Having exited Bright & Beautiful, the thriving eco-friendly cleaning franchise she built with values at its core, Rachel Ray is now thinking about her next challenge
When starting out on their franchise journey, few franchisors will imagine they may one day be able to strike a deal with one of the industry’s largest multi-brand franchisors. But Rachel Ray is not most people: having built the home-cleaning franchise Bright & Beautiful up to a thriving network of over 50 franchisees, she has just reached an agreement to sell the franchise to Dwyer Group, the service-based franchise company that owns brands like plumbing franchise Mr Rooter and the rights to cleaning franchise Molly Maid in the US. And she’s already looking ahead to her next new venture.
After growing up on the Wirral in north-west England, Ray moved down to London at 19 to train as a chartered management accountant before working in accounting roles for several large brands, including Andersen Consulting. But it was when she secured a consultancy role with Results Accounting Systems that things really clicked. “I just found this whole world really stimulating, interesting and engaging,” she says. “It was a real fit with my personality.” Evidently Ray flourished in this environment: before too long she was promoted to the position of general manager of the company’s Australian operation. And not only did this give Ray her first taste of broader disciplines like sales, marketing and HR but it also taught her how important it was to connect any strategy a company embarked upon to its bottom line. “That was a really interesting time for me,” she says. “It opened up the real world of business and helped me not just look at the numbers but see the actual drivers behind them.”
Over the course of the next couple of years, Ray had two daughters, motivating her and her husband to move back to the UK. Settling in Altrincham, Ray started consulting freelance while her husband Rob founded a property maintenance company, which led to a rather serendipitous encounter. “One day one of his clients said ‘oh, do you offer cleaning services?’” Ray says. “Being a good entrepreneur, he said ‘yes, we do’.” In light of her business consultancy background, when it came to putting together a quote for this work Ray was the obvious choice. And as she started to consider what someone might require from a cleaning service, she couldn’t help but reflect on her experience as a busy working mum – dividing her time between her freelance work and raising her daughters meant she had little time to declutter or tackle the ironing that was piling up. “I didn’t just want somebody to clean: I wanted somebody to organise, tidy and really provide a housekeeping service,” she says. “So when I went to deliver the first quote that’s really what I had in mind.”
Having wowed the client with her pitch, Ray began to see that there might be a market for this kind of service and she resolved to turn it into a full-time business. But first she decided to conduct some industry research, building up a picture of the sector both from reports on the industry and competitor research. “What I’d envisaged just wasn’t provided by other domestic cleaning companies,” she says. “They tended to only focus on cleaning, whereas for us it was about providing a management service that took the stress and pressure out of busy working people’s lives.” On top of this, Ray found that much of the branding out there tended to be quite old-fashioned and not very relevant to 21st century working women. Keen to buck this trend, she christened her new business Bright & Beautiful.
However, this wasn’t the only thing Ray discovered when researching the industry: she also found a lot of companies utilised rather troubling employment practices. “There were a lot of cash-in-hand agencies where I could see that the cleaner was exploited,” she says. “They weren’t paid properly, they didn’t really have any sense of being appreciated or respected in their role and it was always a little bit demeaning.” While the service industry has increasingly shifted toward commoditisation and many businesses are embracing the stripped back employment relationships offered by the gig economy, Bright & Beautiful is committed to ensuring those it employs are fairly remunerated and granted the fundamental protections afforded to full-time staff. “We employ our teams properly; our professional housekeepers are actually employees with full working rights,” she says. “We’ve been almost a lone voice in that.”
But this wasn’t the only factor that would set the new business apart. One of the business’s most significant points of difference was inspired by Ray’s own experiences with cleaning products. “I remember when I was pregnant with my first daughter spraying conventional cleaning products, feeling quite ill and thinking ‘what is in that?’,” she recalls. “I looked at the back and saw skull and crossbones and toxic substance symbols.” Knowing how harmful conventional products could be, Ray committed Bright & Beautiful to using alternatives free from hazardous chemicals, something that had myriad benefits. “Not only are they eco-friendly and good for the environment but it’s also about protecting our team and clients from the hazardous chemicals that are in ordinary household cleaning products,” she says. “And it actually attracts more people to use the service because it doesn’t smell like a hospital: it’s natural and yet leaves everything clean and fresh.”
Given its environmental credentials and the range of services it supplied, it was hardly surprising that Bright & Beautiful proved a hit. While Ray initially drew in clients through pay-per-click advertising and local networking groups, before long the franchise’s marketing had taken on a life of its own. “Gradually the word spread through referrals from our happy clients,” she says.
However, no matter how fast a franchise is growing, there are some factors that are out of its control. Not long after Ray launched Bright & Beautiful the recession hit and it dragged on far longer than many pundits predicted. “The news was full of doom and gloom: that’s enough to strike fear in the heart of any entrepreneur,” she says. But while the media was full of reports of businesses going belly up and concerned UK consumers were tightening their purse strings, Bright & Beautiful found that demand for its services only increased. “That’s because everyone was trying to hold onto their jobs and were potentially working longer hours,” says Ray. “Our core client, busy dual-income households, continued to be time-poor so we found we actually kept growing through the recession.”
Bright & Beautiful continued to expand, spreading from Altrincham to Manchester, throughout Cheshire and eventually across the UK. However, this presented Ray with something of a dilemma: with customers pouring in from all over the country, it was becoming difficult for her to manage the business from a single, central location. Fortunately, she had come across the perfect solution to this problem during her days as a business consultant. “I was aware franchising was a great way of growing a business so it was in the back of my mind and I gradually realised that there was a great opportunity there,” she says.
Ray’s first step from here was to approach the bfa and attend one of its seminars for prospective franchisors, something that proved invaluable and enabled her to ensure she was adopting the association’s best practice from the off. “I wanted to make sure it had a really firm foundation,” she says. Over the course of the next six months, Ray then worked with a franchise consultant who helped her convert the business concept into a fully rounded out franchise model; she also sought the help of a bfa-accredited franchise lawyer to ensure all the Is were dotted and Ts were crossed in Bright & Beautiful’s franchise agreement. “Then we launched our pilot franchise in June 2010 with Faye McDonough, who went on to become our first franchisee in Altrincham,” she says.
After the success of this pilot, the hunt for new franchisees began in earnest and Ray had a very specific type of candidate in mind. “Obviously our franchise owners aren’t expected to clean and offer housekeeping services themselves; they are managing a business,” she says. “But they need to be ambitious and determined, have a positive nature and see problems as challenges to be solved.” These kinds of candidates don’t necessarily come ten a penny so rather than focusing purely on franchise websites, Ray also embarked on an ambitious marketing drive, combining both online advertising and getting her story out in the press. And before long the buzz building around the business meant Bright & Beautiful began growing exponentially. “I was really excited to get my second franchisee and then we probably got five in the next year,” Ray says.
With Bright & Beautiful rapidly bringing so many franchisees into its network, getting new recruits up to speed was vital, which is why it put together a comprehensive training package. “We have a detailed 16-week induction, which involves head-office, classroom-based training, as well as time at the franchisee’s site,” says Ray. But the franchise's support doesn’t end there. Once franchisees are up and running, they can count on their own franchise development consultant who will act as their main point of contact and provide tailored support in growing their business. “We also have a whole schedule of events and training each year for franchisees to cover whatever stage of the journey they’re at,” Ray says.
And as Bright & Beautiful has grown, this is something that the franchise has continued to pay close attention to, building out its head-office team to provide franchisees the help they need. “Throughout our journey, we’ve developed and improved our support and we’ve also increased our number of franchise development consultants,” says Ray. But one addition to the team has proven more significant than any other. Having worked with franchise brands like Metro Rod and Party Crew UK, Sue Moore was initially consulting for Bright & Beautiful in areas like growth and acceleration and had made a significant impression on its founder. “We got on really well professionally: she has great ideas and a lot of experience in franchising,” Ray says. “So two years ago she became our franchise director and introduced a whole load of improvements to our systems, processes, training and workshops.”
However Bright & Beautiful isn’t only concerned with supporting its franchisees: it’s also interested in providing a helping hand for the less fortunate. “In Rwanda, they’ve been through absolute trauma with the genocide and there’s lots of people widowed or orphaned,” says Ray. “While there’s a lot of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope for the future, there’s still a massive need for things like basic education for children.” Because of this, Bright & Beautiful is currently helping to build a school in the village of Cyabatanzi to allow children to access education that otherwise wouldn’t be able to. And Ray believes it's important for entrepreneurs to give back in this way. “Rob and I are conscious of our blessings so we want to make sure that we think of the poor and don’t take things for granted,” Ray says.
Rachel Ray with Bright & Beautiful's new president and managing director Sue Moore
Focusing on treating staff well, supporting franchisees and putting its ethics first has seen Bright & Beautiful grow to a network of 55 franchises bringing in approximately £5m of turnover. And having achieved such significant growth milestones, Ray began to wonder if it was time to move on. “As a business consultant, I was always telling people to start with the end in mind and make sure that they were thinking about the long-term strategy of their business,” says Ray. “So it would have been quite hypocritical of me if I hadn’t at some stage started asking myself: ‘is it time for me to exit?’”
But having worked so hard enshrining meaningful values in Bright & Beautiful, Ray wasn’t prepared to sell it to just anybody; if she was going to pass on the baton, it would have to be to someone she could trust to preserve its ethics. Fortunately, she found just that when she came across Dwyer Group through its co-chair Dina Dwyer-Owens. “She’d written a book called Live R.I.C.H., which described the journey of Dwyer, its core values and the fact that it was a value-driven business,” Ray says. “That was one of the immediate attractions to me: that it was going to continue the legacy.”
After finally striking a deal just last month, Dwyer Group is now looking to build on Bright & Beautiful’s success while preserving its core DNA. “One of the things that attracted me to Dwyer is that they want to build on that foundation and grow it further,” says Ray. “It's not here to radically rip it all up and start again.” And Dwyer Group will have an experienced hand helping it in this: Moore is now set to take the reins as Bright & Beautiful’s president and managing director and will give the American franchisor someone on the ground who understands every nook and cranny of the business. “That’s fantastic because she will bring that continuity, that relationship with the franchisees and the team and she’s very well respected by the network,” Ray says.
But what about Ray? What does she intend to do now her journey growing Bright & Beautiful is at an end? “First of all, I’ll have a little bit of a rest,” she laughs. “But, at heart, I’m basically an entrepreneur: I love starting a business, creating its brand, core values and ethos.” And she’s not lacking in inspiration: having such a passion for franchising, Ray is keen to educate the broader population around the benefits it can provide. “I would like to let people know it’s a great way for them to find an entrepreneurial career,” she says. “So I have some ideas.”
This article was updated on 11/05/17 to reflect the fact that the Dwyer Group owns the rights to Molly Maid only in the United States.