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How I Turned My Side Hustle into a Thriving Franchise System

Scott Marr, CEO of Fleet Clean Systems, Inc.

When I was 13 years old, I spent a lot of time at a motorcycle shop. I can’t really say I was "working," but I was cleaning and detailing bikes.  I also washed cars in my driveway to make some extra spending money. I have always loved bikes, cars and trucks and always will. Little did I know then that my love for washing and caring for vehicles of all types would be the beginnings of one of the fastest growing fleet washing companies and a thriving national franchise system.

Here is how it happened: Washing cars in my driveway wasn’t enough, so at the age of 15, I convinced my parents to lend me some money to buy a pressure washer so I could get jobs pressure washing houses and buildings. I was making a lot of money for a 15-year-old, but didn’t think of these side jobs as much of a career.

Instead, I wanted to go into banking. While in high school, I started working at a bank, and by the time I graduated, I was recruited to work in a bank start-up. The world of finance was fascinating to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But being young and ambitious, my growth potential at the bank left a lot to be desired. 

In the meantime, one of my pressure washing customers asked me to wash out some of his trailers when his regular wash vendor didn’t show up. I began pressure washing trucks and was making more money on the weekends doing my side hustle than I was during the week at my so-called “career”. I decided to quit banking and focus my attention to the business of fleet washing, so in 2009 Fleet Clean was born.

My original location was the Atlanta area but I quickly learned that my customers needed me to wash for them in other locations as well.  Even though my business continued to grow rapidly – bringing $60 to 70K the first year and surpassing $1.2 million in revenue in year four – I was putting all of my resources back into the business and was able to open five more locations. 

That kind of rapid growth, however, is difficult to sustain without outside capitalization, and in the immediate post-recession years banks were not lending money to newer businesses. In order to continue growing at the pace I wanted to, I had to do something different.

That is when the idea for franchising the business took root. By refranchising, in other words selling three of my original corporate markets to new franchise owners, I could push the company growth even faster. Franchising did a number of things all at once: 

  • First, by selling my original location, Atlanta, I was able to re-capitalize the company and pay off all debt. This gave me the additional funds I needed to build the system and spur additional growth. 
  • Second, it reduced the overall financial risk while simultaneously allowing other business owners an avenue for their own success.
  • And third, it made it possible to open in more locations faster to service our regional and national customer base.

By franchising, Fleet Clean has been able to experience over 460 percent growth from late 2013 when we first started franchising to today. This can be attributed to our ability to sell services to more customers because we are located in more locations throughout the country. And that could only have happened by inviting good people to join us as franchise owners.

Not all businesses are suited to the franchise model. This business is. I have been able to build a documented system so that fleet washing in Florida is comparable to fleet washing in Oregon. Sure, there will be minor differences, but as a whole, the business runs the same way and our customers know what to expect. All 22 of our franchise locations and our six corporate locations run the same process and all are supported by our corporate headquarters. 

About the author: Scott Marr is the millennial CEO of Fleet Clean USA, the fastest growing provider of mobile commercial fleet-washing services in the United States. Founded in 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia, Fleet Clean services more than 1,000 companies in 18 states. Fleet Clean began franchising in 2013 and is projected to grow by 25 percent by the end of 2017.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.

Image Credit: Fleet Clean Systems, Inc.