Wealth Management

A touch of elbow grease: How Stephen Coade created a $45 million cleaning business

Yolanda Redrup /

“No one wakes up and thinks they want to be a cleaning contractor,” says Stephen Coade, founder of AMC Cleaning.

Coade is well aware cleaning is not an aspirational profession, but when your business turns over almost $50 million, maybe it should be. Plus, when you leave school at 15 you have to find something to do.

Coade started AMC Cleaning in the mid-1980s after leaving school and deciding he “didn’t have much chance to do anything else”. Fortunately for him, the move into the cleaning industry turned out to be a smart one.

In 1988 Coade picked up his first big client, an Ikea furniture store in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin, and the business has grown substantially since this time – he credits this to cleaning being a “recession-proof” business.

In 1992 Coade capitalised on the Kennett government’s decision to dismiss all of the school cleaners, acquiring a number of cleaning contracts with Melbourne schools. This took AMC’s turnover from $500,000 to $3.5 million in one year.

In 1997 the business became a franchise and this has further accelerated its growth. Today, AMC has more than 600 franchisees, 2000 operatives in every state now turn over $45 million annually.

SmartCompany spoke to Coade about his ambitious growth plans, expanding the brand’s services and products and managing the transition to a franchise model.

Name: Stephen Coade

Company: AMC Cleaning

Location: Keysborough, Victoria

Mornings

A family man, Coade starts his day getting the household ready.

“I’m married to an obstetrician and gynaecologist and she puts in more hours than I do, so it’s really a matter of getting the household going and getting her off to work and my six-year-old off to school.”

AMC’s head office is in the Melbourne suburb of Keysborough, but Coade says his role at the moment is to visit the offices in the Adelaide, Fremantle, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane.

Coade tries not to spend his whole week travelling as he says this can be disruptive to the family environment.

“I spend a lot of time travelling, but it’s not every week. I probably do four or five trips a month.”

Daily life

Coade’s decision to turn the business into a franchise was motivated by the desire to grow quickly.

“It was a matter of resources and economics. To grow the business the way I have I couldn’t have done it by employing staff because we didn’t have the resources at the time to do it.

“I had a visit in the mid-90s by someone trying to sell me the franchising rights of their concept and I decided I could just do it myself. It enabled us to quickly expand into the other states,” he says.

With AMC, the stores in each state are owned by one company or individual and this allows each state to have a head office.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship and we’re all contributing to the growth of the business.

“One of the big challenges with a franchise is to ensure the businesses are consistent throughout the country and the systems and procedures are the same.  We have triple quality certification, so it’s important that we’re all doing the same thing in each state,” he says.

Coade has been running the business for more than 25 years and these days he takes on more of a mentoring role, helping the other states and ensuring all the franchises are consistent.

AMC’s business policies and values are informed by Coade’s personal morals, and he’s purposefully maintained this throughout his business career.

“In the early days I deliberately went out of my way not to be involved with others in the industry. I wanted to develop my own ideals and morals for the business. And I wanted it to be consistent whether it be the staff or franchisees,” he says.

Coade says because the business is now well-established, most new franchisee partners approach him directly.

“New franchisees will come and see us and they’re almost begging to come on board. With social media these days we’ve attracted a huge number of franchisees who are of Asian descent. We have a good reputation in the Asian community and this year we’ve opened 33 new franchises nationally,” he says.

Coade says new business opportunities in the past have been driven largely by marketing and telesales.

“They’ve been our big driver over the years. We employ business development managers in each of the states and the contracts are then distributed among the franchises when we’ve won the work.

“These days we spend a lot of money on SEO and SEM and a lot of time is spent improving our ranking on Google to help drive sales. These have only been used in the past couple of years as many of the general managers around the country are younger and younger,” he says.

AMC also has Twitter and Facebook accounts.

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