Attention introverts with nice calves and an intense interest in gleaming glass. Men In Kilts wants you. Well, you needn’t be an introvert, but it is guaranteed to test you if you are.
“I’m very much an introvert, but I love wearing a kilt,” founder Nicholas Brand tells me in our recent interview. “It gets you meeting people and talking to people. I’m handing out business cards all day long. Dale Carnegie talked about disarming the person you’re talking to. The kilt is a natural disarmer.”
A franchising company described on its website as “a team of passionate kilt wearing professionals, providing window and exterior cleaning services to both commercial and residential customers,” Canada-based Men In Kilts knows how to simultaneously take its business seriously and keep things light. There’s a post on its website featuring a bit from a woman describing a traffic jam while picking up her child from school. The cause? Mothers checking out Men In Kilts. The photo accompanying the post is a bunch of Matchbox-sized cars set up to look like traffic.
“We’re not sending people to Mars,” Brand says. “We’re not curing cancer. Let’s have fun.”
By all means. Let’s drive trucks covered in tartan, get chatty with the person in Starbucks who can’t resist asking about the kilt, get a kick out of the women doing double takes on the street. Let’s put “No Peeking” right out on the homepage. No one said business had to be staid.
“If I had called it Nick’s Window Cleaning, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Brand says. “Men In Kilts is rememberable.”
A created word that gets right to the genesis of this company. At age 24, Brand knew he wanted to start a business. A couple of his teachers in high school had their own businesses – one simply taught physical education because he loved it – and so did his uncle, who retired in his 50s. Brand had seen his parents laid off in their 50s. Put it all together and he saw working for himself as the best way to be in control of his destiny.
Brand says he strategically picked window cleaning because about once a month he used to clean the windows at the restaurant where he was employed and he liked the instant gratification of it. He knew he was working on a shoestring. Over beers with friends and his new wife one night, a friend said, “You should wear a kilt.” They laughed about it.
While Brand is Canadian, his father is from Aberdeen in northeast Scotland and his mother’s grandparents are Scottish. He had worn a kilt a couple of times, including at his wedding, where there were 18 people in kilts. So the idea was innovative, but not so far-fetched, really.
With his 1985 Honda Accord and a ladder that was bigger than the car, Brand got going. He and his wife delivered flyers. He “horribly underpriced” his services for a while. He rotated three or four kilts hand-sewn by his wife using a Halloween pattern. He started to like the ‘wow’ factor he got in an hour or two with a customer.
“For the first three or four years, it was just me.” Brand said. “I had a friend who would help me whenever.”
But the business was building and gaining momentum. He had no time for marketing, working 12-14 hour days, and he needed somebody to manage the business side. Completely self-taught, he learned things like where to buy equipment and that the buildings over four stories high are often safer for window cleaners because of regulations that don’t apply to smaller ones.
Then one of his biggest clients at the time, Brent Hohlweg, told him he thought he was sitting on a gold mine and expressed interest in getting involved. He became a partner in 2006. They talked about getting their trucks to “stick out more” and that a customer had suggested they paint them Tartan.
“Brett said, ‘That’s brilliant,’” Brand says. “Business exploded. It tripled the first year.”
The next step was franchising. In 2009 Tressa Wood, who had worked at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, was looking for other opportunities and brought her “massive franchising experience” to Men In Kilts.
“Our one-year goal is to add 5 to10 franchises in North America,” Brand said. “Our lofty goal is to have 30 franchises by the end of 2013. We now have six.”
Brand, driving a tartan Mini, still gets approached like crazy.
“I interact with a lot of ex-military who wore kilts for the military,” he says.
For those interested in acquiring a franchise, there’s even Tartan Boot Camp. You’ve got to be willing to wear a kilt and handle the attention that comes with it. And of course, you’ve got to be dedicated to the company vision.
“I’m 10 years into this,” Brand said. “If I knew then what I know now, I’d be five years ahead.”
But what fun would that have been?
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.