How one woman built her commercial cleaning franchise empire in Florida and Puerto Rico
Gloria Columna has been with the Anago Cleaning Systems brand since 1994, first as a subcontractor, then as a unit-franchisee and now a Master Franchisee for the entire territory of Puerto Rico.
The strong female entrepreneur moved to Florida after she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. She began working at the Anago in Palm Beach as a subcontractor to supplement her entrepreneurial ventures. In 1997, Gloria purchased a Unit Franchise from Anago of South Florida, which she still owns and operates. Also, Gloria supplemented the business by opening a Floormaster of Palm Beach, which she still oversees. So with both Anago and Floormaster, she can do both commercial and residential cleaning jobs.
Gloria recently took a huge leap in business and became the sole Master Franchisee of Puerto Rico, which allows her to open about 100-150 units in the territory.
CBT: What were you doing prior to 1994 when you started as a subcontractor for Anago?
GC: I started my professional life by taking my Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing at the University of Puerto Rico. I was working with the non-profit education organization Junior Achievement in 1994 when I moved to Florida, but they didn’t have a position available there when I moved. So I worked for a friend who provided janitorial services, helping him and learning in the process that I enjoyed and felt confident succeeding at. My friend put me in touch with Anago where I started out part-time; it wasn’t long before I left my full-time job to make Anago and cleaning my full-time career. After all, cleaning was earning me more money than my full-time job at the time.
CBT: How did you position yourself to rise from cleaning contractor to unit franchise owner?
GC: For three years I worked as a cleaning contractor, learning the business thoroughly. Then in 1997, I decided to buy my unit franchise and started growing little by little. I started out by working all of my accounts myself, making sure that everyone was being cleaned properly and treated well. Once I started hiring employees and training them to manage accounts with the same quality as I gave, I began going to seminars, joining the trade association, and getting involved with training. I came to see that cleaning is constantly evolving and the only way to keep up is through a commitment to continuing education.
CBT: Tell us about starting and growing Anago in Puerto Rico through your Master Franchise.
GC: Yes, we opened our facility in May 2014 and have started marketing and completing quotes for service. The businesses are interested because it’s a new industry and service option for them. I expect growth to be slow, so I will use the same strategy I used to grow my Florida unit in that “little by little” way for long-term success.
CBT: What are some of the differences you’re finding operating in Puerto Rico?
GC: Most businesses in Puerto Rico are strictly nine-to-five operations, so we’ll have to learn to positively manage that perception by both business customers and the cleaning contractors. Also, in most businesses, workers are their own boss, so we believe the franchise model will work very well.
Our use of technology to enhance and increase communication has been well received; they really like being able to call, email, or even text us – having that flexibility.
CBT: What professional resources and activities have been useful in aiding your rise to leadership from subcontractor to Master Franchisee?
GC: As the unit owner and master franchisee, it’s critical to remain not just visible but involved in the training processes, supporting marketing strategy by investigating emerging outlets, and staying on top of customer relations. Beyond that, I am always looking for ways to add value without adding costs or raising prices.
CBT: What challenges or benefits have you faced as a woman and minority business owner?
GC: At first, I thought being a woman would be a challenge, especially at the BSCAI conventions among all of those men and when pitching proposals to corporations led primarily by men. I think many are used to seeing women lead in the residential cleaning sector, but less so in the commercial sector. So I made it a point to go after big contracts, mainly for the state and federal government operations. And in Puerto Rico, I’m working on becoming certified as a woman and minority business owner to gain access to more contract opportunities.
CBT: You’ve been with Anago almost its entire history. What changes have you seen that set the company up for continued success?
GC: I’ve seen significant growth in three main areas. Of course, Anago has grown in size – in number of people and number of units – as the franchise has grown across the United States and into two international markets.
The development and use of technology solutions to create efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of the company far surpasses that of many companies, not just those in cleaning.
The brand outreach and marketing have been expanded and are reaching more businesses and consumers, enriching our market potential and creating new prospects for our units.
But it all comes down to this: the entire company works as a team, not as individual units separate from each other. And the leadership at the corporate level – especially the emerging second generation of family leaders – is solid, unified.