Chicago Franchise Owner Thrives Through Pandemic, Here’s How
Chicago business owner shares how restoration business continues to thrive in the midst of a national pandemic
In the world of franchising “Restoration” is all about restoring property after a small or large disaster—water, flooding, fire, smoke, mold, and even hoarding. Essentially, bringing a property back to its original condition, pre-disaster. For more than 65 years, the ServiceMaster Restore© has provided Janitorial, Commercial Cleaning, and Restoration services, all over the world. This business sector has traditionally been owned and operated by white males, but Nasutsa Mabwa is a front runner in helping to change that. With an impressive résumé in both urban planning and business, Mabwa holds a Master of Arts degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago and a Master of Business Administration degree with a real estate development concentration from Roosevelt University. The Chicago native gives her all to everything she does and her achievements have not gone unrecognized. Mabwa was named to Crain Chicago Business’ “40 Under 40 Class” of 2010; is a 2015 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program Graduate; and a 2015 Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy/World Business Chicago Program Graduate. Her company ServiceMaster By Simons was awarded the 2020 Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics in the minority-owned business category.
Her firm, ServiceMaster By Simons, was also awarded the “Rookie of the Year” award in 2015 for the highest gross revenue for a new franchise, and the ServiceMaster© National Achiever Award in 2018 for continued upward sales growth. Her firm was also recognized for its contributions to the restoration and recovery of commercial, residential, and industrial residents in hurricane-ravaged states including South Carolina (Hurricane Matthew), Texas (Hurricane Harvey), and Florida (Hurricane Irma). I spent some time with Mabwa to learn about the world of restoration, how she has navigated the industry as a Black woman, and why more women and minorities should consider ownership in this category.
Thank you for sharing your story with our readers. What prompted you to purchase a ServiceMaster Clean franchise?
In 2009, my husband Sam and I had our first child. Sam was working in TV and video
production and traveling all over the country. I was a real estate development executive and realized that I could not manage large projects and achieve a work/life balance. Sam had worked on and off for a few ServiceMaster outfits over the years, so in 2012, after having our second child, we knew it was time to make a change. We were offered a franchise license by ServiceMaster, which included a large territory for greater Chicago. In 2015, we purchased additional licenses for greater territory in Oak Park, River Forest, Chicago, and the NorthShore.
You have built a highly successful, award-winning business in a pretty competitive industry, in a relatively short period of time. What do you attribute your success to?
We are deeply involved in the business. We don’t have many layers of management and that allows us to be tapped into our customer base. With company growth, there is the risk of becoming disconnected from the people you’re serving. The level of connection you have with your staff and customers is essential. Our goal is to continue to maintain these connections despite our growth.
We’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves. If we’re short-handed and need to meet a deadline, we put on all the gear and get to work. As an owner, it is important to frequently communicate with your team in order to positively grow your business. As a business owner, I wear many hats – sometimes I’m at a job site, other times I’m helping with estimating large projects, or focusing on business networking. We hold frequent meetings with our team throughout the week. These regular meetings are held so everyone is on the same page and any issues are addressed.
Being One of Few
As I indicated in the opening of the article, there are very few women and minorities that own and operate restoration businesses. What has your experience been?
The restoration sector has historically been dominated by white males. However, today there are more minority owners entering the restoration field as owner-operators in the US. As for my experience, I transitioned easily into the restoration industry because I came from commercial real estate, a male-dominated field. I understand the dynamics of the environment and am comfortable working within it. In the end, as a woman in the business, it is mainly about high levels of performance and proving yourself.
Have you experienced a benefit from being a Black-owned, woman-owned business?
Yes. We are an MBE/WBE (Minority Business Enterprise / Women-owned Business Enterprise) certified firm with the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. I felt it was important to obtain this certification to grow the business on the commercial side. While commercial work requires more staffing and capital, it elevates your business to the next level. This growth can be difficult for a lot of small and minority-owned businesses because they don’t have the resources to take that leap. When the certifications were initially obtained, I did not see an immediate positive effect. However, more recently, with increased awareness about racial inequity, I see an increased positive response while promoting our minority and women-owned business status.
As a Certified Franchise Consultant, I get asked all the time what are the best franchises to buy. While my response is generally “that depends on what you’re trying to achieve,” tell us why you believe Restoration is a great business to own?
One of the best things about this business is that it’s recession-proof. Whether or not the market is strong or weak, homeowners and property owners may eventually experience a disaster. For that, opportunities are out there. During the pandemic, people were home more and caught accidents faster. While our residential restoration work dipped, commercial disinfection services increased. Also, with unpredictable weather and climate change, we are seeing more natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and unstable weather. These climate changes result in pipe bursts, mold, and water damage emergencies.
In the end, if you are a go-getter, dynamic, and a strong networker, you should consider the Restoration industry. For example, pre-COVID, we provided emergency restoration services for water, fire, mold damages. However, by early April 2020, we pivoted to providing COVID disinfection services. Now in 2021, we’re back to providing fire and water damage restoration services. As a business owner, you have to stay on your toes and remain open to new opportunities for your business.
It’s All About Community
How has your business directly impacted your community?
A big aspect of our business IS community. We’re involved with an urban farm in Skokie, that helps educate people about urban farming. We participate in the local Skokie Green & Clean program every year and we are also active members of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. I’m involved in the Evanston Racial Equity Council, a local Chamber committee working to ensure that local business owners, organizations, and individuals move toward equity, equality, and eradication of anti-racist behavior.
What is your advice for people that have corporate jobs but are unhappy there for a variety of reasons, and just can’t seem to take the leap into business ownership? And what tips do you have to keep the business thriving?
It takes a lot of processing to make the decision to start your own business. It took us several years to make the transition. You will never really know what will happen with a small business or the economy so you must be comfortable with some degree of risk. Some people say they remain working at jobs they don’t enjoy just for healthcare and benefits. I would rather have the responsibility of running a small business and the flexibility of setting my own schedule, however challenging. For me, the freedom to create a healthier work/life balance outweighs the alternative.
Purchasing a franchise is a great way to make the leap into business ownership. In the case of our franchise, ServiceMaster corporate provides franchisees leads from the network. You can build upon these opportunities as you build your business. The support from ServiceMaster corporate to all franchisees is a benefit.
Our company acquired a large territory in the Chicago metro area that gives us a wide range of marketing
options. The Chicagoland market is where the restoration industry began, so there is a high number of restoration businesses compared to most U.S. markets. To counter this, we’ve created a unique web presence and attracted a wide variety of customers. Even so, we still need to consistently develop our network. We stay in contact with current and past customers and stay connected to our team to deliver consistent, quality services.