Fish Window Cleaning®

Fish Mike and Linda Merick

Fish Window Cleaning continues to expand by implementing programs

and processes that allow its franchisees to succeed.

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

Forty years ago, Mike Merrick made a $3,200 investment in a single-site window-cleaning business that has turned into a successful franchise with 275 locations throughout the United States. “I was managing a branch office of a savings and loan. Our building had the windows cleaned every two weeks by Mark’s Window Cleaning,” he remembers. “One day, Mark told me he had about 100 accounts and he planned to sell his business. I wish I could say I saw the potential right away, but like many people who have a job and a regular paycheck, I felt more comfortable in a job that had some security. I went home and told my wife about this opportunity and we both said we would pray about it.

“I met with Mark to look at his books, and I was impressed with the concept of a service business,” he continues. “However, raise time was coming in two weeks, and I had hopes of a nice raise and even future promotions. On a Friday morning in January 1978, the president of the savings and loan walked in, sat across my desk and informed me the company was cutting back on staff at its branch offices and I was fired.”

That experience has helped Merrick identify with so many of Fish Window Cleaning’s franchisees who have had similar experiences. “Life in the corporate world is really not as secure as we want to believe,” he adds.

Some might say that getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to Merrick. “I bought the window cleaning business and I was the Fish Window Fact Boxwindow cleaner as I learned how to run scheduled routes for commercial businesses,” he says. “I am grateful I started with the hands-on experience so as I grew the business and added employees, I could always identify with challenges our franchisees experienced.”

The hands-on experience is still evident at the St. Louis headquarters with the original window cleaning home office and the franchise office residing in the same building. Along with running the window cleaning business, the home office works alongside headquarters and participates in discovery days and in training new franchisees. 

Merrick changed the name of the company when he purchased it in January 1978 from Mark’s Window Cleaning to Fish Window Cleaning. He chose “Fish” because of the Christian fish symbol and because of his belief that God opened up this window of opportunity.

Today, 80 percent of Fish Window Cleaning’s business is commercial properties, including ground level storefronts and one- to three-story office buildings. The remaining 20 percent is residential. “We will always treat every customer as though they are our only customer,” the company says.

Fish Window Cleaning has remained successful over the past 40 years because of its reliability, President and franchisee Randy Cross says. “Customers want us to show up at least once per month with most wanting service every two weeks. Some even request weekly service,” he adds. “We conduct national surveys every two to three years to validate this fact. It’s reliability our customers seek and what they are appreciative of.”

Going Strong

Merrick and his wife, Linda, recently celebrated 50 years of marriage and in January the couple will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the business they built together.  The Merrick’s also have two sons who have grown up in the window cleaning business. “We are grateful for the support of our family, friends and many faithful employees,” Mike Merrick says. “From what I understand from the government statistics, three-and-a-half years is the average life of a business, so it’s pretty neat for us to be in business 40 years.”

“It’s about finding your niche in business and sticking with that niche even though your operations are constantly being updated,” he continues. “You stay with the same vision, core values and stick to what you know, and it works. Windows still get dirty and people still want them clean. That’s the beauty of it.”

Cruises are a favorite pastime for the Merrick family, so the company has extended an invitation to a majority of its staff and franchisees to join them on a cruise for a week in January. “The decision to go on the cruise is optional, but it says a lot about our system when franchisees are willing to sacrifice personal vacation time and funds to join us for our anniversary cruise celebration,” Cross says. “The company will also celebrate the 40th anniversary during the annual convention in July.”

Growing a Franchise

“I had the dream of franchising for several years,” explains Merrick. After 20 years in business, he decided the time was right to franchise Fish Window Cleaning. “We had worked hard in developing our internal office processes and believed we had something that was ready to be shared,” Merick says. “I had a steep learning curve as I found out what was required to enter the world of franchising, but I had a passion to learn and a desire to see this dream realized. We opened our first franchise in Tampa, Fla.”

Fish Window Cleaning franchisees include people from all walks of life, from financing, former politicians, engineers, IT industries and manyFish Group Photo 2others. Those who succeed with the company follow systems and processes, and are willing to actively grow their business with outside sales calls. “People who are engaging, going out in the community and offering to write free estimates make great Fish franchisees,” Cross says.

Fish Window Cleaning is attractive to potential franchisees because it offers a good work-life balance. Each location operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “One thing I love about being part of Fish is that we coach our franchisees to work hard during the days and develop a good business, but put it down at night to spend time with family, friends, attend church or volunteer,” Cross notes. “It doesn’t take 60 to 80 hours a week to succeed in this business.”

When Merrick started the company 40 years ago, his sons were young and he wanted to attend their baseball games and take family vacations while still running his business. “You own the business, the business doesn’t own you,” he says. “The beauty of this business is that it’s unbelievably family-friendly. We get a lot of people coming to us who are burned out on travel and they notice their kids are growing up and they aren’t home to see it.”

Trained to Succeed

New franchisees will undergo a five-week start-up process to find their location, get materials set up, equipment ordered and advertise for employees. After that is completed, the franchisee will travel to the company’s headquarters in St. Louis to learn how to clean glass and train employees how to do so, sell the service and acquire proprietary software.

“They are then ready to open for business that following Monday,” Cross explains. “There is a 12-week post-training process that is extremely detailed and intentional. We contact franchisees daily for the first few weeks to guide them and send representatives from corporate out to their location to spend two-and-a-half days with them to help them train and bid.”

Fish Window Cleaning is on-site to support its franchisees and help them with whatever they need to run a successful business. Six to nine months after the location is open, the representative will return to the location to check on how the business is running.

“When people come in to be a franchisee, we teach them how to run a business,” Merrick says. “The end-product of window cleaning is simple. I can take them out and show them how to clean a window, but how to run the service business is a whole different ballgame. I’m going to teach them how to clean windows because we want them to hire people to clean windows while they run the business.”

Designed for Everyone

Fish Window Cleaning regularly develops support programs to help its franchisees succeed. Jump-Start is a detailed support program designed to help franchisees get off to a good start and get to their break-even points faster. “The past few years we have spent money on Google to drive more leads that way,” Cross explains. “We also have dedicated sales resources to drive commercial business towards the franchisees.”

The Restart program is designed to get franchisees who didn’t get off to a great start or fell away from the business back up and running. The company is also going to be implementing a “step-back process” where the franchisee can become more absent while the business still runs properly. “I no longer live in the territory where my business is located because I have managers and sales teams in place while I’m absent,” Cross says.

Although the goal for some is resale and Fish Window Cleaning does assist franchisees in that process, Cross says his location runs efficiently and generates so much revenue that he can’t imagine why anyone would want to sell. “We do what we can to facilitate that process,” he adds. “There was a resale recently that went through a long-time franchisee who sold it to his son’s in-laws. The franchise can pass from generation to generation or even to extended family.”

Steady Growth

“This just so happens to be a perfect business in my opinion,” Cross says. “There is a relatively low investment and windows always get dirty. This business is not going to get outsourced overseas. Robots are not cleaning windows and I can see myself doing it for another 20 to 30 years because it’s a steady business we see continuing for a long period of time.”

Moving forward, Fish Window Cleaning plans to continue to maintain steady growth. “We would probably max out somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 to 600 franchise locations in the country and we are about halfway there,” Merrick says. “We just like a nice steady, continued growth with the business and the revenue stream.”

The company will continue to emphasize quality over quantity because it cares about its franchisees’ success. “Mike and I could put processes in place to sell 100 units a year, but we are here to support the franchisees, help them get off to a good start, make sure they hit their break-even points quickly and hit their income goals,” Cross says. “We want them to stay in the system for a long period of time and we work hard on our programs to reduce the amount of turnover.”

“This has been Mike’s dream and the culmination of a dream that has developed into something pretty cool,” Cross adds. “I love that I’ve bought a system that helped me develop a business that provides well for my family and allows for me to spend time volunteering and giving back to the community. It’s fun to think about what the other 225 people are doing because of what Mike started.”

Merrick says founding Fish Window Cleaning was one of the best things he ever did and he wants his franchisees to believe that joining was the best thing they ever did.

 

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