Cleaning Crew

Posted: April 29, 2014

As matchmaking goes, this is as unromantic as it gets: hooking up small contractors with commercial-property managers.

But a Kansas company has been at it with great financial success since the late 1990s, and now it wants to break into the Philadelphia market.

City Wide Maintenance hopes to have franchises open here and in Pittsburgh within the year to manage commercial-space upkeep in these regions.

Despite its name, City Wide's target market would not be the Comcast Center or other downtown properties, but, rather, suburban complexes of 10,000 to 100,000 square feet.

Banks, churches, day-care facilities, offices, and auto dealerships have been among the clientele in City Wide's 36 U.S. markets, said Jeff Oddo, CEO and president of the company his father, Frank, started in 1961 as a janitorial firm. Jeff Oddo expanded it to a full-service, building-maintenance middleman after he took over in 1996.

Landscaping. Window-washing. Lighting. Pest control. Parking-lot striping. Those are just some of the 20-plus services that City Wide has lined up for clients.

"Philadelphia is recognized as having one of America's most talented workforces," Oddo said. "You also have a very good mix between large, midsize, and small businesses. It seems like a natural progression for us."

Time will tell.

First, City Wide has to find someone with a net worth of $500,000, with $250,000 available for working capital, to open a franchise here. Of that, $90,000 is for franchise and territory fees, Oddo said.

With $100 million in annual revenues - from franchise fees and the undisclosed spread between what City Wide charges clients and what it pays contractors - "I'm in a very fortunate situation where I don't have to sell a franchise to pay our bills, so we can be more picky," he said.

Each franchise typically has a staff of four or five full-time employees, who call on facilities managers and recruit and conduct background checks on contractors.

What City Wide is not is added competition for contractors, Oddo said.

"All we're really doing is helping the existing service contractors get better" by handling their marketing and billing and lining up business for them, he said.

For facilities managers without in-house property-maintenance staff, Oddo said, the City Wide sales pitch is: "I can save you time." He added: "Clients don't want to manage all these contractors."

And because City Wide itself doesn't perform the contractor services, it doesn't have inventory and employee costs, so its costs can be competitive, Oddo said.

He designed franchise areas so he does not have to "spend the rest of my life being sued or suing franchisees" over territory disputes. Oddo said the country is divided into 76 territories.

Citing earnings-claim prohibitions on franchise owners, he would not disclose what City Wide franchisees could expect.

"It is substantial and by far one of the greatest opportunities in the industry, because there are 25 ways to make money, rather than a carpet cleaner that only has one source of revenue," Oddo said.

The first franchise opened in 2001 in St. Louis.

Pennsylvania's first opened in March 2013 to serve the Allentown area, extending as far south as Lansdale and as far west as Pottstown. It is owned by Matt Tolan and his wife, Adelaide Cassel.

Their focus the first year has been mostly janitorial jobs, said Tolan, who hopes to branch into construction cleanup and lighting services.

Tolan said he generally takes a cut of 20 percent to 40 percent of revenues from jobs he arranges, noting that his staff is doing for small contractors what many don't have the time and resources to handle: marketing and collections.

"The value that we bring to their sales and marketing process is well worth the split," Tolan said research has shown. "It allows them to focus on what they do best, while maintaining the profit margins that allow them to grow their businesses and support their families."

Yvonne and Walter Alvarez started Perfection Building Maintenance of Stroudsburg in 2003. Of 45 buildings they currently serve, 15 were lined up by Tolan's City Wide operation, Yvonne Alvarez said.

"We take less of a profit, but we're not doing the telemarketing, the cold-calling and the appointments, and we're not chasing after the money," she said.

She doesn't miss the old days: "You go on 20 calls . . . and you may not get anything out of that."


ABOUT CITY WIDE

 Target Market: Suburban complexes of 10,000 to 100,000 square feet.

Clients: Banks, churches, day-care facilities, offices, and auto dealerships

Services: Include landscaping, washing windows, lighting, pest control, parking-lot striping


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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