The contract cleaning industry is one that is ripe for franchise opportunities, attracting motivated and hard-working owners interested in partnering with a company that has a track record of success rather than going it alone. 

Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System has been named a top franchise multiple times by The Franchise TimesG.I. Jobs magazine and the National Minority Franchising Initiative

In 2012, it has been named one of the top franchises for minorities and for military service members and veterans, alongside huge chains such as Cousins Subs and Little Caesar’s Pizza. The company celebrates its 27th anniversary this year, and recently introduced a new leader, who has years of franchise experience with maintenance and service-related companies.

Today, Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Coverall has an international network of more than 9,000 franchisees — and CEO Rick Ascolese, who came on board in March of this year, wants to continue to grow that number by tapping into the goals and potential of current owners.

“I like franchise organizations,” says Ascolese. “The focus is on helping your owners grow successful businesses. These are committed people, these are committed businesses owners who are trying to improve their business, they have goals for that but those goals also relate to their family goals and what they’re trying to do. So I like that. It’s kind of like the American Dream, what these entrepreneurs are trying to do out there — it’s an enriching, gratifying kind of structure.”

With Coverall having a strong business model that emphasizes a focus on relationships with owners, a well-defined brand and international breadth, the company has a very strong differentiation advantage in the contract cleaning industry, he says. 

Getting To Know The Industry

For nearly two decades, Ascolese worked for three divisions of ServiceMaster, which owns a network of franchise and branch companies, starting with American Home Shield, a home warranty company that made sales through the real estate community as well as financial institutions. He was executive vice president of AmericanHome Shield, which was purchased by ServiceMaster, and made president of AmeriSpec Home Inspection Services as well, providing his first exposure to franchising. Under his leadership, AmeriSpec became the nation’s leading home inspection company with 400 franchises and company revenues more than doubled.

He also served as president and COO of TruGreen, where he streamlined operations and management, achieving efficiencies with technology, and redesigned the company infrastructure, returning it to profitability. TruGreen was a purely commercial branch-based company, so he has experienced both residential and commercial sides of business, and learned that relationships are the foundation of a solid, successful enterprise.

“What I’ve noticed between commercial service and residential service is, there’s a tremendous amount of similarities, they’re both very strong people driven businesses. You have to have strong desires to build long-lasting relationships and you’ve got to be very collaborative.”

On the commercial side, there is more direct face-to-face feedback from customers, he says, as well as greater opportunity for long-term planning and customization. By focusing on good service delivery, the reward is long-term commercial customer relationships. Each customer counts, as there are fewer in the roster for a commercial company versus a residential one; and losing one hurts a lot for that reason, he adds.

Taking the time to plan and customize services for each customer is worth it, because of the financial focus most commercial businesses have.

“They have budgets, they have frameworks and we can sit down with them and look at the year ahead and say, here’s our recurring service but here are some special services you may want to look at in terms of what we can do for your office maybe first quarter or third quarter,” he says. “Help them plan out their expenditures as well as what they’re trying to do with the health of their office environment.”

Though it was affected by the recession, Coverall weathered it well, thanks to the targeting of vertical markets and efficiencies enabled by its cleaning program, says Peter Sheldon, vice president of operations and development.

“But also, one important thing that Coverall did was understand that what we call ‘the do-it-all janitor company,’ that provides the same commoditized service in different environments, wasn’t really a good strategy going forward,” Sheldon says. “We recognized there was an inherent need in individual segments and that’s why we created individualized training programs, individualized service delivery application for those segments, which allowed our franchise owners to be able to take advantage of opportunities and grow in segments that weren’t hit as hard by the recession.”

Those specific sectors include health care, which has yielded substantial growth for Coverall, as well as fitness, child care and education.
The company can continue to grow, Ascolese says, not only by gaining market share in specific sectors, but also helping current owners accomplish their growth goals and attracting new owners to the franchise.

From Commodity To Opportunity

When the company decided to shift from what Sheldon calls “commoditized” cleaning services — emptying trash, cleaning restrooms, vacuuming, dusting, etc. — into more scientific methods of cleaning with an emphasis on health and hygiene, it helped breathe new life into Coverall.

“We just completely rebranded the company and went to a different type of service program,” Sheldon says. “We got involved in some progressive industry organizations like the Cleaning Industry Research Institute and began to really dig into and understand that there was a growing movement in the world.”

The company’s program uses science-based measurement as a standard in every component of the cleaning system, and franchise owners are expected to provide uniformed, consistent cleaning performance through using specific procedures, products and equipment. The goal is to reduce infection and cross-contamination at customer accounts, and therefore training is a huge part of instilling the standard operating procedure in owners and employees.

“It’s very similar to a McDonald’s franchisee, who has to make the Big Mac a certain way, and that was something that was unique in our industry as well — most other cleaning franchise companies don’t do that,” says Sheldon.

That franchise owners have a chance to contribute to the health and well-being of customers’ tenants makes their business endeavors that much more worthwhile for them, he says.

Ascolese is still working on understanding the needs and goals of franchise owners, as a group and as individuals.

“If there are owners out there who want to grow their business, what are we doing to help them grow their business? You have to kind of break it down a little bit in terms of individual owners and what they want to do,” he says.

Leading a corporate organization made up of entrepreneurs requires a balance between providing structure and allowing franchisees to steer their own ships. As CEO of the organization, Ascolese is making it a priority to meet with and listen to owners. He believes he has a responsibility to those owners to be a partner to them in helping them fulfill their dreams — and those dreams will help Coverall set the course for the future of the organization as a whole.

“I want to make sure we’re listening so that as we set these visions and set a course for the next two or three years; it’s not something we thought up in the ivory tower, it’s something that came from the people out there, day-to-day servicing customers,” Ascolese says.

Ascolese understands people very well, Sheldon says, and that positions him to be a great leader for Coverall franchisees.

“He understands that franchise owners are the reason we’re all here, and understands that their success is really what determines the success of the company,” Sheldon says.