A life in franchising

Having been born just one week prior to her parents launching their ServiceMaster business Helen Cook, has been part of the ServiceMaster family of brands all her life. Here she looks back over her father’s 30 years as a ServiceMaster franchise owner

During the economic crisis of the late 1970s, redundancies were high among all sectors, but especially in engineering, in which my father, Malcolm, worked as a Senior Draughtsman and my mother, Sheila, in the computer department at the same firm.

In the summer of 1980, just as my mother went on maternity leave with me, it was announced that the factory where they worked would be closing and all staff would be made redundant. One of my dad’s colleagues said that carpet cleaning franchisor, ServiceMaster, was recruiting franchisees in the Midlands area.

At first my parents were reluctant, as it would mean spending every penny of their combined redundancy payments to purchase the franchise, and moreover, my dad wasn’t sure if it was the kind of work he wanted to undertake, having spent many years training as a draftsman.

A meeting with ServiceMaster‘s Managing Director soon changed his mind. He was so impressed with the organisation, its ethics and what it stood for, he knew it was the right thing to do, despite all of his family and friends warning him against it.

A week after I was born, my parents bought the ServiceMaster franchise. Money was very tight, but my dad worked tirelessly to provide for us, with my mum working equally hard to man the office and do all of the paperwork, as well as looking after me. My dad always told my mum to book in all the work enquires that came in, which often resulted in him working 16 hour day. He also spent hours contacting every tradesman in the local Yellow Pages, often knocking on their doors in the evenings to get his name known and build up his business contacts.

In winter 1981, my parents’ business really took off as the freezing temperatures caused a cascade of pipes to burst, resulting in dozens of floods to deal with. This influx of work helped build the business considerably and led to a massive amount of further insurance work from companies my mum had forged good relationships with.

My brother, Philip, and I grew up with ServiceMaster as a massive part of our lives as the office was ran from home. Our involvement increased as we grew older, and we frequently helped with cleaning items that had been in house fires that dad brought home. Mum invested in a Merry Maids franchise in 1999 and this led to me working alongside her during my breaks from school and university, either by helping in the office or working as a maid. My brother was also kept busy and regularly helped dad out with larger cleaning jobs, including hotels, nurseries and large offices.

In all, the combined effort with the sheer amount of grit and determination that my parents showed, led to the success that the ServiceMaster North Birmingham franchise is today.

Dad has now owned the business for nearly 31 years and is ready to retire and let somebody else take over the reigns of a franchise, which has excellent scope for continued growth and development. Meanwhile, I took over the running of the Merry Maids franchise, ensuring that the relationship with ServiceMaster my family has had for such a long time continues through to the next generation.