With Bright & Beautiful, Rachel Ray polished and sold a sparkling success

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

With Bright & Beautiful

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.”

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.””

Josh Russell
Josh Russell