Women in franchising: Molly Maid: 'What a wonderful industry we're in'

It has been noted by many a franchisor that franchising holds a peculiar attraction and once a person enters the industry they rarely leave. After 22 years Pam Bader, Chief Executive of Molly Maid, still finds the business as challenging and exciting as she did when her partner bought the Master Licence in 1985.

As a serial business owner, Pam Bader has a unique talent for spotting business opportunities with bags of potential. In 1985 Molly Maid, a Canadian domestic cleaning franchise, appeared on her radar. Pam's partner bought the Master licence rights to franchise Molly Maid in the UK. Now widowed, Pam runs the 66-strong network of Molly Maid franchisees as Chief Executive and UK Director.

Never one to turn down a challenge, Pam explains why they bought the Master Franchise: 'It's not very often that you get the opportunity to take on a company and build it into a major cleaning brand. I'm a Capricorn so I love a challenge.

'I didn't know much about franchising at that time so I started going to British Franchise Association (bfa) meetings where I met with other people from the industry. Franchising is a close-knit community, you see the same people at exhibitions, although they're not always working for the same company. There's something about franchising, it's an interesting, people industry.'

In 1986 when Molly Maid started franchising in the UK, attitudes towards women in business were very different. She recalls: 'When Molly Maid first came to the UK it was looked upon as an add-on business for women to run part-time alongside their job. I was, and still am, really interested in helping these women into business and developing people into business people. Also at that time the customers were different. The people who had cleaners lived in the big houses.'

According to Molly Maid's Marketing and Franchise Development Manager Andrew Parsons, Molly Maid rose to prominence in the early 1990s as increasing numbers of women went out to work and time was becoming a precious commodity. So too the dual income phenomenon was taking hold and changing cultural attitudes made it more acceptable to have services provided at home. Molly Maid now attracts customers from across society.

Pam is an avid supporter of franchising and notes being elected as Chairman of the bfa among her greatest achievements. 'This was a challenge in itself for a woman at that particular time,' she admits. 'The organisation was very male dominated.' In addition she lists achieving Investor in People status for Molly Maid, and becoming an ISO accredited company, among her many successes. Pam also received an OBE for her commitment to training whilst working as Director of Thames Valley Enterprise.

In light of the Government's drive to get more women back into work Pam explains what qualities women tend to possess that makes them so good at franchising. 'Women are wonderful in franchising. Because they are often unsure of themselves they will follow a system because they feel that if they don't something bad will happen. They also listen and learn, are keen and good at multi-tasking. Franchising is an ideal way for women to enter into business. They're not on their own and the mistakes have already been made for them and they can achieve quick sales growth.

'However, today Molly Maid attracts 50/50 women and men,' she continues. 'We offer repeat business, are focused on customer care, offer a management franchise, and domestic cleaning is a huge industry. Both women and men are now realising what a wonderful industry we're in.'

Central to Pam's philosophy is a dedication to developing people and she says her greatest challenge in business has been finding the right people. 'In franchising you don't sell franchises, you award them to the right people and I think every franchisor will agree that this is the most challenging part. The franchisees also have to feel comfortable. You have to get it right otherwise you won't gel.'

After 21 years at the helm of Molly Maid Pam has observed some fundamental shifts within the industry. 'Over the years the franchise industry has developed and grown. It has become far more professional. I remember seeing a lot of franchises at exhibitions that have now grown up with new ones coming in. The bfa has also become a big voice in the industry and enjoys a much higher profile. They are our leading body and do represent us at government level and in other areas that are important to us as businesses. They are now a big player in the industry. After 21 years I'm still here every day and still find it really challenging. It's certainly never dull with new people coming on board.' As a maturing network Molly Maid has entered a new phase of development and is facilitating the sale of existing businesses as going concerns. For Pam this means that she has had to say goodbye to some old friends who she has known for almost two decades. 'We do have a few re-sales a year now, although they don't tend to stay on the market very long,' she adds.

Looking to the future Molly Maid is committed to finding ways to continuously improve its systems, to grow the network, and ensure all franchisees achieve good turnovers.

'The management of Molly Maid International Inc have a dominant business in Canada and are now focusing on the UK because it has a solid base and phenomenal development opportunity,' reveals Pam. 'For this reason Kevin Hipkins - as the President of Molly Maid International Inc - has come to reside in the UK and be based at our support office here because he recognises that the UK has the highest growth potential of any marketplace in which we currently operate.'

Interview by Rachel Spaul