Having hit a low point in his life, Freddie Rayner decided to change everything about his business. The result was Time For You, the domestic-cleaning franchise that’s proving a hit around the globe
If you ask Freddie Rayner about the secret to the success of his domestic-cleaning franchise Time For You, he’ll tell you that it’s really simple. “Dirt is dirt,” he says. “You don’t have Asian, Australian or American dirt. And wherever there’s dirt you can bet that someone will pay you to remove it.” This knowledge has certainly stood him in good stead, with the company today reaching far beyond the borders of Blighty.
However, while the business today has a sparkle to it, the company’s beginnings were more gloomy, springing from a painful experience Rayner had while working as a door-to-door cleaner two decades ago. “One day my wife had a cardiac arrest and was taken to the hospital,” he says. “The doctors told me she wouldn’t make it through the night.” Fortunately, she survived but was left unable to work for a long time. Desperate to earn more money, Rayner changed his business model to commercial cleaning. But doing this left him facing one of the most common woes of British SMEs: late payments. “I spent most of my time running around chasing money that I’d already worked for,” he says.
A true low point came when a company that owed him £8,000 suddenly went belly up. “I was running backwards, felt really disappointed and ended up having a pity party by myself,” Rayner says. “A few days later I’d sobered up and wondered what I could possibly do to improve my situation.” The answer was to launch his domestic-cleaning business, initially named Maid For You. The important difference between it and his old company was that he would only clean people’s houses if they’d paid in advance. “That way they couldn’t run away from me,” Rayner says. “And to my astonishment it worked again and again and again.”
In fact, the concept proved so successful that he eventually found himself cleaning all over Britain. “I was everywhere: from Oxford to Cambridge, from Birmingham to Luton,” he says. “I was being run ragged when my wife suddenly asked: ‘why don’t you just franchise?’” Agreeing to try it out, he paid a franchise consultant £10,000 to guide them through the process. “I thought that would be the last I’d see of that money but he came back and told us to change the name because Maid For You sounded old-fashioned,” Rayner says. “So we changed it to Time For You overnight and wrote in to several papers and franchise magazines. It proved to be an enormous success.”
With the publicity surrounding the launch of the franchise in 2002 giving it a special shine, the franchisor found finding franchisees fantastically easy. “But we started out really slowly,” he says. Recognising that franchisees were taking just as big a risk betting on him as he was trusting them with his business, he initially sold the first franchise for just £50. “And a few weeks later, when they proved successful, we raised it to £4,000 and then a month later to £8,000,” Rayner says. “A year later it went up to £11,000 and five years later to £15,000.”
While it’s been 15 years since the franchise started, the qualities of successful Time For You franchisees have remained the same. “We look for people with the ability and will to change their own lives,” he says. Essentially, he’s searching for people who’ll do everything it takes to change their situation. “They have to prove that they will put in the effort to make it work and if they can then we’ll do everything we can to support them,” he says.
This support kicks off with a two-day training course in Northampton. “We go over everything they need to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as well as everything they shouldn’t,” Rayner says. Franchisees are then released into the wild for 90 days to try out the method and see what works and what doesn’t. “They get their hands dirty,” he says. “Then they come back and we go over what went wrong and how they can improve.” But the training doesn’t stop there: franchisees are encouraged to seek out advice from the network and the franchisor throughout their journey.
This support has also proved essential for expanding the business internationally. However, one of his first attempts to launch overseas would prove to be a bust. “We went to see someone who wanted to become the master franchisee in Germany,” he says. “But then the news showed a government minister being arrested for paying his cleaner in cash. It killed the meeting off dead.” The news made Rayner realise that the country’s regulations were just too complicated for Time For You. “And as a direct consequence we are not in Germany,” he says.
Despite the fact that his German expansion didn’t go according to plan, he was happy to give Australia a try in 2016. Although international expansion wasn’t at the front of mind when he first booked the trip. “My wife and I went there on holiday because I wanted to be in Sydney for the new year,” he says. But once the fireworks were over, Rayner realised that the vacation had cost him £13,000. “That’s quite a lot of money for a holiday so I found myself thinking that maybe there was a way to get it back,” he says.
The solution to his conundrum was to enlist a franchise consultant to help bring Time For You to Australia. “And since paying him A$1,000 per month meant that I could claim back that £13,000 on taxes, it really was a no-brainer,” Rayner says. Not only would hiring the consultant help with his taxes but it also meant that a few months later he signed up a master franchisee down under. “And they came over to the UK to do the training and then they got started,” he says.
However, a few months later it was clear that the first three franchisees in Australia weren’t doing so well. “They weren’t making any money,” Rayner says. Committed to supporting franchisees and securing the success of the network, he flew over to offer his advice. From changing the leaflets to not asking customers about payment in advance, Rayner realised that the main problem was that the franchisees hadn’t followed the model. “I told them: ‘you’re paying for the franchise, our ideas and expertise so trust us,’” he says. And this initial course correction and the ongoing support has provided every international franchisee a chance to be successful.
Today Time For You has over 200 franchisees in Britain and seven scattered across Australia, Norway and Ireland. However, the franchise isn’t stopping there: Rayner hints that the company is planning to expand into Canada, the US, New Zealand and several European countries. “But our next step will be to consolidate in the UK and cover all available areas,” he says. “And then I’ll probably hand over the reins to my son Sam who will then start looking at our overseas developments.” No matter how the expansion continues, Time For You has certainly given his life a unique twinkle.