Celebrating 15 Years as a Window Cleaning Franchise Owner: Jon Mittleman’s Story

Welcome to another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today with host Leslie Kuban, expert franchise consultant and owner of FranNet Atlanta. Atlanta Franchise Today is dedicated to bringing entrepreneurs and business owners the best practices and tips for their franchise goals. In franchising, it’s not uncommon to see successful franchisees get tapped to become a part of the franchisor’s corporate training, support, and development teams.

Today, Leslie is joined by Jon Mittleman. Today is Jon’s 15-year anniversary of becoming a Fish Window Cleaning franchise owner here in north Atlanta and for the last six years, Jon’s also been helping other aspiring entrepreneurs evaluate and join the Fish Window Cleaning franchise. In this episode, we’re going to learn all about Jon’s journey and his dual role as a franchise owner, and a franchise development professional.

Transcription:

Leslie Kuban:
Jon, welcome to the studio.

Jon Mittleman:
Thanks for having me, Leslie. Appreciate it.

Leslie Kuban:
And congratulations.

Jon Mittleman:
15 years, it’s been a long ride but great.

Leslie Kuban:
I’m honored that you’re spending it with me here in the studio today.

Jon Mittleman:
Great. Thanks for having me. I’m really looking forward to it.

Leslie Kuban:
Jon, tell us a little bit about your customers and what you do for them.

Jon Mittleman:
Sure. So at Fish, we do both commercial and residential window cleaning. A lot of people look at commercial and look at it in different ways. What we do, what we focus on in the commercial route is we clean at your local strip center, Walmart, Target shopping center. We go in and we clean their windows at a local store, weekly, biweekly once a month. That’s a majority of our business, typically about 80%. The other 20% is residential, someone’s home, as well as what we call commercial projects. So a retirement home, a school. We’re not doing that every week or every two weeks. We’ve got a crew of people there and we’re coming in and we’re taking care of them probably once or twice a year typically.

Leslie Kuban:
So you’re on the image improvement side of your customers’ businesses and making sure their curb appeal is appealing to their customers and employees.

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely. That’s the first thing they’re going to see. If you got clean windows, hopefully, likelihood is people think things are clean on the inside, whatever type of business it is for sure.

Leslie Kuban:
Perception matters.

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
So that’s an important service-

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
… you guys are providing. And prior to this, like many people in franchising, you had a corporate career.

Jon Mittleman:
I did.

Leslie Kuban:
So tell us a little bit about what you were doing before.

Jon Mittleman:
Most of my experience is in sales and marketing. Out of college, I actually worked in sales, doing door-to-door sales for ADP, for the payroll company. Back in the day, I worked in New York City and got a lot of doors slammed in my face. So great experience, a great learning experience and decided I wanted to get into more of the marketing side and was told I needed a little more education. So I actually ended up going back to business school. And that’s how I ended up down here in Atlanta. I went to business school at Emory University and got a job with GE Capital. Coming out, and then I worked for a couple of other places. I worked at Delta Airlines on their SkyMiles Credit Card, doing marketing, as well as for a company called Fuelman. That’s actually FLEETCOR Technologies, is a corporate company. They’re actually based here in Norcross. And did that and just found that I wanted a little more control of my own destiny. And so that’s what kind of got me to the point of looking into my own business.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. So you did the Atlanta rotation of some of the big companies that many people work for here.

Jon Mittleman:
I did. Yes. A few I’ve known over the years and I keep in contact with a good number of people actually.

Leslie Kuban:
I bet like many people, when you started looking at franchises, you weren’t saying, “If today’s my lucky day, I’m going to be in the window cleaning business.”

Jon Mittleman:
That was not the case. We often say this. There’s about just under 300 franchisees. If we’re all being honest, I don’t think one of us planned to be in the window cleaning business before we talked to a franchise consultant like yourself. And what really attracted me to Fish was the lifestyle flexibility and some of the things that I was looking for in a business. I was really looking for a business that I could own, that didn’t own me, which was very simple. That Monday through Friday gig, this is, which is very important. But what I really liked, it had a combination of commercial and residential. I had done both B2B as well as B2C, so that was really big. And important for me is from my past sales experience, I really liked the idea of being able to go out and create sales versus either sitting in an office waiting for the phone to ring, or at a store waiting for someone to walk into my place and just advertising to them. When I feel like I need business, I can walk into a store and say, “Hey, I’m Jon with Fish Window Cleaning. Who do I talk to about giving a free estimate?” And I do that fairly often, still. I mean, 15 years later.

Leslie Kuban:
And your pathway is not at all uncommon, because you’re now working in development with the franchisor. You have your own business, but tell us a little bit about what that is that development role and how that kind of came about for you.

Jon Mittleman:
I’ve been with Fish and franchise development for just about six and a half years. I started January 2016. How it all came about in the beginning was about six years into this… You kind of get to a point where the business, if you’ve done the right things hopefully, the business kind of runs itself a little bit. And that’s the great thing about business ownership at some point, is you can pull yourself out. Your business becomes more valuable as well as your life becomes more valuable to you. But saying that, my wife wasn’t ready for me to be home or playing golf three or four days a week. So I started looking around at other businesses, frankly, just didn’t find what I was looking for, whether it was a franchise or non franchise. Wasn’t that anything was poor or bad. Just didn’t meet my criteria as you were saying.
Long story short, the folks at Fish Corporate were down here for a franchise convention. We had dinner together, they were asking me what was going on. I told them and kind of a light bulb went off in their heads and mind, “Had you ever thought about being in franchise development with your sales and marketing experience? Might be a really good fit.” Long story short, did a little bit of interviewing. They kind of tested me on a couple of folks talking to them, whether it was natural and blah, blah, blah. And there I was probably about three months after the initial conversation, starting with Fish and it’s really been great. It’s perfect for me. I go in the mornings. I get into my office in Alpharetta about 7:30 in the morning. I’m usually done with whether it’s paperwork or estimates by about lunchtime, go to my home office, have grab a bite to eat. And then I’m on the phones talking to consultants as well as prospects about learning more about Fish Window Cleaning.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. And this is such a great example of how there are, I’ll say advancement opportunities, but other opportunities inside of franchising beyond your own business. And you see this a lot where franchisees are contributing as mentors to other franchisees or in the development role or in training.

Jon Mittleman:
Any of those, yeah. We here at Fish, we’ve done a good job of bringing in folks that have been in the window cleaning business, having their own business before. There’s actually four of us in the corporate staff that are also franchisees. So we think it’s important. It lends itself to say, “Hey, these folks are also believers enough in the business that they’re getting involved at the franchisor level as well.”

Leslie Kuban:
And think back six and a half years ago when you first got into development, because now you’re in an interesting role because you’re working with people. You were in their shoes at one point on the other side of a decision like this. And I’m just wondering, did your perspective change or was anything surprising to you?

Jon Mittleman:
I think the most interesting aspect of it is how many different worlds people come from and how they get into franchising or get into their own business. I think a lot of people look at it and they say, “Okay, if I’ve got a sales and marketing experience, that’s great.” Sure, it’s a great thing, but there are many, many great franchisees in our system that have IT backgrounds, that have management background, all sorts of different areas of expertise. But the key is really, were they willing to kind of step in and follow the system that Fish had developed? And you learn that these are the folks. Particularly when you’re doing franchise development with them and you’re talking to them, are they able to keep in even their conversations with you and keeping appointment times and things like that. Little things that you look for in a franchisee. Can they be a successful franchisee? And you kind of look at it that way. I had never done that before getting into this role, because I was really focused on me. And then obviously when talking to fellow franchisees, we were talking about our businesses and not necessarily how we got into it and maybe not even where we came from overall for the most part.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s right. Our resumes and our diplomas do not define what we can do successfully.

Jon Mittleman:
Not at all, neither to education. The most educated person can be a great franchisee or they may not be a great franchisee. That’s the reality of it. But all of your experiences, I think certainly help define who you are. But at the end of the day, you got to have the, we call it the fire in the belly to go out and develop your business and create great business.

Leslie Kuban:
Are there any common misperceptions Jon that you hear from people looking, whether it’s looking at the window cleaning business or franchising or entrepreneurship in general, anything that you kind of just want to shake people and say?

Jon Mittleman:
Yeah. I mean, I think the general one that you hear often and particularly in my business is, “Why do I need a franchise? I can go pick up a mop and a squeegee and start cleaning windows.” You can, you absolutely can, but there’s a lot more to it than that. And when you dive deep into the business, you understand there’s a model of how to create business, how to find employees, how to even develop ways to get cash flow and things like that. As a business owner, if you just got into a business without having any of the backing and support, those are things you might struggle with early on. Now, obviously over time, you kind of learn the business it’s not rocket science, it’s window cleaning. But where the franchise comes in handy is they’re creating new ways to develop business, to run the business more efficiently and processes that are better. And so those are things that you miss out on.
And then of course, in my perspective, having 250 or so other folks that have done what I’ve done and are going through what I’m going through, that’s a really good safety net to talk to people. Hey, you’re having a bad day. You’re having a bad week. Hey, we’ve all been through it. We’re all going to have those days and have those weeks, but know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel or there’s a light at the end of the week or the month or whatever it is and you’re going to be able to turn this thing around.

Leslie Kuban:
And that’s, you can’t really put a price tag on that comradery aspect of it.

Jon Mittleman:
It’s huge. It’s huge. We’re actually having our first convention vaccines COVID next week for the first time in three years. So I’m looking forward to seeing people that I haven’t seen in three years-

Leslie Kuban:
Your friends.

Jon Mittleman:
Your friends, right?

Leslie Kuban:
Your family, right.

Jon Mittleman:
You spend a lot of time with these folks, particularly folks that were in my training class years ago. And just folks I spend, time on the phone with that I don’t get to see in person. It’s going to be awesome. [inaudible].

Leslie Kuban:
That’s fantastic. And you’ve made a really good point. The magic of franchising is not necessarily the service, it’s all the systems and the marketing and the brain share underneath the hood that make the value.

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely. And that gets back to… And it’s not just window cleaning. It’s at the end of the day, certainly people can start their own businesses and they can do it and probably some of them can do it effectively. What a franchise does for folks is it allows them to get started in a way that gives them a little bit of that back support like, “Hey, I’ve got someone behind me. They’re not going to let me just fall on the ground and not pick up the pieces. There’s someone there to push me back up and I can do this thing.” So I think it’s great.

Leslie Kuban:
Yeah. And again, think thinking about the people you’re coaching who are exploring business ownership and thinking back to your early days, what do you think people need to be prepared for? The challenges, common challenges of a new business owner that they really need to be prepared to be able to handle?

Jon Mittleman:
Yeah. I mean, I think the one that everybody’s going to know about and I never sugar coat it, is you have to be able to manage employees. Certainly there’s business opportunities without employees, but a lot of the businesses out there you’re going to have to be able to do that. So if you’re comfortable doing that and that’s something you have done before or feel good about doing that, this is a great opportunity for you. Some of the other challenges, if you’ve been in one side of the business, you really have to be able to get yourself out of the place that you probably feel most comfortable in. If you’ve got a operational background and you haven’t done sales before, you got to get yourself to that level of being able to go out and do selling. So it’s really getting yourself into a position of knowing that you’ve got to be the steward of your entire business from nuts to bolts.
We make it simple from our perspective at Fish. We say we sell it, we clean it, we collect it. Very simple model from that perspective. And so a lot of people will say they’re actually very good at selling it. Some people are good at cleaning it. Other people are good at collecting it. But as a business owner, you have to be involved in all three. Yes, you can hire people to do those things, but you want to be able to be the steward of your business from all those aspects at the highest level.

Leslie Kuban:
And that’s your responsibility as a business owner. And I think that’s something that is important that people understand in their evaluation process. Is the franchisor is giving you the toolbox, but they’re not running your business-

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
… for you. And for most people, we’re not good at everything and part of the journey of being a new business owner is being open to learning new and different skills that we haven’t really had an opportunity to be exposed to or exercise before.

Jon Mittleman:
And reality is, it’s your baby. You’re going to want to do all those things and make them successful. And so at some point, and that’s kind of what happened with me, you can pull yourself away and say, “Okay, I really like this aspect of the business, but if I ever have to jump back in, I know all aspects of the business.” But that’s the beauty of being a business owner, is you can find the things that you really like to do and enjoy over a period of time.

Leslie Kuban:
And I bet it wasn’t so easy the first time you cleaned a window. I mean, there’s an art to window cleaning.

Jon Mittleman:
There is an art. And people ask me all the time when I go out and I give an estimate, they’ll say to me, “Are you coming out to clean my windows?” And I’ll say, “Look, ma’am, you don’t want me here. I’ll be here for two or three days. The folks that do this, they do it very well. I’m here to kind of tell you about it. And if you ever have any issues, I can help make sure that things go right.” I cleaned a few windows in my first couple of years. I haven’t had my hand on a mop and squeegee for quite a few years to be honest with you. I get up on a ladder once a year with my guys and clean a couple windows just to let them know I’m around and I can do it, but not my cup of tea right now at this point in my life.

Leslie Kuban:
And that’s great.

Jon Mittleman:
Yeah. [inaudible].

Leslie Kuban:
That’s great. Well, as we start to wrap up, Jon, just any inspiring success stories that you can think of in your business or people you’ve helped into the Fish franchise? Maybe some challenges that they overcame and you can look at and be proud of?

Jon Mittleman:
Yeah, interestingly enough, I mean, I’ve certainly had my challenges, but I think there’s someone that has really made a big difference in the Fish Window Cleaning world and is an inspiring story. A lady down in New Orleans, Louisiana. Actually met her if you kind of know the area. Bought into the business, and about three months after she bought in, unfortunately she was diagnosed with cancer. However, this young lady kind of persevered. She had two young kids, starting her business, going through chemotherapy and radiation, and just knocked things out of the park, doing all those things while fighting cancer. About five years later, she was named franchisee of the year and has built a great business that I know she’s extremely proud and I know the folks at Fish Window Cleaning are very proud of as well.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, that’s something to be proud of.

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
Good for her.

Jon Mittleman:
Absolutely.

Leslie Kuban:
That’s a great story.

Jon Mittleman:
Yeah. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, just any closing advice for our viewers, Jon, who might be looking into franchising or business ownership for the first time? Any words of the wise that you would pass, Jon?

Jon Mittleman:
The only thing I would say is to have an open mind. A lot of people will look at a business and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s not for me,” whether it’s prestige. Or, “I’m not comfortable with it.” If you talk to someone who’s a franchise consultant and that’s another person that I would recommend if you have that desire and you just don’t know where to start. There’s great franchise consultants like Leslie. And those folks can take what you’re telling them and tell you, “Here’s a great opportunity and a great business for you.” And I would just say take the advice of, listen to them, and be open to the ideas. After that, once you find out what they’re about, then you’re going to whittle it down and decide what’s best for you, but just be open to a lot of opportunities.

Leslie Kuban:
And that’s a great advice, because you never know what the right one is going to be. Because again, if you were looking at lists of franchises, you probably would’ve bypassed window cleaning. And here you are-

Jon Mittleman:
We usually start at the bottom of the list and hopefully work our way up. Just being honest. Yeah.

Leslie Kuban:
And here you are 15 years later, obviously doing well and enjoying your decision. So congratulations, very much.

Jon Mittleman:
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Leslie Kuban:
Thank you for coming today, Jon.

Jon Mittleman:
Sure.

Leslie Kuban:
And folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Atlanta Franchise Today. Thank you for joining me and I look forward to seeing again next week.


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