Sparkle Squad Cleaning Services
Chris Stoness, Founder and CEO of Sparkle Squad, tells 1851 Franchise the story behind his journey into franchising, along with his plans for Sparkle Squad.
1851: How did you fall into franchising?
Chris Stoness, Founder and CEO of Sparkle Squad: I came to the window cleaning industry very honestly. I was actually working in the music industry in my previous career and had reached the top of where I wanted to be. I realized that I didn't have the same love for being at the top as I did for the climb, so I left that industry. I needed a place to work and thought a job as a high rise window cleaner would be an amazing way to start. Little did I know that that early foray into the business of window cleaning would completely change my life's trajectory.
That was back in 2006. I started in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and realized really quickly that the industry was massive. There was glass everywhere I looked. The industry of keeping that glass clean hadn't really had a meaningful update since the squeegee was invented back in the 1930s, so I began working on systems to modernize the industry and working on ways that I could eventually start my own business that used technology so I would have an edge on my competitors.
We cracked the code in 2012. We started here in Canada, and we realized that we were able to take an old industry and modernize it in a way that it had never been done using a water-fed pole system. Franchising was really the only way I could see to share what we have created with the rest of the world. The symbiosis between working with owners day in and day out and sharing these systems was really attractive to me.
In 2017 we began franchising, we created an FDD, and we brought our first partners in in 2018. From there, we have been gradually reinventing an industry that's been around for a long time.
1851: When you decided to create the franchise and you got this thing going, what were your expectations then versus what were the realities?
Stoness: I am in a unique position in being somebody who came into franchising from the inside of an industry rather than deciding to franchise and then looking for the industry. I didn't have a ton of expectations. I knew I was going to get to work with people who were invested in their own success.
What I really wanted was the opportunity to show the world this incredible thing that we developed. I was a little naive in not realizing how much franchising brought to the table. I didn’t even think about how I would be able to grow a massive business in an overlooked industry.
1851: How was franchise growth going into a pandemic?
Stoness: Going into the pandemic, we had four owners and some corporate locations that we were priming for owners. In March of 2020, I remember sitting at this desk in my office here in Kingston, Ontario, and saying to my management team, “We need to roll up all this investment we've made into corporate priming.” It included 18 cities across North America. I said, “We need to put all of our energy into these four individuals who have put their life savings on the line.” In hindsight, in 2020, the business exploded during COVID. Everybody was in their homes and their windows were dirty. The demand was unbelievable.
I realized in that moment, when faced with the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, just how much the individuals that were a part of our system were risking and willing to invest. Doubling down on that debt instead of running away from it going into COVID set us up for an amazing partnership with our franchise partners, but also it gave us an amazing lens to look at what we were doing and why we were doing it going forward.
1851: So from the consumer standpoint, we see this sky rocket in demand. That also must impact the number of franchising inquiries all of a sudden.
Stoness: Franchising was a hot hot topic at that point because there weren't a ton of new concepts launching at the time. However, we were really cautious in our growth because we knew coming from the inside out that we had a lot to learn. Once we hit the big stage, we realized that if we were going to be a lasting brand that changed the industry, which is what we set out to do with the technology, we had to take it slow. We were really selective about bringing in great people who were going to be amazing leaders in their markets, and we consistently refined the strategy for unit-level profitability for our owners.
We had been so focused on bringing in the right people and making sure they were profitable as quickly as possible that we didn't even realize that we were being looked at by some of the peers that we had.
Soon enough, we were acquired by Happinest Brands; they have other brands such as Lawn Doctor, a 55 year old brand, and we were brought in as the fourth brand in that group. We formed a partnership, and I realized that they're the same kind of people with the same kind of values as us. I think what attracted them to us and vice versa was the way that they would have doubled down on their franchisees if their back was against the wall or how they would bring people in and take care of them.
We're now relaunching Elite in Canada with Happinest, and bringing Sparkle Squad, with all of this technology we've built over the last 11 years, to the U.S. We launched recently with 100% whitespace. It’s a unique position to be in to have the entire, most franchisable market for a brand with 11 years of practice in refinement. It is pretty darn cool for a window cleaner like myself.
1851: Going through this acquisition partnership model is a big moment for an entrepreneur. How are you feeling about this shift?
Stoness: I am an enthusiastic person, and I'm an optimist. In the moments immediately after the acquisition, I couldn’t believe the resources I had access to for my franchise owners, because at the time, I'd been bootstrapping everything. Our Director of Operations at Happinest has been operating a 600 plus territory model for 15 years in that position.
We’ve got franchise owners that have grown by 45% this year. It's the growth of just bolting on simple systems that have been stress tested. It's a great system that is designed for a franchise partner, so it's speaking the language that they can relate to. Our goal is to get them not just cash flow positive as fast as possible, but to get them to market dominance because it's unique in our industry. There really aren't a lot of dominant players.
It's more about coaching owners to add capacity to grow into the next step. It's nice to have that vantage point and the coaching structure for a really rapid growth business.
1851: What do you want future potential franchisee candidates to know about your business?
Stoness: If you're questioning the size and scope of the industry, just take a walk down the street. Our world is made of glass, and the industry tasked with maintaining that glass is so far behind the curve. When we apply technology through our water-fed pole system, which allows our window cleaners to clean up to six stories from the ground; the efficiencies and results gained there are unheard of.