Elite Window Cleaning
Stoness tells 1851 Franchise the story behind Elite Window Cleaning, what sets it apart and where they’re headed next.
1851 Franchise: Tell us about the history and founding of Elite Window Cleaning.
Chris Stoness, Founder/CEO at Elite Window Cleaning: Elite actually came from me working in the music industry. Before I made the transition into window washing, I had worked most of my life to reach a position where I was at the top of the music industry recording Grammy-winning records.After working towards this position for over a decade, I found that what I had worked towards didn't give me that kind of soul food that I had been looking for when I started, so I decided to look for something completely different. As I was walking home from the studio, I saw a high rise window washer doing his job, and I just thought that is the most polar opposite thing from being locked in a recording studio. So I waited for him to come to the ground and asked for a job, and he hired me on the spot. I quickly realized that this industry was everywhere.
Everywhere we look, there are windows getting cleaned, but no one really knows the ins and outs of why, who or how. My focus when I got into the industry was to figure out how to usher the window cleaning industry into the 21st century. There hadn't been a meaningful technological update since the invention of the squeegee, which was patented in 1936. I spent six years traveling around working for different window cleaning outlets all over Canada, and as far as Australia, just trying to get the lay of the land in the industry and learn as much as I could.
In 2012, I made the jump to start Elite Window Cleaning with a borrowed car, a bucket and a plan to change this industry. Innovation has been a huge focus since day one, and for the first couple of years, we iterated on the equipment. Over here in North America, everyone was still climbing up and down ladders and using lifts and ropes, so we took some cues from the UK where water fed pole technology was being used, ultimately leading to us launching our water fed program here in Canada in late 2016. We brought this innovation over to improve our safety and efficiency and help us hire better people, but the byproduct has been an insane level of efficiency and a really high level of profitability.
In 2018, we decided to look at franchising as a way to take this technology and deploy it in multiple regions. We were able to sell four territories quickly, and they all just knocked it out of the park right away. The businesses grew like crazy, with both satisfied customers and great employees. Everything that I hoped would happen started clicking. As we went into COVID, we decided to pause everything because we didn't know exactly what COVID would bring, but our business still continued to thrive all the way through 2020. We set records across the entire system, and in 2021 and 2022, we broke those records again and again.
As a result of our success and track-record of innovation and disruption in the industry, we attracted Happinest Brands in late 2021. They came to us and really saw an alignment between their strategy and ours. Now we are the newest Happinest brand on the block and ready to grow.
1851: What void does Elite Window Cleaning fill?
Stoness: From a customer-facing perspective, one of the biggest barriers for finding window cleaning clients was the cost. Everyone has windows in their home and doesn’t want to climb a ladder to clean them, but at over $200, it can be simply out of reach for the average consumer. Instead of using ladders like traditional window cleaning companies, we use our technology to do the standard home of about 3,000 square feet in under 45 minutes. This not only gives us a great margin, but also allows us to offer the customer a reduced price. When we came in with our flat rate price structure and quick service, we were able to see huge whitespace in the industry.
As far as the franchise-facing side goes, there's just never been anyone who has looked at this industry as intentionally as us. We are not only working to grow our system and change the way the window cleaning process is executed, but also to change the way it is sold, purchased and consumed.
1851: What are you doing well right now? What are your brand differentiators?
Stoness: We are experiencing explosive growth in new markets, and we are attracting customers in a way that no one in our space does. We do flat rate pricing, which allows people to shop 24/7 through our online booking system. This is something that is very unusual in the home services space — especially for window cleaning. What we’ve seen is that people often make their purchasing decision between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight. People are now doing their shopping while lying in bed with their partner or sitting on the couch, and we wanted to make our services as easy and convenient to buy as something on Amazon.
1851: What are your growth goals?
Stoness: I think there's a tremendous opportunity for this space in Canada. We want to make sure that we are continuing to add around 10 locations a year for the next couple of years, and my five year vision would be to have 100 vehicles on the road across the country. We're well on our way to that — that's probably conservative.
1851: What were some learning opportunities that Elite Window Cleaning leveraged to get to where it is now?
Stoness: We paid attention to other businesses that were winning at what they were doing and thought, “Is there an opportunity where we can apply this process, innovation or disruption to Elite?” We looked at a bunch of different industries, from the customer service you receive at Chick-fil-A to the online experience of buying something from Amazon, and we realized there are so many touchpoints and parallels. We knew that there was a real opportunity to sell services at 9 p.m., and we knew it would be big if we could figure out how to flat rate the buying process and make it seamless for people.
1851: What are three or more of Elite Window Cleaning’s most important milestones over the past five years?
Stoness: The very first big inflection point for us was our first superhero day. This is when our high rise team dresses up as superheroes and we wash the pediatrics hospital at Kingston General Hospital. It started out as something small that we just thought would be fun to do — then it went viral globally. We were on the Sydney Herald in Australia and interviewed on the BBC. That was a turning point for a brand, and it made me realize that, although everyone needs a window cleaner, we can take this humble business and do more with it and think bigger.
The second was launching the first four franchise owners and having them be successful and still here today. Going into the franchise world, you’re building something that you believe is amazing, and then you’re putting a pilot in the cockpit and having them fly it. That was a big one.
Growing through COVID was also a testament to the structure and the actual deliverable that our business provides. A lot of businesses didn't thrive in that environment, and we certainly didn't have that problem. Lastly, I would say the acquisition by Happinest. Not everyone gets an opportunity like this, and it showed how much hard work we had put in to build the system up until that point.
1851: What does your ideal franchisee look like in terms of how they run their business, what personal traits they have, what prior business experience they can claim, etc.?
Stoness: We are looking for franchisees who are driven, compassionate and leaders. The type of person that's going to thrive in this is somebody who is curious, wants challenges and has the adaptability to get through whatever they're going to face. There's also a very strong human connection in this industry. We're in people's homes and forming relationships with our customers. We also need to form a relationship with our technicians so that we trust them in people's homes. Our ideal partner is a good communicator, they're a compassionate person and they're driven. I think the great part about what we're doing is that it's totally a level playing field. Male, female, young, old — anyone can make this work. They just need to be driven and have an understanding that this business is going to give back what you put into it.
1851: Can a franchisee be semi-absentee? A passive investor or an active owner-operator?
Stoness: We're looking for somebody who wants to grow their business, and, although semi-absentees can work in this environment, we want somebody who wants to roll up their sleeves and work to drive a large business. We don't want somebody who's working on the tools. We want somebody who's in the business, growing the business and making those connections, though they can ultimately have the goal of becoming semi absentee from the inside out.
1851: How does Elite Window Cleaning support franchisees?
Stoness: We have a pretty amazing support structure. When I set out to make this franchise, I wanted to build out a support network that would have fast tracked my success when I was building my company, so we have what we call the BOSS system, which is the back office support system. The idea is to take on a lot of the things that would take a franchise owner out of revenue generating activities.
We offer a 24/7 call center that not only picks up the phone, but handles the sales, conversions and scheduling down to putting the jobs on the franchisee’s schedule. Franchise owners are able to deploy their crew to complete the work, and they don't have to worry about the nuances of scheduling or reminders. The same goes for post-appointment care. We automatically send out invoices, review requests and automated drip campaigns. We put customers into a repeatable cycle.
We also have weekly all hands meetings with all the franchise owners once a week, along with bi-weekly one-on-one business performance coaching. We focus on the KPIs within their business and what's going to drive that next level of unit profitability. We're always looking to assist franchise owners in growing the biggest, strongest and most robust version of an Elite Window Cleaning, so we really lean into support mechanisms that will free up their bandwidth.
1851: How many units are you targeting over the next year, three or five?
Stoness: In 2023, we would like to add 10 units in Canada. In 2024, we'd like to increase that by another 15, and then 15 more in 2025. So, 40 units by the end of 2025.
1851: Why is now the time to invest in Elite Window Cleaning?
Stoness: Now is the time to invest in Elite because the market is insanely fragmented. Coast to coast in Canada, there is really no national provider of this service. Everything's mom and pop and very fragmented region to region. Having the support and growth mechanisms that come with an Elite Window Cleaning franchise is truly almost an unfair advantage when you're dealing with market to market operations. The timing is right to franchise because I expect that, in five years, there won't be a lot of territory left.
The total initial investment necessary to start an Elite Window Cleaning franchise ranges from $113,261–$143,161, including a $40,000 franchise fee. For more information on franchising with Elite Window Cleaning, visit https://elitewindowcleaning.ca/franchise/.