|Men in Kilts owner Sentwali Lewis (left) and his partner Darcy Longpre at work on a home in Scarborough.|
Men in Kilts - Aiming to be more than just a gimmick: In a competitive business like window washing, skirt-wearing male technicians definitely attract attention. And Men In Kilts,which started in Vancouver more than 10 years ago, is banking on that curiosity to grow franchises across North America. A recent weekday morning found Toronto co-owner-operator Sentwali Lewis up on ladder buffing the windows of an east Scarborough home.
It was a typical sight, save the green tartan kilt he had on. “People are very surprised when we show up on site wearing our kilt, but that’s our name,” said Lewis. “You have to differentiate yourself from the competition. Everyone thinks the kilt is just a gimmick; yes, but once you experience our service, you’ll see what we have to offer; there’s a lot more going on than the kilt.” The rest of the uniform consists of black boots, black socks and a grey t-shirt that warns “No Peeking!” In winter, black running tights fend off the chill, said Lewis who actually traces great, great, great grandparents on both sides back to Scotland.
A little originality can boost brand awareness, but it won’t drive business long-term, said Queen’s University marketing professor Ceren Kolsarici. “Those little unique ideas definitely help establish the brand early on if a customer hasn’t heard of the brand name, but what keeps the company going is the satisfaction rating,” she said, drawing comparisons to movie trailers. “In the initial success of the movie, advertising is the big driver, but then word-of-mouth and ratings come into the picture. As long as the audience satisfaction is high, then the success will be strong on the upcoming weekend. This is the same idea.”
Kilts may be the calling card for Lewis, who launched the Toronto operation with Darcy Longpre in March, but customer service is their long game. “I say treat every homeowner like you’re going into your parent’s house or your grandparent’s house,” explained Lewis, 39. “Make sure that they see why they should choose us instead of one of our competitors.”
Founded in 2002 by B.C.-based Scotsman Nicholas Brand, Men In Kilts quickly gained traction, earning $1 million in revenue in 2009. That’s the year Tessa Wood, former VP of Operations at hyper successful start-up, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? took notice of their tartan embossed trucks tooling around Richmond, B.C. “They really stood out and would make me smile; and just seeing the emotion they would elicit from me, made me think ‘This is powerful,’ said Wood. “It stood out as such a cool brand. I reached out and said ‘Hey, do you guys want some help franchising?’ We partnered up and incorporated the franchising company.”
As CEO, she has heralded the establishment of nine franchises, system wide sales over 5 million, and the expansion of services to include, gutter, eavestrough and siding cleaning and pressure washing. Her goal is to have locations in every major city in Canada and the U.S. by 2017. “It’s a very fragmented industry,” said Wood. “I saw a lot of similarities between the market opportunities that JUNK had. Who you think of when you need to get windows cleaned? Well, no one. And we’re looking across North America and saying ‘This could be a really great brand and a service that people need.’”
The company will hire female technicians, but representatives say they rarely apply and none are currently are employed with the company, although the female Boston franchise owner is trained to clean windows. There seems to be no trouble finding men willing to clean in kilts, which are mandatory for the job, except on certain days in Alberta. “Because it’s really windy in Calgary which I didn’t realize,” explained Wood. “We had to put in sort of a safety caveat about not wearing the kilts if it’s windy to the point where the kilts are literally blowing up above their waists. But it’s only in that windy extreme weather; otherwise, it’s just a matter of layering.”
|From left, Tyler Buchanan, Keenan Ndjiva, Ryan Light and Jonard Janolino of Men In Kilts are turning heads with their creative window-cleaning concept.|
Men in Kilts more than clever gimmick - Window-cleaning company aims to expand to 50 markets: A window-cleaning service staffed by men in kilts that started in Metro Vancouver more than a decade ago is now focusing on expanding its unique brand throughout the U.S. From its start in 2002, Men In Kilts has expanded to Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto as well as Seattle, Boston, New Jersey and Philadelphia. CEO Tressa Wood said her goal is to be in every major market in North America by 2017. "There are about 50 on the list we're targeting," she said. "We might look at smaller markets, as well."
Wood has experience with expanding a start-up, having formerly been vice-president of operations at 1-800-GOTJUNK. Before travelling extensively throughout the U.S. for that company, Wood said she might have been a little intimidated about expanding south of the 49th parallel. "Once you've spent a lot of time in all the different regions of the States, it's not that scary," she said. "I see it as a big opportunity. We've really had no hiccups whatsoever delivering the same service."
Wood is aiming to expand the types of services offered by Men In Kilts in the next seven to 10 years. "Once you establish that footprint across North America and have a database of happy residential and commercial customers who are loving us for window cleaning and gutter cleaning and exterior cleaning, it makes sense for us to say: 'If you love us for that, we can also do your carpets and your lawn.' The brand is generic enough to do that."
In Men In Kilts' first year of operation, revenue totalled $20,000. This year, the company is expected to hit $6 million. Nicholas Brand, the Scottish-Canadian who founded the company, said the business is definitely about more than marketing. "Gimmicks have become a four-letter word in business," he said. "You need to stick out from the crowd in this day and age. If I started Nick's Window Cleaning, you wouldn't be calling today. If you can't follow up with quality, then you are nothing but a gimmick."
Men in Kilts has its North American call centre in south Surrey, where customers can phone to get estimates and book jobs six days a week. Customers are also contacted afterward to make sure they're satisfied with the quality and service. All technical training for the new franchisees is done by Brand. "I don't think there's a window cleaning company in North America that has the quality control and customer service that we do," he said.
Men in Kilts window washers wear kilts with a Wallace hunting tartan. They're made from a cotton-polyester blend rather than the traditional wool. They're the kind used by athletes in the Highland Games. Cleaning the windows of a typical bungalow in Oakridge would likely be done for the minimum charge of $140. However, the company's average invoice is $350 because its workers are often doing additional jobs such as cleaning gutters or pressure washing.
More news on Men in Kilts can be found here.