In today's economy, finding the "American Dream" can be about as likely as a million dollar Powerball win. However, for two commercial cleaning franchisees, it proved to be readily attainable.
Hector Lomas, 33, moved to the U.S. from Mexico 14 years ago. Initially, he needed two jobs just to make ends meet. A friend told him about a commercial cleaning position, which ultimately changed the trajectory of his life. He found a good fit as a commercial cleaner at a large $60-million-a-year contract cleaning company, headquartered in St. Louis, Mo.
"Many immigrants take residential or commercial cleaning jobs when they first move to America because cleaning is a skill that does not involve as much interaction with the public," says Lomas. "This provides immigrants with the opportunity to earn a good living, while improving their English-speaking skills over time."
Other factors about the commercial cleaning industry that appealed to Lomas included the fact that most cleaning companies pay above minimum wage, the work is readily available and virtually recession-proof. Additionally, workers can find part-time, full-time, contract or benefitted opportunities, where they can usually choose one of three shifts per day. This flexible work schedule is helpful for single parents and immigrants who are also attending school.
During his six years of employment at that commercial cleaning company, Lomas worked his way up the corporate ladder to become an area manager. However, he eventually decided he wanted to be his own boss. Six years ago, he found a commercial cleaning franchise opportunity and now he employs approximately 30 people.
"As an area manager with a large commercial cleaning company, I managed several facilities that were more than 300,000 square feet," he recalls. "That gave me the confidence to go out on my own. I chose to invest in a franchise opportunity with a commercial cleaning company that has a training program designed to manage large facilities. I am really proud to have created an economic opportunity for myself. I am even more proud that as a business owner, I am able to be a source of employment to others."
Tanja and her husband, Jasenko Arnautovic, came to America nine years ago after fleeing Bosnia during the Bosnian war. The couple worked in the packaging department of a St. Louis-area baking company before hearing about a commercial cleaning business opportunity in their neighborhood. The couple opened their franchise in 2003 and began recruiting others from their local Bosnian community. Today, they have more than 20 employees cleaning numerous large buildings that include medical offices at St. Anthony's and St. Mary's hospitals, and Sachs Electric Company.
"What has helped me to be successful is an ability to take risks," says Tanja Arnautovic. "I took a big risk moving to America because I didn't really even speak the language. I took another risk buying a franchise in a field where I had no previous experience."
Because Arnautovic lacked both management and commercial cleaning experience, she was careful to invest in a franchise opportunity that offered a comprehensive training curriculum. The one she selected included an intensive, three-stage management development series that takes up to two years to complete. Part of this program includes training to manage medical facilities, a niche she has found to pay off for her business.
"When I was looking for a business opportunity, I needed something with a low start-up cost. The commercial cleaning company I chose to invest in had an entry level program that I could buy into with less than $2,000, which is low risk for immigrants, minorities and women getting started," she explains, "They also provided much of the new accounts, so I could concentrate on the actual cleaning solutions and customer relationship building."
Navigating the maze of a new culture and language can be overwhelming for American immigrants. However, the cleaning industry has provided opportunities for countless newcomers. Owning a franchise in that field has allowed Lomas and the Arnautovics to achieve the elusive "American Dream."
Hugh Chapman is regional director of Buildingstars. Buildingstars, which is headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., is a BSCAI member. For additional information, visit