Company ProfilesFranchises Across CanadaMay/June 2024Previous Issues

Putting the Busy in Business

Owning a franchise is a challenging yet rewarding undertaking, especially for these mobile, service-based franchisees, several of whom began their business as a one-person operation

By Rachel Debling

Nathan Cameron, Elite Window Cleaning, Belleville, Ontario

Moving from the kitchen as a trained culinary chef to the exterior of people’s homes and offices may not sound like the most natural of transitions—after all, the only glass Nathan Cameron used to clean was pyrex dishes. But for this Elite Window Cleaning franchisee, it was a rewarding shift.

“I needed something that was no evenings, no weekends, no holidays,” says Cameron. “Just to be more available.”

The franchise system was the brainchild and labour of love of Chris Stoness, who started operations in the Kingston, Ontario, area in 2012 after leaving his satisfying but ultimately stymied career as a recording engineer. Beginning with nothing more than “a borrowed car, a bucket, and really big dreams and aspirations,” Stoness grew his brand from a single location to 13 franchise locations and is now happy to leave his hard-earned business in the hands of his well-vetted franchisees.

“I think there’s a lot of power in our system, being founder-led,” says Stoness. “I’ve seen every dollar, from dollar one to seven figures, flow through this business annually, and have the battle scars and trophies to prove it.”

That passion flows down to investors like Cameron. In fact, when Cameron initially took a job as a technician at the original Kingston franchise in 2018, he was immediately struck by Stoness’ business acumen, along with the work-life balance that being an Elite owner would provide.

“When Chris got the green light to go ahead and begin franchising, I had already been developing a region that was adjacent to Kingston—Belleville, not terribly far away,” recalls Cameron. “If you want something bad enough, you just make it all work. The next spring I signed, and we were up and running.”

The company’s proprietary technology, including telescopic poles that can clean windows up to six storeys high with no need for a ladder, puts safety and efficiency at the forefront of its business model. It has also received praise from both prospective franchisees and the technicians they hire, such as Cameron’s first employee, a local student who joined him in his first season to embark on this new adventure.

Going into 2021, his franchise expanded further, adding an additional car and another worker to the roster. But he soon realized that as he scaled up, he would need to step back in certain aspects of the business.

“I mean, there wasn’t a window that I didn’t service myself in my first two years. I was in the car every day, all day. And of course you’re trying to balance finding time for quotes, finding time for your clients. It’s great to care. It’s great to be technician-forward—in the beginning.

“Between my own half-time schedule (half running the business, half acting as a technician) and being the third wheel on service calls, it was not long before I needed another employee. So, we moved up to three plus me running two full-time vehicles, and we grew.”

Now Cameron is on Elite’s validation calls, helping select future franchisees and answer any questions they may have as they go through the vetting process. One thing he looks for in a prospect: a sparkling personality. Because, as he notes, Elite is, above all, in the customer service business. “We just happen to be very good at cleaning windows,” he jokes.

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Carmine Pallotta, Fibrenew, Markham, Ontario

Like many franchisees, Carmine Pallotta wanted to start his own business, but he didn’t know anything about being a businessperson. That’s where Fibrenew came in.

“I liked that it was something small that I could build as I went along,” says Pallotta. “That made me really comfortable going into it.”

A licensed technician at General Motors for 24 years, with a smattering of other trades experience sprinkled in, Pallotta was drawn to Fibrenew after an insurance adjuster friend mentioned it as a potential business investment. Pallotta had been looking for the perfect opportunity for almost two years, and the brand’s hands-on approach appealed to him. He started speaking seriously with Fibrenew in July 2018, and before he knew it, he was opening his figurative doors in September. “It was a really smooth process,” he recalls.

Fibrenew’s services cover all things leather, vinyl, and plastic. The company’s technicians can repair and install upholstery, automotive interiors, windows, siding, and a whole lot more—and it can all be done in the customer’s home or business, dramatically reducing overhead.

Unlike some owner-operators, Pallotta has decided to stick it out on his own—at least for the time being. “I do it all. When my phone rings, I answer it 99 per cent of the time. And with hands-free, I can talk with someone and continue to work on a job.”

It’s the freedom that business ownership provides that Pallotta cherishes most, especially the additional time he can spend with his family.

“Having your own business, you really can schedule your day,” he explains. “We have four kids, one with medical needs and a lot of appointments, and I would never be able to be there if I had a boss. Now I schedule my appointments accordingly, and whenever my family needs me, I’m there.”

Looking back, while Pallotta does wish he had stronger managerial skills when he first started out, he does believe that anyone can succeed in franchising, with the right attitude and approach.

“I had no idea running a business would require you to wear so many hats,” he says. “I didn’t know I would have to be the administrative assistant, the technician, the owner, the manager. It’s a lot to take in.

“But the freedom of running your own business? You just can’t match it.”

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Dave Hawthorne, Glass Doctor, Barrie, Ontario

Depending on its form, glass can serve many purposes. From its protective qualities (think windshields) to its ability to dazzle (like in stately display cases), glass is one of those materials that you just can’t escape.

That sentiment certainly applies to Dave Hawthorne. As a Glass Doctor franchisee of 15 years, and a glazier for many years before that, he’s seen just about every application that glass can bring to the table—including the table. And that has led to a thriving business, with both residential and commercial customers.

The variety of services that Neighbourly brand Glass Doctor offers is one of its biggest strengths, according to Hawthorne, which leads to repeat customers. “One minute we’re in your car in the shop, changing your windshield out, and then a couple of weeks later we could be putting a custom glass shower in your bathroom,” he says. “It’s funny how that works.”

Though Hawthorne signed on as a franchisee in what many would consider the most unfortunate of circumstances—he was sitting in a Texas hotel room in 2008, hours after meeting with head office, as news outlets were reporting on the financial crisis—he weathered the storm. Now boasting 22 employees and two expansive showrooms, his franchise is among the top Glass Doctor franchises in North America.

For those looking to become an owner-operator of their own small business, Hawthorne says don’t hesitate to say “get ‘er done.” However, he cautions that while being a part of a larger system is a fantastic opportunity, you need to
put your trust in the experts, and above all, do your homework.

“Get the general consensus [of the brand from franchisees],” he advises. “Hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. Do your research. And once you feel comfortable, go with your gut.”

His last recommendation? Surround yourself with people who excel in the areas you don’t—and make sure you get off the tools before it’s too late. Much like the glasswork Hawthorne and his team prepare and repair, clarity of that calibre can only come with time and effort.

“There’s an old saying that goes ‘You’ve got to be on the business instead of in the business,’” he explains. “It took me a while to learn that.”

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Klay Hafeez, Mr. Handyman of West Calgary, Alberta

After years in the high-stakes oil and gas industry—on the corporate customer service side, no less—Klay Hafeez knows how to handle himself in stressful situations. Luckily, his Mr. Handyman business, though busy in the best way possible, is far more gratifying than his previous career.

“I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Handyman or Neighbourly (Mr. Handyman’s parent company) before I started looking at different franchise opportunities,” says Hafeez. “Once I discovered the brand, I was immediately drawn to their comprehensive support systems and dedication to quality service, which is really number-one.”

The fact that he is one person in a network of devoted franchisees is the biggest benefit of being within the Mr. Handyman franchise family, he says.

“Honestly, what struck me the most was the strong sense of community among the Mr. Handyman franchise owners. I hadn’t seen that anywhere. And that goes hand in hand with the brand’s commitment to fostering success at every level.”

That commitment began the day of his interview at head office which, in and of itself, Hafeez found to be a novel approach. He walked away surprised that they were interviewing him to see if he fit the Mr. Handyman mould—not the other way around. One ace he had in the hole, or so he thought, was his background in new-build construction, which he dabbled in after transitioning from oil and gas. When the team was more interested in his managerial skills than his construction experience, Hafeez was impressed, and knew it was the company for him.

After being a Mr. Handyman franchisee for three years, Hafeez has acquired many valuable skills, most of all his leadership capabilities. Growing from three employees at launch to now 17 across four franchises can be a big task for any business owner, but he’s taking the minor challenges he comes up against in stride. His modus operandi? Listen to the customer—don’t just hear them.

“When it comes to Mr. Handyman, I have a motto that says, ‘We’re in the customer service business first, we’re in the home renovation business second,’” he explains. “We hire the best people, we focus on doing great work, and we supplement the work we do with a 100-per cent customer satisfaction guarantee for one year after. And we take that to heart.”