Flush with success

AUTHOR: SINGER

Flush with success

Nettleton couple cleans up with restroom service

By Stephen Singer

Daily Journal

NETTLETON – Skeets and Brenda Mez believe they have found a way to own a cattle ranch, but the route they have chosen leads through the bathroom.

More than 400 bathrooms.

The Mezes own a franchise for Aire-Master, a cleaning service that scrubs fixtures and toilets and deodorizes more than 400 restrooms in businesses and offices in much of Mississippi.

Skeets Mez, who is from Blair, Neb., said he grew up on an 800-acre ranch on the Missouri River and hopes to return to the wide-open spaces with the money he makes as a franchise owner.

“Working for someone else, you’ll never get there,” Mez said.

A map of Mississippi on the office wall in the Mezes’ home looks like a battle plan to achieve their goal: Cities throughout the state are highlighted in pink, showing the territory they have conquered in the 2 1/2 years they have owned their franchise.

Their success has largely liberated the Mezes from the bathroom. Skeets Mez, 40, said he is able to spend much of his time traveling the state marketing his business while Brenda, 38, works at home grappling with the ever-growing paperwork.

They now have one full-time and four part-time employees in Jackson, Meridian, Hattiesburg, Tupelo and Saltillo. Despite high turnover, Skeets Mez said his employees clean restrooms in nearly every area of Mississippi. Only bathrooms in the southwestern part of the state and along the Gulf Coast have yet to surrender.

“I want to provide a quality service (and) go home at night knowing I earned my keep,” Skeets Mez said. “I’m not out there to be rich.”

‘Like gambling your life away’

The growth of the Mezes’ business parallels the increasing attraction of franchising. The number of franchised businesses nationwide grew from 39,621 in 1994 to 43,020 last year, an increase of 8.6 percent, according to the International Franchise Association in Washington.

The trade group estimates that the number of franchised businesses will increase this year to 48,295, an increase of 12.2 percent.

Franchising accounts for more than $800 billion in sales annually, which the trade group said accounts for two-fifths of all retail sales. Franchises also employ more than 8 million workers.

One reason why franchising has grown is that consumers demand brand names, “something they know and trust,” said Meredith Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the trade association.

In addition, large-scale corporate layoffs have left in their wake middle-level employees with management skills but no jobs. Franchising offers an opportunity to apply their experience and find a measure of security that eluded them in their previous jobs, Jacobs said.

Cleaning service franchises “tend to be lucrative,” she said. Rent-free offices operated from a franchisee’s home help keep down overhead.

Aire-Master of America Inc., a privately held company that franchises 49 businesses and directly operates five divisions, reported sales of $3.3 million in the 12 months ending last month, an increase of nearly 15 percent from the previous year, spokeswoman Phyllis McCauley said.

The Mezes did not discuss the income from their business, except to say it can be profitable. Franchisees must pay the Nixa, Mo.-based firm as much as $12,000 to obtain a sales territory and $8,000 “and up” for equipment and sales services, McCauley said.

Franchisees also pay a 5 percent royalty for business they bring in.

Health care remains a major obstacle. Citing prohibitive costs for self-employed business owners, the Mezes said they are not covered by health insurance.

Aire-Master’s fees and royalties buy support from experienced business owners, the Mezes said. “When you’re on your own, you make more mistakes,” Brenda Mez said. “They’ve already made the mistakes.”

Still, investing money and time in a business venture – on one’s own or as a franchise – is a risk. “It’s like gambling your life away,” Skeets Mez said.

Using their college education

Operating a restroom cleaning business wasn’t the Mezes’ first career choice. But running a business has turned out to be a good fit.

Skeets Mez, who moved to Nettleton from Big Sandy, Texas, where he was a landscaper specializing in irrigation, studied communications at Ambassador College in Big Sandy.

As a communications student, Mez said he focused on marketing, which he is now applying to his business.

Brenda Mez studied home economics at Friends University in Wichita, Kan.

“What is the chance someone is using their college degree for their job?” she asked.

The Mezes moved to Nettleton from Big Sandy, lured by the prospect of an exclusive Aire-Master market for all of Mississippi. Skeet Mez’s brother, who operates an Aire-Master franchise in the Atlanta area, introduced the Mezes to the business.

The Mezes’ work frees business owners and managers from a task they prefer to avoid. “It’s one of the hardest things to get employees to do right,” said Keith Faylors, manager of Taco Bell at the Mall at Barnes Crossing and on South Gloster Street in Tupelo.

“I would have to stand over someone or do it myself,” he said.

To another business that offers a deodorizing service, competition is not very stiff in Northeast Mississippi.

Aire-Master promotes its business as a service that cleans and deodorizes restrooms, while Rochester Midland Corp. provides a deodorizing service, said Tim Bulthuis, district sales manager in Litha Springs, Ga.

Although the couple operates their franchise from their home, Brenda Mez does not like the arrangement. “I’m not for home-based business. You never get away from it,” she said.

The Mezes also are schooling at home two daughters, Charissa, 10, and Adriane, 6. Travis, nearly 2 years old, is not yet ready for formal schooling.

Add to their responsibility two cats, a dog, a puppy, five sheep and several chickens on three acres. “It’s a busy lifestyle,” Skeets Mez said.

But the couple has imposed limits. They balk at cleaning their own bathrooms, fobbing the chore to Charissa and Adriane. “We’re teaching them the work ethic early,” Brenda Mez said.

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