Photography by Tanner Morrison / Scott and Bonnie Phillips opened an Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning franchise in Chattanooga in July.

After 20 years in the trade show industry, Scott Phillips began contemplating a career change. Three years later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that had taken a heavy toll on trade shows, he and his wife, Bonnie, decided a cleaning business made sense.

"The one thing COVID demonstrated to me was how little control I'd had in terms of employment," he says. "At [age] 51, the prospect of doing something else in corporate America was a lot less desirable. Ownership was something I was interested in exploring."

Phillips and his wife opened a Chattanooga-based Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning franchise in July. They chose Oxi Fresh "in part as a response to COVID, but not entirely," Scott says.

"All of their systems seemed really well thought-out," he says. "It made sense. It felt like we could take this and move forward."

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic — or perhaps because of it — business starts jumped to a record high in the first half of 2021, according to filings with the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office. There were 70,118 businesses filing for licenses over the past year, and 19,983 filed in the second quarter of 2021, the highest quarterly total ever recorded.

New business filings in Tennessee in the second quarter of 2021 grew 61.6% from second-quarter filings in 2020 — the second quarter in a row that Tennessee broke the previous record of year-over-year gain in the 28-year history of the data being collected.

Though Phillips had completed work in 2019 for a degree in business management, he worried he didn't have the natural skills to launch a business. He and his wife engaged Bruce Krebs of The Entrepreneur's Source.

"He presented us with several options," Phillips recalls. "All were franchise-based, in the service sector."

Together, they narrowed the field to three, at which time he and his wife made notes independently of one another. When they compared those notes, he says, Oxi Fresh was on top.

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Making a clean sweep in Chattanooga

The Oxi Fresh cleaning system, Phillips says, is "rock-solid," low-moisture and environmentally friendly.

"A traditional steam cleaner might use 40-plus gallons of water in an average home. We'll use two to three. The result is that we have a really fast dry time," he says. "The process is very green, very kid-and-customer-friendly. We also clean tile and grout, do a sandless finish on hardwood and we're really strong on pet-stain and odor removal."

Phillips says he and Bonnie got a Small Business Administration loan and now have two fully outfitted service vans for residential and commercial projects.

"We get a lot of business from people who see us out and about," he says. "They tell us, 'We saw your van and decided to call.'"

He recalled his first Oxi Fresh job, saying it was a residential job that was unremarkable – except for the stress.

"I was thinking, 'I've done all these things before, and I'm comfortable working with people,'" he says. "But now I'm juggling, taking all that and doing them in real time, and in someone else's house.

Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning

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* Launched: 2021

"You might think, 'How exciting can cleaning carpet be?' But when you see the difference, when the customer says it looks great and you know you've given value, that's gratifying," he says.

Phillips makes particular note of his wife's role in their new venture, saying that she has a job outside the cleaning business, but is an essential part of the operation.

"If I can afford her one day, maybe that'll change," he says. "She's a marketing professional, very good at what she does, and she's where she wants to be."

Making the leap to business ownership was a team effort, he adds.

"In recent years, Bonnie's been a sounding board and my biggest cheerleader," he says. "Business ownership always seemed to me like something other people did, but she saw this opportunity and told me I should do it. I felt good about it, but having someone whose judgment I trust the way I trust Bonnie's eliminated any doubt."