In an unlikely move for a former Naval aviator, when Eric Saddler lost his job in 2012, he turned to small-business ownership by way of residential house cleaning. But after purchasing an existing Molly Maid franchise in West Chester, Ohio, he quickly realized he felt a little alone at the top -- he never got feedback from the maids. Using leadership skills from his nine years in the Navy and 20 years in the Boy Scouts, he decided to transform the franchise culture, creating more transparency and focusing on improving teamwork and cooperation. He welcomed his maids to come to him with problems, from needing new supplies, coaching on customer relations -- even challenges outside of work. As a result of the boosted morale, team sales shot up by more than 18 percent; the customer cancelation rate dropped; and new customers increased. Today, at the helm of two Molly Maid franchises, Saddler is more successful than ever and seeing continued growth -- made possible by employees who feel valued -- on the horizon.

Name: Eric Saddler

Franchise owned: Molly Maid of West Chester, Ohio

How long have you owned a franchise?

I’m coming up on my second anniversary. It’s been a fun two years!

Why franchising?

My previous careers were as a Naval aviator and an IT leader at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, so I’m very experienced in execution of well-established processes. My Gallup Strength is Maximizer, so I’m naturally wired to take something good and make it even better. Franchising was an obvious fit for me, and Molly Maid has more than 30 years of experience perfecting their business model. I knew it was the right choice for me immediately.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

My most recent role was an IT leader at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. I was one of the original employees hired to build an $850 million facility for a diabetes drug. It was a great experience working with a fantastic team and prepared me for the challenges of business ownership -- especially taking over an existing franchise that needed a bit of a turnaround.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

Molly Maid is a well-known brand with more than 30 years in the business. It was the only cleaning company I'd heard of before I started evaluating franchises, so the brand recognition is great. They also have strong operations and support systems which I knew were keys to a scalable, successful, long-term business. Lastly, my role as a hands-on owner in Molly Maid is suited to my strengths without my weaknesses getting in the way of success. Other franchises opportunities just didn’t have the fit for my personal strengths and business goals.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business? (Please give us a cost breakdown.)

The purchase of the existing franchise was roughly $100,000. The cost for legal fees, account fees, funding source fees, franchise transfer fees, franchise broker fee, government expenses and other miscellaneous expenses approximately totaled $37,000. During that pre-start period, it seemed the source of new expenses wouldn’t end, so to anyone thinking of purchasing an existing business in need of improvements, don’t underestimate what it takes to get rolling.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I received most advice from franchise owners and a network of experts, but I also learned a lot from reading books and articles about being self-employed.

Through many validation calls, existing franchise owners provided their experience and answered questions that allowed me to make a sound decision for franchising. While all the franchise owners were very generous with their time and information, I found the Molly Maid owners to stand out from other franchise owners in their transparency, helpfulness and cheerfulness. The Molly Maid owners revealed to me the character of Molly Maid and that was an important part of why I chose it as the right fit for me.

I also had to build a network of experts to get advice about the details of business ownership that I hadn’t experienced: employment law, payroll, funding options, incorporation, workers’ compensation, liability insurance, hiring and more. As an introvert, networking doesn’t come naturally to me, but it was critical to my successful research and preparation. The networking that was probably of most value was meeting people in the IT industry as I was deciding if I should take the plunge into business ownership. The more people I met in corporate IT, the more I knew that business ownership was the correct path. Exploring other corporate opportunities confirmed that I personally needed to be my own boss.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

I had to become an expert in so many areas very quickly including employment policies, payroll, OSHA, corporations, workers’ compensation, recruiting, marketing, and those didn’t even touch on the operations of delivering Molly Maid’s high quality and professional service. I had to quickly build a network of trusted partners for advice to get my business on the right path from the start. Finding people in whom I could put my trust was critical to determining the right advice. Regardless of trust, I had to study everything myself knowing my name was the bottom line for all of it.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses -- especially weaknesses -- and find the fit that puts you in the best position to be successful. I don’t believe people can change their personality much -- we are who we are. Don’t get enamored of a specific product or service, but rather select a business where your strengths are key to the success of a particular model, regardless of product or service. There’s a good business model out there for just about any personality mix as long as you have the drive to work hard. It takes a lot of effort just to start a business. Don’t add the necessity of overcoming your weaknesses to your list of challenges.

What’s next for you and your business?

Growth. While I’ve been fortunate to grow during my first two years, it's mostly been laying the foundation of a turnaround. I’m not yet where I know my business can be. I’ve focused on the fundamentals of improving the quality of our service, improving the scalability of our operational processes and most importantly, building the right culture to encourage teamwork, mutual respect and joy in what we do. The cleaning industry doesn’t have the best metrics for employee turnover, and I know that mine is better than my competition, so I'll have an advantage in providing consistently great customer service and quality. In a business model dominated by recurring service to an existing customer base, retention of employees is key to retention of customers.