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Chris Blase looks for leaders at Buildingstars Inc. Featured

8:01pm EDT March 31, 2011
Chris Blase looks for leaders at Buildingstars Inc.

Chris Blase never intended to go into the cleaning business as his career. It was something he decided to do with a couple buddies to supplement his full-time job.

Then he and his buddies lost their full-time jobs and the cleaning business suddenly became a lot more important.

“I thought it would be a pretty simple, straightforward business to start, and I found out it was a lot more difficult,” Blase says. “The biggest challenge by far was recruiting people that were motivated to do a good job. I hired and fired over 1,000 people over a five-year period.”

What followed was a time of stress, struggle and, ultimately, satisfaction as Blase learned what it took to find the right people and build a business that could thrive.?He says his first lesson was to stop trying to be all things to all people.

“I was getting to the point where it was not unusual for me to work straight through the night,” Blase says. “I was doing things like driving away from the gas station with the hose still in my car. And I walked out of my apartment one day and I hadn’t put my pants on.”

Blase was taking all comers as clients, no matter the size or location, and it was burning him out. After selling the business and working for a couple other companies that were suffering from the same problems, Blase decided to strike out on his own again. This time, however, he took a different approach.?He quit trying to do it all and focused on a specific segment, office buildings between 50,000 and 300,000 square feet.

Just as importantly, he made it a point to bring in motivated managers who could help him lead and grow his business. Buildingstars Inc. now provides cleaning services for more than 1,400 customers and took in $20 million in 2009.

“If you can find a way for your key managers to have a vested interest in the company, you’re going to get a totally different attitude toward work and just a totally different approach,” says Blase, the 48-employee franchise cleaning company’s founder and president. “Especially if you’re expanding on a large scale.”

Blase decided to get into franchising. And lest you think this story suddenly doesn’t apply to you anymore, Blase says, ‘Think again.’

“In theory, almost any business is franchiseable,” Blase says. “Companies are going to be faced with a decision where, ‘I’m happy here in St. Louis. I really don’t want to expand beyond this because I don’t want to make the investment and manage remotely.’ They should be asking the question: Would that make sense under a franchise model?”

Blase says franchising is a much more comfortable way to manage people.

“It’s like working with supporting partners versus managing employees,” Blase says.

So the next question is: How do you find people to fill these important roles of leading your franchise units?

“The key is not really looking to sell a franchise,” Blase says. “It’s more based on qualifying or recruiting a franchise owner that’s qualified. It’s not all about the initial investment. It’s more about the recruiting process. You should turn the process around and look at qualifying that person just as strong as you would when you’re bringing on a manager in your company.”

Blase says the difference in providing someone with equity and a stake in the business versus just being another employee in the company can be immense.

“I was able to attract a totally different type of individual that maybe wouldn’t normally go to work for a cleaning company,” Blase says. “It’s all about creating the right kind of management and development system for your key people.”

Put in the time

One of the first things Chris Blase does when he’s looking at a prospective franchisee is ask the person to put together a business plan.

“Have the prospective franchisee go through a very in-depth process to prove that they are competent or capable of managing that unit,” says Blase, founder and president at Buildingstars Inc. “The biggest mistake that companies make is they base the decision on that person’s ability to invest versus their ability to perform.”

The 48-employee franchise cleaning company has more than 1,700 customers and took in $20 million in 2009 revenue.?If you find that you’re not recruiting effective leaders for your business, assess your recruiting style and the questions that you’re asking.

“Am I identifying the same skills and using the same criteria that I would use in hiring a competent manager?” Blase says.

Set aside the investment aspect of franchising and focus on the basics of leadership skill and competence. Make it clear that you want to work with the person to help them grow.?At the same time, you need to stay in touch with customers to get their feedback on how your leader is doing.

“It’s important to be in touch with the perceptions of the customers and hear their positive viewpoints and negative viewpoints,” Blase says.

How to reach: Buildingstars Inc., (866) 991-3356 or www.buildingstars.com.