Ashley Farrar knows it sometimes takes a little dirty work to run a business that cleans up. The owner of the Molly Maid cleaning service in Chattanooga, Farrar grew up working alongside her mother, who launched a Molly Maid franchise in Franklin, Tennessee, a generation ago.
"In high school I cleaned quite a bit during the summers," Farrar says. "Mom would be like 'You're coming to work with me today.'"
Farrar opened the Molly Maid location in Chattanooga in 2007, and the business in Franklin is still going strong. Farrar's brother and sister-in-law run it now, and Farrar does all the marketing for both locations.
Over the last 12 years, Farrar has weathered changing economic conditions, growing competition, staffing challenges, and the daily juggling act of managing her team, which now stands at 17. Through it all, she has figured out a few things, she says.
"Your maid is only as dependable as the vehicle they have to get there," Farrar says. "If we can find the right staff and provide everything they need — a vehicle, gas, supplies — we can stay competitive."
One of her best hires was a woman who just needed a reliable ride, Farrar says.
"She basically lost her job because her car broke down, and she's been awesome."
Attracting and keeping the right people is a top priority, Farrar says, and that's another place she has learned some lessons.
"We work hard, but we have fun," she says. "We give attendance bonuses, low cancellation bonuses, we have parties every month celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. We're a family business so we like to treat people like family."
The crew gathers every morning at the Brainerd Road business to get their assignments and head out in teams of two. Many of their clients are older people who need help keeping up with their homes, but there's also a healthy piece of the business made up of busy families that don't want to spend their scant free time on housework, Farrar says.
"They have school, they have sports, they're busy professionals," she says.
Once a house is clean, maintaining that environment is generally an every-other-week process, Farrar says. But you have to start somewhere, she adds.
"Sometimes, new people don't know that we're going to clean dirty houses, too," she says. "It's very therapeutic. I would rather clean a dirty house because I can make a difference."
Farrar makes routine visits to clients' homes to make sure everything is looking good, and to occasionally practice some of the cleaning skills she learned in the family business.
"I'll go out and do quality checks, see how the customers are doing," she says. "I love cleaning mirrors and glass doors. I'll go through and find spots and wipe them down. And I love making beds — you can make a room pop making a bed look good."
* Job: Owner of Molly Maid in Chattanooga
* Background: Farrar gew up helping her family at their Molly Maid business in Franklin, Tennessee. She opened the Chattanooga location in 2007.