Commercial Cleaning Franchises: 10 Reasons to NOT Buy One

Guest post:  Ten Reasons Not to Buy a Commercial Cleaning Franchise Or a Janitorial Franchise by Ron Van Orden, CEO, Building Care Services 

I am a business broker and I have facilitated the sale of several commercial cleaning franchises and spoken to the owners of many more. I also have a commercial cleaning business. Every franchisee I have spoken to stated that if they could go back and go it again they would choose to not be a franchisee.

Let me start by saying that I do not necessarily have any problem with franchises. For budding business people franchises offer a structured and simple way to get into an industry. Usually franchises have an established brand identity and a training program. Franchisors are very good at selling franchises and typically have exciting brochures that describe the riches that will flow in once you get started. For some, franchises are the right way to go.

The point of this article is to point out a few items specific the commercial (business to business, not homes) cleaning / janitorial industry. One only has to to a internet search for commercial cleaning and the franchise opportunities are endless. Jani King touts themselves as the largest player here with, Jan Pro, ServiceMaster, Coverall and several others also having a national presence. Even with the size of these franchises they only have 10% market share in this industry. This article pertains to the unit franchises who actually perform the cleaning, not master franchises or area developers.

In a nutshell here is the concept. You purchase a franchise from a franchisor. With the franchise you get training, the equipment to perform the work (usually new) and some startup accounts. You purchase your insurance and bond through the franchisor. Once up an running the franchisor handles the billing, customer relations. Often you are required to purchase your supplies through the franchisor.

Let me stop here and say that a franchise is probably a good choice if you want to do the cleaning yourself and stay small. If you want to grow and add accounts and employees then you need new accounts. You can either get them yourself or purchase them from the franchisor….that brings me to my ten points.

1. Cost: The cost of acquiring new accounts are expensive! Usually they are in the neighborhood of 4x the monthly gross. A $500 account would cost you $2,000 – Ouch!

2. ROI: Using this example and a 40% profit margin it would take you 10 months to just recoup your money. I do not have a problem with fees – this is a competitive business and it costs money to get new business but at 4x this is a profit center for the franchisor not the franchisee.

3. Bidding Accounts With the franchisor bidding the accounts they are setting the price. They then bring them to and in some cases you are required to take it. They have no incentive to try to get the highest price, they just want to get the business.

4. Limitations With a franchise your growth is limited and you are confined to a geographic area.

5. Training I have not been through a franchisor training, but I will say that cleaning is easy! That is one of the beauties of this business – it is simple. There are many excellent internet resources and books that will teach you the tricks of commercial cleaning. Don’t want to do that? You could hire an experienced janitor and he or she could teach you for far less that the cost of their training. You can get all the forms and software you need online for less than $200.

6. You have to buy their equipment or supplies Why not shop around, buy used or only buy as you need to. There are many accounts that do not require the top of the line floor buffer.

7. Do you really need the Brand? Customer loyalty is very low in this business. Most often customers only care about the consistency and quality of the work and the price rather than the name.

8. Are you just buying a job? Most people want to own a business because they want to be rewarded for performing. With a franchise your rewards may be limited.

9. Don’t want to do Sales, Billing or deal with Customer follow up? There are alternatives. There are Janitorial brokers who sell accounts for those who don’t like to sell. You can work as a subcontractor and never have to deal with the customer. You can outsource the billing if you want.

10. Beware of projections and financial promises No one can predict how well you will do in this industry. This business is resilient to economic pressures and will always be in demand but no one can predict the future.

For some franchises, with the option of getting a "business in a box" is irresistible. My advice is to start small, buy what you need as you go and avoid going into debt as much as possible as you go.

Ron Van Orden is the CEO of Building Care Services a Sales and Marketing Solution for janitorial and building maintenance professionals and companies located in Los Angeles, California.

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32 thoughts on “Commercial Cleaning Franchises: 10 Reasons to NOT Buy One

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  • May 17, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    In my opinion purchasing a cleaning franchise is one of the worst investments one can make. I’ve started two companies over the last 35 years and today a company that we started from $0.0 now employ over 200 associates. I received so much information from associations that I have belonged to and the networking that I have experienced over the years-much molre than those franchise companies can give you. I would recommend Building Service Contractor Association International (; there are also ISSA (; and others.

    This cleaning business is not rocket science! Three suggestions: 1.Treat your employees the way you would want to be treated and treat your clients even better. 2. Buy good cleaning products and equipment…a little more money for a better product/machine will SAVE you money in labor coasts. 3. Be professional….you only get one chance to make a good impression.

  • July 25, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    I’ve had a cleaning franchise for over 10 years. Every year they host an open house in the fall, providing a venue for franchise owners to network and stay current on the latest trends. I’ve been able to connect with many other franchisees in my area. For the most part, we are doing well but the past 24 months has been hard on everyone due to economic conditions.
    What I’ve learned is that the people with sales, management or business ownership experience do very well. They did their homework before they started and did not have unreal expectations.
    On the other hand, their are a number of individuals who should not have started a a business of any type. These are the same people who think they can get rich quick without the need to work hard. Many times these people consider themselves “investors” with no intent of being involved in the day to day operation. Instead they believe they can put a couple thousand dollars, hire workers and wait for the money to role in….these people end up disappointed, disillusioned and angry. Since the American way seems to be to blame someone else for their problems…you’ll see them trashing their own company.
    I can only speak for myself, but I know what I paid for and got what I expected.
    Those of you who want to get rich quick and not have to work hard for it, should skip trying to open a business and instead by lottery tickets.

  • July 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Are you a Master franchisee or a unit level franchisee? Which group are you describing?
    I think you make an excellent point about having the right expectations. Don’t you think that it goes both ways, though – the franchise seller has the responsibility to set the right expectations and screen out anyone with a “get rich quick” attitude?
    From what I’ve read in hundreds of comments here, many unit franchisees want to take responsibility, to be their own bosses but find that the Master can take their accounts and sell them to others at their own whim.
    That sounds like a bad job, not a business they own.
    Seems more logical if you want to own a cleaning business you should get experience as an employee, then compete against the chains in a business you own 100%

  • July 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Guest: Peter watch out, he’s setting you up. He is now and continues to try and blame the “franchise owner” or “master” for everyone’s ills. He cannot accept and does not believe that anyone anywhere can own a Unit Franchise and be happy, make money, put kids through college, buy their first home, new car etc…

    He is convinced that they are all “corrupt”, “crooks”, “cheats”, “thieves”, Liars etc….

  • July 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    SEIU: (formally known as guest) Now let’s be careful, “everyone that posts here”. I’ve already done this, if you take your posts, my posts, 1st amendments posts out of here, there are less than a dozen people that have actually “Posted” here. Not the HUNDREDS that you would like to “claim”.

    FACTS they are a PESKY thing aren’t they SEIU?

    HOLLER!!!!!! If you think SEIU and other UNIONS are CORRUPT!!!!!

  • July 25, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    To jerry who said that he is an insider with jan-pro

    Jerry you liar. This is the second time you say that you are leaving for ever and not posting ever again. You threw a tantrum last week and said that you would not be coming back. Now you know why I call you a snot nose Hipotric little monkey.

    You said that you would never be coming back. You said that you would never post again. You said that we would not see you here again. Liar, Liar, Liar. How many more lies have you told us and how many more will you tell us.

    You are not a man of your word you are only a screaming little monkey.

    Twice you said that you would not be coming back and here you are again.

    The word out in the street is that the check that the franchisor gave you BOUNCED! Just like the ladies who came out on Telemundo who got a Bounced check from jan-pro. So you had to threaten them by coming in here and saying that you would not be posting anymore and that you would be gone forever. I guess the franchisor finally relented and paid you cash to come in here and post your monkey dung once again.

  • July 26, 2010 at 5:23 am

    1st amendment: What is it with you and Monkey’s? Did your Momma not allow you to have one as a child and now you are taking out some sort of issue with your Momma and throwing it around diguised as an animal complex? I’m sorry, would you like a Monkey for Christmas? Maybe you should ask Santa.

    As far as me posting, why is that such a Threat to you and SEIU (formally known as “guest”) By the way, this should be the last day for the (formally known as “guest”) I’m hoping that even 1st amendment should catch on.

    What lies have I told? No more than you and SEIU put together. How many lies have you told? My statements at some point during postings on a regular basis come with the following:

    DONT Trust Me, DONT Trust SEIU and never trust 1st amendment on anything said here. Do your own fact finding, fact checking, verification and due dilligence. Don’t understand something, ask!

  • July 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Great article. Thanks for giving honest insight into a sometimes shady industry.

  • July 27, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Reason #11: Jerry

  • July 27, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    SEIU: Question of the day is still ” What’s Next” . Try and answer one simple question. Just one.

  • July 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    To jerry the insider with jan-pro who went back on his word.

    The reason I call you a monkey is because you tell lies all the time. You trew a tantrum like an ugly little monkey and said that you would never post again or come back. You have done it twice now. If you behave like a monkey and you talk like a monkey then your a monkey.

  • July 27, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Reason #12 to not buy a franchise.

    If the manager from jan-pro calls you and you dont return that call in two hours you then get a FINE for $50.00 DOLLARS. They don’t care the reason why you weren’t able to return the call in two hours they just want there $50.00 Dollars

  • July 28, 2010 at 7:40 am

    1st amendment: As your stupidity level continues to show itself. Let me understand the following or how about you answer some basic questions for everyone “viewing”.

    1. Who’s paying your attorneys fees? Obviously, as SEIU has so correctly pointed out “Liz and her merry band of attorneys” aren’t cheap. They aren’t very good either since they have to use “test cases” and “screw” with peoples lives, but none the less, they aren’t cheap. Their rate is probably close to the $400.00 per hour mark. So explain to “us” how someone like you can possibly pay out what 10K per month average? That will go up once/if your case goes to a full trial.

    2. Obviously, you have “connections” or at least your attorneys do. So am I correct, is someone like SEIU (no not that one, the other one) paying for those bills and if so, why are you so ashamed?

    3. As you’re doing your “pimping” of your attorneys, doing your “tracking” and “racial profiling” of all the people that are contacting you, don’t you feel ‘guilty” when they can’t afford the same level of comfort that you obviously have with paying attorney’s fees?

    4. Why aren’t you touting “aiwah” anymore. Since he lost, isn’t it funny, we don’t see you touting that case. In fact, you were the one that “revealed” your attorneys have classified it as a “test case”. Bet they don’t even return his calls anymore, if they do, it’s some assistant or deputy that is returning them.

    Now, the Question of the Day obviously is going to turn into the Question of the Month: WHATS NEXT!!!! Can’t you, SEIU, Liz and her merry band of attorneys, figure out a way to answer a simple question from a SIMPLE MAN!!!!

  • July 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    To jerry who said that he is a jan-pro insider and who lied and said that he would never come back or post again. He is no man of his word. A real man keeps his promise.

    I already awnsered your question in another post but I will awnser it again.

    First the coverall lawsuit isn’t over yet. There is also more lawsuit being filled. Just recently another lawsuit was filled in California. Don’t be surprised when more are filled.

    What’s next is we will contact the Federal trade comision and Attorney General. We will Piket like it has already been done in other states and most important we will let people all over the world know that buying a cleaning franchise is a BIG MISTAKE. We will never stop until we get Justice.

  • July 29, 2010 at 6:40 am

    1st amendment: I’m sorry, I had SEIU blinding me in the face as you were supposidly answering the questions: Let’s try this again. I’ll number them for you so you can follow along easier:

    1. Who is paying your attorneys fees? Let’s face it, SEIU confirmed that your attorney charges in the neighborhood of $400.00 per hour. Even right now, though “your case” isn’t up to bat yet, guarantee you she is billing you in excess of 10K per month. Now I’m no rocket sceintist and I’m certainly not as smart as SEIU thinks he is, but I’ve got a feeling that if you’re wealthy enough to pay 10K on your own, why would you be trying to get your investment in Jan-Pro back?

    2. Why are you “profiling’ your callers? Is it because, your attorneys feel that they have a more sympathetic case if they simply “add” people that don’t speak English well, can’t understand the FDD (chant of the year), can’t read or write English very well if at all, want to make sure that they are legal or have legal status pending?

    3. Who does your taxes? Do you even pay taxes? Have you filed taxes ever? Obviously since the FDD is “more complicated than U.S. Tax Code” everyone on this site and viewing this site must be wondering the same thing.

    4.Why are you so trying to convince everyone that the Coverall Trail isn’t over? The most important part has been decided. Even your own attorneys have been trying to “spin” the fact that they lost BIG by trying to say it was simply a “test case”.

    5. Why are you still trying to sell the fact that it’s ok that poor “aiwah” has a 200K judgement to pay, have you started a collection for him and his co-plantiffs?

    Now to answer your “stupid statements”:

    1. FTC is heavily envolved in the commercial cleaning franchise industry already. All you have to do is read the FDD to understand that! oops sorry, realize that you are too stupid to do that…….

    2. Attorney General, REALLY!!! wow, lets see, how many attorneys general throughout the U.S. are going to have the time to “attack” an industry that deals directly with the cleaning of facilites vs. I don’t know just about anything else!!!

    You won’t stop until you get JUSTICE!!!!! Justice for whom? There are over thirty thousand owner/operators currently in the system, you don’t care about them, haven’t cared about them, haven’t thought about them, haven’t even addressed them in any of your court filings. At the end of the day, you can’t have JUSTICE when all you care about is the MINORITY side of the ledger!!!!!!

    I assume you mean Picket, maybe that’s what you should do, get out there, call TELEMUNDO and have their “cracker jack” investigative reporter interview Sonia Sotomeyer as she is walking around with a sign and hiding her face behind a veil!!!!

    I believe more lawsuits will be filed for a while. I then believe that the people in charge of the “Big 3” will fight those suits vs. settling, I believe the “Big 3” will pursue those having filed suit and lost such as “aiwah” and attempt to get repayment, put those people into bankruptcy and then start suing and attacking the people actually “paying” for these suits in the first place such as SEIU (not that one, the other one)

    Only your “peeps” are supportive of you and the fact that someone else is paying your attorney fee’s.. The rest of us know that is a very bad thing indeed. When issues like this are brought out in court (by the way, would you let all of us know when you are going exactly, I would like to fly to Boston or to California (wherever) just to see you on the stand. I’ll will LOL when you start talking about Bernie Madoff, Ponzi Scheme, Monkey Dung, try and speak English though, you will gain more “cred” than not.

  • July 29, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Jerry writes “Why are you so trying to convince everyone that the Coverall Trail isn’t over?”

    Do you hike the “Coverall Trail” often? That’s the one with the big cliff at the end right? And all the franchisee skeletons at the bottom?

  • July 29, 2010 at 9:28 am

    SEIU; You are a riot, why not simply answer the question, why is it you have such a disdain for all of the current owner/operators currently working in the system. On the other “site” you make it sound like all thirty thousand are unhappy, disgruntled, unfullfilled. HELL even Felix still does his work though he is extremely unhappy with his return on investment!!!! Wait a minute, he not only got all of his money back, for four years he’s been making positive money, he still shows up to work everynight doing a fantastic job.

    Well Hell with disgruntled, angry, pissed off owners like FELIX, I can certaninly understand why customers would want to go to a “traditional company” with the following issues:

    a) Part time employees without training or background checks done

    b) Companies that probably dont carry proper insurance or bonding
    c) Companies that utilize hazardous chemicals while cleaning
    d) Companies that don’t show up to work on a nightly or assigned basis
    e) Companies that don’t have bonding
    f) Companies that dont have oversite management
    g) Companies that if they do training it is on-site and at best one hour
    h) Companies that do have the proper equipment
    I) Companies that don’t utilize microfiber technology
    j) Companies that don’t care about quality control
    k) Companies that are inundated with undocumented workers
    l) Companies that cant/wont provide full service options

    Yes, YOU MORON!!!! I’m sure that many companies both large and small will flock to the companies performing work at the above listed levels all because Sonia Sotomeyer and 1st amendment are out there picketing the streets dressed in sheets!!!!!

  • July 29, 2010 at 10:29 am

    It worked in Boston, didn’t it?

    Protesters issued one press release and showed up at a swanky cocktail party with the news crews and guess what?

    The company dropped Jani-King like a handful of monkey dung.

    News flash: Your customers will drop you in a flash at the first sign of a protest. No one wants to be associated with a corrupt, bigoted service provider – or even one accused as such.

    (Funny how you single Sonia Sotomeyer out for criticism. So much for your hatred of Hispanics being reserved for non-citizens)

  • July 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    SEIU: REALLY, is that a lesson that you learned while you were protesting and “hunting down” the kids of David Bego’s at their school? Your threats are funny to someone lesser, might even take you serious. To someone like me, YOUR A JOKE!!!!!!! Come on little dog, YOU WANT TO COME AFTER ME, YOU BETTER BRING SOMETHING BIGGER AND WORSE THAN YOU!!!!

    So you are threatening me, wanting to come after me, REALLY! If I’m not a threat, why make threatening remarks. If I’m not speaking the truth, why get so serious.

    1st amendment better get out while you still can. You are about to become “test case failed”.

  • July 30, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    SEIU: The reason that I picked on Sonia Sotomyer is directly because she is the “wise latina woman” on the court. She is the one that 1st amendment first suggested that she dressed up in dark clothes, hid her face and protested outside the local Jan-Pro office in California.

    I suggested strongly that he contact her, since I’m sure they are related, I’m sure she’s a veteran, fits into his racial profiling program, she can assist him in getting more UNION DUES to pay for his lawsuit.

    That’s why I strongly suggested her.

  • July 31, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    If you have been ripped-off by jan-pro or any other fake cleaning franchisor you can file complaints with the following agencies.

    1. Federal Trade commission http://www.Ftc.Gov

    2. Attorney General

    3. Another government agency that goes after Fraud http://www.stopfraud.Gov

    4. There is also ongoing class actions against these cleaning franchisors. If you would like more information on this you can get my contact information by going to you will find my number and e-mail address there

  • July 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    !st amendment; Your posting is so original so “thoughtful” so full of valuable information, could you post this on at least 50 different sites on a repetitive basis? Oh pleaseeeeeeeee!

  • August 1, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    1st amendment: Where are you? Did you take your wife out for dinner yet? Did the phone ring? Who was on the other end? Was it “Liz and her not so merry, nearly suicidal, drunk, mean as HELL, downtrodden, BMW driven band of attorneys? Was it SEIU telling you to KEEP IT UP that to him you are the Worlds Greatest Crime Fighter?

    These are the questions that everyone wants answered:

    1. Who’s paying for your attorneys?
    2. Why are you PIMPING your attorneys all over the internet?
    3. Why are you doing Racial Profiling on all of the people that are making contact with you via the various postings that you have?
    4. Why did you lie about your relationship and ending with Jan-Pro?
    5. Why is the SEIU paying for you envolvement in this case?
    6. Who does your taxes?
    7. Do you actually file taxes?
    8. What is your Legal Status in our country?
    9. What is your fascination with Monkeys?
    10. Why does anyone take you seriously?

  • September 18, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I am glad that the unions are helping the little man. Against the Churning Franchises. I do not recommend the Cleaning Franchise Business to anybody!!

  • September 18, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Keep me posted.

  • January 12, 2012 at 3:50 am

    I am a Vanguard franchisee in Michigan and i would totally agree with the majority. Being apart of Vanguard has made me bitter in many ways. The one that sticks out is how the Master Franchise owner, Carey Winkel, treats you. She has made me feel “like just a worker to bring money in her pocket,” on many occasions. Knowing her has made me see how I will not treat people when I get my own company. I have paid for my package, but I do not see this as anything that I own! I see this as “a job that I am paying to have.” I fully understood the charges and fees, and I agreed to it. I am dissatisfied because of the way that I am made to feel as a person.

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  • March 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I’ve seen these complaints and I am a believer. A franchisor became hostile when I was at the point of making a decision about going through with buying their franchise, but backed out at the last moment when I saw all this bad press. He said these were people who should of never even started a business, but I don’t believe it for a minute. What really happened, I found this website above from a opportunity magazine, and order the course and never looked back. I didn’t realize how easy it is to start your own office cleaning business once you have the how and what to do end of it covered. I bid against franchisors now and it’s a joke, I can’t believe how cheap they bid. Most customers dismiss them as not in the ballpark with the others. I’m even asked if I’m a franchise sometimes before they let me give them an estimate. I feel you pain. You guys are doing the right thing, band together. If you do start over check out

  • June 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    City wide maintenance is the worst of all. All the managers and the so called FSM(Facility Service managers) they have no idea about the cleaning. If I own the franchise they are the first people to get fired. They know NOTHING.
    City wide takes about 45% of the bid. They will never tell how much they bid and after that they take 30% which is , you are working below the minimum wage. NEVER EVER THINK OF BUYING FRANCHISE FROM CITY WIDE. NEVER EVER THEY ARE THE WORST OF ALL. .

  • August 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    @Jane — Thanks for the tip for the site. I took a look and it seems to be worth the purchase. I previously owned a commercial cleaning company and was very successful. I tired of it and sold it but am now excited about starting a new one. A franchise purchase was recommended as a “quick start” but luckily, no, thank God, I found this site during my research of franchises.

    Now I’ll recommend something… A must-read for small business owners either just starting or already established: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. And if you want to hone your sales skills, check out this quick read: The One Minute $ales Person by Spencer Johnson & Larry Wilson.

    Good luck to all the REAL entrepreneurs who relish the challenge of building your own commercial cleaning business from the ground up.

  • October 5, 2016 at 11:24 am

    When you leave your franchise, do you get any money back that you put in, I had a franchise with jan pro, I had it for 4 yrs , I had to stop after my son had a horrible car accident , do I get any of the money I brought the franchise which was about $7000

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