Superficially, window cleaners and chefs have as little in common as two professions.
However, for Paul Houngmany of Calgary, Alta, they served as a bridge into the world of franchising with Elite Window Cleaning.
After opening his franchise just a few months ago, Houngmany spoke to him Canadian business franchise about everything he’s learned on his journey so far and why he thinks window cleaning is a great market segment to break into during a pandemic.
Canadian Business Franchise (CBF): Have you always seen yourself as an entrepreneur?
Paul Hungmany (PH): No, I didn’t always aspire to be an entrepreneur. I started my professional career as a chef and that’s all I’ve been doing for about 25 years. Like most young professionals, I envisioned traveling the world and becoming famous, but reality had other plans for me. I’ve always dreamed of owning my own restaurant but never really thought about what it means to own a business until about two to three years ago. Even then I really didn’t know where to start or what the first steps would even be.
CBF: Why did you decide to franchise?
pH: I chose franchising because I knew I had no idea what it takes to own a business. I knew there were many obstacles and behind-the-scenes details that I needed help with. The best option for me was a franchise system, which was a turnkey solution to get me started. A good franchise system is like joining a team where you can be as successful as you want, but at the same time the success of other owners also increases your company’s visibility and indirectly contributes to your own success. I think franchises are a great way to get into entrepreneurship, but also a great system that can take you as far as you want.
CBF: How did you discover this franchise opportunity?
pH: The first step I took in exploring franchise options was to ask the banks for a loan. I mentioned that I didn’t know what I wanted to do and asked for some insight on where to start. They referred me to several companies that specialize in bringing people together with franchises, and then I started working with Grant Bullington, who is a franchise consultant for Frannet (and is a CBF employee). Grant coached me through the entire process. He understood my abilities and made sure I found the right franchise opportunity to meet my needs.
CBF: When did you buy your franchise?
pH: I bought my franchise in January 2022. I worked with Jennifer Bauer at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to secure funding, which required a few hurdles to get through. The process was a great learning experience as I had to create a detailed business plan. This gave me the opportunity to really think through the intricacies of running a business. Some of these details were cash flow forecasts, identifying competitors in your space, and strengths and weaknesses in your business. Highlighting the business challenges forces you to ask yourself difficult questions and challenges your motivation to persevere. In the end, I was grateful that I went through the vetting process as it was a valuable first lesson in entrepreneurship.
CBF: What was involved in opening your franchise?
pH: After buying the franchise, the next step was to start up the business, which I was familiar with – as management experience was an advantage. Although just because I was familiar with it doesn’t mean it was easy. Hiring people today is a challenge as many companies compete for a small pool of candidates. Securing vehicles for my business has been particularly difficult as demand has exceeded supply due to COVID-19. I had to wait a few weeks but luckily I ordered early enough to get the vehicles and have them branded with our company logo in time for opening week. A major advantage of franchising is that promotional material for my business is already available. When it came time to advertise in Calgary, the process was pretty simple and straightforward. The only decisions I had to make were which radio stations to work with and what information to include in my marketing materials.
CBF: Describe your opening day.
pH: Opening day was April 4, 2022. Our Franchise Coordinator, Greg Przada, came for opening week to provide support and guidance for any challenges we would face in our daily operations. Of course, there were plenty of questions and problems to solve, so having him there was essential to our success. Nothing beats the feeling of completing that first order and seeing how happy your customers are. After months of investing time and capital into an idea, I was proud to finally see it all come together.
CBF: What does a typical day with Elite Window Cleaning look like?
pH: A typical day for me would be meeting my team at the camp site and having our daily pre-service meeting. At this meeting, the first thing we talk about is working safely, as this is a top priority for my team. We then go through the daily routine and talk about challenges and solutions from previous jobs. It’s a great way to share information and talk to everyone at once before we all go our separate ways. Most of the time, my team works in teams of two to complete the scheduled assignments. However, when there are large or challenging assignments, I go with my team to support them in any way I can. Typically my day to day job consists of growing the business by making offers, networking, advertising and keeping jobs in the pipeline to support not only the business but also my hard working team.
CBF: Do you think your educational background is helpful in your day-to-day tasks and general business decisions?
pH: My life as a chef prepared me well to be an entrepreneur and fits perfectly with owning a window cleaning business. The skills I found most valuable were attention to detail, frugality, a sense of urgency, and the ability to dig in and grind when things get challenging. Both cooking and window cleaning require a high level of dexterity and good hand-eye coordination. I was able to easily acquire the basic knowledge for my new job. As a chef, I also had responsibility for food and labor costs. This exposure gave me a good understanding of tax responsibilities and the goals required to achieve profits. As a leader, I also gained valuable experience in motivating and challenging my team, enabling them to become the best version of themselves.
CBF: What have been the highlights and challenges of running your franchise?
pH: The biggest challenge in running a franchise is when I feel like I’m not the expert in my field. There were times when I said, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure,” but as a franchisee, I know there is always someone I can turn to for support and advice. It is reassuring to have a team behind you – not only for the franchisor but also for the franchisee team who have been very generous with their knowledge and expertise. The support has been fantastic and there was never a time when I felt underwhelmed by the franchise’s response or on my own.
CBF: Are there any special features in your market?
pH: The advantage of Calgary is that the city itself is not very old compared to other Canadian cities. This means that most homes and buildings are relatively new, with newer windows that are easier to clean. The downside is that our water contains high levels of dissolved minerals, making it difficult for the water filtration system we use to clean windows.
CBF: How do you differentiate your franchise from others in the market?
pH: We differentiate ourselves in the market with our $98 commitment to exterior window cleaning for homes up to 800 feet2 (2800 sq.ft.). The more traditional method of counting window panes and quoting prices makes the booking process slow and unnecessarily tedious. We also use a water-only system and water-fed brushes to clean windows, rather than the traditional bucket and squeegee method. This system removes all dissolved minerals from tap water, allowing the water to evaporate leaving a spotless shine on glass. The filter, in conjunction with extendable poles that can easily reach up to four to five floors, ensures a more time-efficient cleaning process. This efficiency allows us to pass the savings on to our customers, which equates to affordable, cleaner windows and happier customers.
CBF: How has the business developed since you started?
pH: My business just started a few months ago so not much has happened yet, but personally I’ve grown and learned a lot since day one. I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for other business owners and the difficult decisions they face on a daily basis.
CBF: What are your future plans?
pH: The great thing about this store is that there is no shortage of dirty windows. As more and more people work from home, they’re noticing how dirty their windows get during the brightest hours of their day. People want clean windows at an affordable price and we are ready to offer them that service. My hope is to grow my business and continue to grow, learn to be a better entrepreneur and be the premier window cleaning company in Calgary and beyond. I feel fortunate to have the support of my family and friends. I’m just an immigrant kid from Laos trying to live the Canadian dream.