Clean Pair of Heels

Paraserve

New Zealand based commercial and office cleaning specialist Paramount Services crossed the Tasman a year ago to set up in Victoria; now it is looking to expand, such has been the initial reception for its franchise-oriented approach to the industry.

Paramount Services (Paraserve in Australia) was established in Auckland in 1979 by Galvin Bartlett. As he explains, he was working in the cleaning and maintenance industry for a large corporate company and found it difficult to fit in, “so we started up Paramount instead.” The Australian company commenced operations in Victoria in June 2012 following the acquisition of a local operator in the field, the idea being that the businesses would re-brand and merge their systems. Galvin says the aim now is to expand into other Australian states while using essentially the same model which has seen the company meet with such success in the New Zealand market.

“When we started, we began as a cleaning company, employing people,” he explains. “It was not until the early 1990s that we stumbled upon the franchising system and set up our version of it with three franchises in 1996. We gradually progressed to a situation where we converted our employed people to having franchise operators working within the organisation.” Nowadays Paramount itself does approximately five per cent of the company’s cleaning, generally in areas where there is a temporary hole in the franchise coverage.

‘Stumbled’ upon franchising? Yes, says Galvin. There was someone operating a franchise during the early 1990s, but he was not doing it very well, and franchisees of the competitor were approaching Galvin and his team with, essentially, a plea for assistance. “I was president of the Auckland branch at that time, which meant that I got a good view of what the franchise concept is all about,” he says.

The franchise system, if it works well, is usually destined to benefit all parties. The franchisee works harder because he or she ‘owns’ the business in micro, the franchisor shares in the success of that hard work without having work the front lines, and the client benefits from the way the franchisee is motivated to do a good job. Galvin agrees. “Generally you are looking at a small operator who is capable of going the extra mile for his client. As we grew Paramount we found that we were getting the same problems that the big corporate companies had – staff not turning up, not maintaining standards, those kinds of issue. It was not until we turned to franchising that we realised we could once again replicate the model of when I started the company originally – namely a small operation with just a few people working for it.”

Paraserve offers franchisees a number of desirable benefits, not least of which is the ability to work part-time or during off-hours, something that might suit, say, a busy parent needing some extra income, or a student needing some employment that will not interrupt a university course. The franchisor takes care of most if not all of the marketing on the franchisee’s behalf and can offer the customer a comprehensive range of services related to cleaning. This extends not only to dusting, bathroom sanitising, rubbish disposal, carpet and floor cleaning and kitchen hygiene, but to specialised services right up to pest control or even, in some instances, extreme cleaning such as decontamination of an illicit drug laboratory. Not that each franchisee is expected to be capable of supplying all of these services on his or her own – Paraserve has carefully chosen subcontractors to deal with all these special requirements and can provide personnel to suit the specific requirements of any end user in just about any industrial environment. “We have someone who deals with such work nationwide for us. There is some travelling involved, of course, but the service provided is quite unique,” says Galvin.

In fact, the franchisee is free to act in many cases as a kind of consultant to the customer. They can take care of all the day-to-day requirements, but if there is something special required (either on a one-off or a repeat basis), then help is just a phone call away, linking in to Paramount’s customer service centre.

Unusually, in New Zealand at least the franchisee does not have an exclusive territory, says Galvin. “In most cases geographical constraints stop them going too far afield anyway,” he explains. “We did originally start with designated territories.” But the company found one of the franchisees had plenty of ideas and ambitions but was constrained from expanding his own business because of the territory limitation in a CBD. “The work was not changing often enough for him to grow, so we elected to allow him to go outside his territory. It became clear quite quickly that territories are not necessarily going to work, and in any case the franchisees themselves rarely if ever step on each others’ toes.” Galvin says cleaning is not like some other franchise models such as retail (coffee shops, for example). “You certainly do not want two competing operators sitting beside each other in the high street. But you can have that easily in the cleaning industry. They know who each other’s clients are. In any case we would not allow it to happen that they get in each other’s way.”

Finance Director Bill Wu explains that it is the franchisor that signs contracts with individual customers and then allocates the work, not the franchisee – another result of the latter not needing to be a sales and marketing expert. “Most of them are simply operational people,” he says, able to focus on what they do best. In some ways, this particular model almost resembles an outsourcing operation more than a conventional franchise.

In any case, the Paramount model certainly works, as evidenced by the string of awards it has garnered in recent years. One, won two years running in 2011 and 2012, was ‘Best Franchise System and Best Franchisee – Business Services’ at the Westpac New Zealand Franchise Awards. This is a source of some ironic amusement, given that Westpac, which just happens to have a long-term contract elsewhere, is the only New Zealand bank not to use the Paramount service! Individual franchisees, too, have been awarded for their efforts, and just recently the company was awarded Franchise System of the Year and Franchisee of the Year for 2013.

West of the Tasman, the identical business model is meeting with considerable success. “We are doing very well in and around Melbourne at the moment,” says Bill, “and we are looking right now at another business in Sydney.” If everything goes according to plan, Paraserve should be up and running there by mid-2014. One reason why this service is proving popular in what both Galvin and Bill acknowledge is a very crowded marketplace is an adherence to quality standards and not dropping that standard to compete on price alone. “We never competed on price. Because we charge a good price we are able to provide high and consistent quality services and build a good reputation throughout the country [NZ].” In addition to most banks, Paramount cleans Deloitte and Price Waterhouse Coopers, some of New Zealand’s largest cinema multiplexes, gymnasiums and other sports facilities, schools, university halls of residence and department stores – many of these are long-term contracts.

Both in New Zealand and Australia, response to the company’s recruitment advertising has been strong. “Quite a lot of people rely on this type of work,” adds Bill, “even though the economy has been going very well for the last few years. Most of our people are part-time; some are doing a second job.” Galvin says the demands and qualifications needed for a franchisee are not onerous; Paramount provides training to the appropriate standards. Regulations are generally similar in the two countries, but Bill points out that New Zealand is well ahead in terms of recycling, and services such as separation and safe disposal are more readily available. “We have found most of our clients in Melbourne have not yet started recycling, but in New Zealand it is more advanced,” he shares.

Galvin has a passion for environmental and sustainability issues, so the company has in any case been pushing hard for progress for many years. Painful though it may be in Melbourne and Sydney, it seems like, as with the rugby, NZ is sticking it to Oz in recycling too!

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September 20, 2018, 5:31 AM AEST