outsmart many people, so I purposely chose an industry such as residential cleaning that wasn’t very desirable or popular. Additionally, I noticed that consumers tended to consider residential cleaning to be a luxury service, and I wanted to change that perception and open it up to homeowners of any financial standing.
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?
Very early on in the business, I had a man walk into our store and offer to buy our name. He wanted to start a cleaning franchise and because he liked our brand name, he asked to purchase the trademark. When he offered $50,000, I really considered it. I was very close to closing the deal, but when I got home that day, I pulled out a piece of paper on which I had written “Two Maids & A Mop is going to become the largest, fastest-growing cleaning company in America”. My vision, and I felt sick and regretted even considering selling the brand name, so I talked myself out of the deal. From that moment of doubt, I learned to never lose my direction and vision.
Thank you for that. 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?
I was inspired by the book “Good to Great” which is full of principles and determines why most businesses don’t make it past a certain amount of time. The author shared that the most common characteristic of successful businesses is the vision that is shared with all workers. I made sure to create a shared vision not only for the corporate team but for every member of our system, and I promote the vision by being vocal about it, branding all our notebooks and pens and signs, and always talking about it, so it’s not just my vision, it’s our vision. Our shared vision is to be very disruptive in the industry, and to be largest and most innovative cleaning company.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Over the last year we have really encouraged our franchise owners to build a specific and different vision that will create more opportunity even for our PHCs (Professional House Cleaners) internally, so that in addition to our overall vision, they also have an individual and personal vision to pursue. In their training, we have our franchise owners write down their vision and present it to us at the end of their session. We try to incorporate our vision wherever we can — we put it on signs around the office, we repeatedly use it in our communications, and we encourage our franchise owners to do the same.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
In business, you should first find what you want to do by looking at things that bring you joy. Then, make that into a business. At some point, it will allow you to earn money, so you’ll get to the place where you are able to make money while also being happy. Making money and doing what makes you happy shouldn’t be mutually exclusive — my guiding principle is to make sure you combine both.
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?
Yes, in the early days of our business, we worked very hard and after the first two years, finally built it into positive cash flow. We felt like we were in a good place, and that’s when Hurricane Ivan hit and completely crushed the economy. Our local economy was suffering from that blow, and then we experienced two additional Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes within the next year. The mood within the community was very somber during that 2004–2007 period, and it certainly affected our business. What I learned from that experience was that the best thing you can do is remain calm and be positive about the future. Even if the present isn’t ideal, you need to have foresight, and that lesson ended up benefitting us in the COVID pandemic because we had previous experience dealing with the economic effects of those hurricanes early on.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
We’re doing very well and have grown to 88 locations across the country. Keeping a level head during the pandemic really benefitted us, and in the midst of the pandemic, our network experienced three of our biggest months ever in July 2020, September 2020 and October 2020. That success has been sustainable, as we saw a major uptick in our business with record-setting months in March and April of 2021. From February to April, we’ve seen almost a million dollar increase in network-wide revenue.
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.
1. Build a strong leadership team. No matter how capable you believe you are on your own, you’re likely too close to the business and would benefit from getting second opinions from unbiased, unemotional sources that you trust. Before I had my leadership team, I was so hands-on and so emotionally tied to my own business because I had built it from the ground up. I found that hiring my leadership team helped me get a much better work/life balance, because I truly trust them to run things without me when I need to step away and spend time with my family.
2. Uniformity is key. In the beginning of our growth, when we had 12 stores, all 12 stores had completely different business models. Some were more successful than others, and it wasn’t a disaster, but building a uniform model made life a lot easier.
3. Give your employees a reason to care as much as you care. This is the key differentiator in our business model. In my first year of business, I immersed myself in the industry to learn what the weaknesses and strength were. I found that it is hard for an owner to vet the cleaner’s work before the customer sees it, because the first person to see the quality of the work is the customer. This inspired my Pay for Performance model, in which the feedback an employee receives on their work will determine their wages. It’s unique, so it helps us stand out as a business to customers and potential employees, and it makes the employees care more than they would for a uniform wage.
4. Celebrate small successes. As I said earlier, the cleaning industry and other service industries aren’t necessarily seen as a popular or trending space, so our moments of success and innovation may not always be widely celebrated. That’s why it’s important, internally, to value to small wins and appreciate the little goals you continue to reach along the way to success. This stems from when I was saving up to start the business. I put together a seven-year plan to build in increments of small financial wins. Every Friday, my goal was to deposit $330. Even though it seemed small on an individual level, I knew if I hit this goal every week for seven years, I’d reach the place I needed to in order to open my business.
5. Keep your operations people-focused. We are a very people focused brand because we want to be able to attract and retain customers and do the same with our employees. Just because it is a serviced-based brand doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a personal experience. We don’t even like to use the phrase “customer service” because we see it as an entire experience, not just a single service. Our customers tend to become very attached to their PHCs (Professional House Cleaners) and really value the relationship they’ve built together, which plays a large role in both customer and employee retention.
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?
My dad was a small business owner, and along with Warren Buffett, he has had the most important impact on me and my career.
My father passed away nearly ten years ago. He was a hard-working man that gave most of his life to a job inside my small town’s public works department. He dreamed of building a business to leave a legacy behind for his family and eventually opened a small business in my little hometown in southern Georgia. I watched him pour concrete for the building’s foundation and also observed him work 15+ hour workdays while juggling roles as an entrepreneur and city employee. The business struggled to grow to the level my father dreamed, but his determination to make it work motivated me to want to build my own business one day. My father’s gritty personality taught me that anything was possible, but I struggled as a young adult to find my true place in the universe. Eventually, I found myself working inside a laboratory. I wore a white lab coat, but it was very much corporate America. Long days that felt like they would never end. A stuck feeling that never seemed to go away. Until one day when I decided to venture out to an area bookstore to waste some time during lunch. That’s where I stumbled into my new mentor, Warren Buffett. I got lucky that day by picking up the Buffett book. It was a complete accident, but I made the best of my good fortune by investing countless hours learning more and more about Buffett. I read books, watched interviews, studied investment writings, bought company stock and even traveled annually to watch him talk to shareholders every year in Nebraska. I’ve still never had the honor of meeting him, but Buffett’s presence in my life has always felt like a second father to me.
So, my dad taught me that hard work was critical, and Buffett taught me that anything was possible if you dreamed big enough. The two men continue to serve as my role models to this day. I’m grateful to both of them and know that I would not have my level of success today without both of them in my life.
You are a person of great influence. 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.
My success is built on the backs of a big dream. A ridiculous dream to turn a tiny cleaning business into national brand. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions, experienced tons of bad luck and never once been the smartest guy in the room. What separates me from everyone else is my ability to dream bigger than everyone else, and to actually believe that my crazy dreams will one day come true. I believe everyone can live a similar life. Maybe they start a business, maybe they don’t. But everyone can live a purposeful and joyful life if they’re always chasing a crazy dream. So that’s what I want for everyone. I want everyone to dream big. Dreams without limitations. Dreams that change lives. Dreams that are so ridiculous that no one around you believe possible. I’m still dreaming today, even after all of the exponential growth and industry awards. I’ll never stop dreaming, mainly because I recognize that chasing dreams makes me happy. I believe everyone can be just like me. All it takes is belief that you can do something big tomorrow. Dream big. Smile every day.
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