Entrepreneur

This S'porean Is Sweeping In $4M With Her Cleaning Company, And It All Started From Household Chores

Most, if not all mothers have this guilt about leaving their kids behind to work.

51-year-old Lily Foo, a mother of four, is no exception.

She did not fancy the idea of hiring a helper to take care of her own kids, so she ended up quitting her 9-5 job as a quantity surveyor.

When she became a stay-home mom, she realised that household chores can be quite overwhelming.

I wished I had someone to help do the housework for me. I felt there were probably other people [who faced the same situation as me], so I decided to run a small-scale ad hoc home cleaning business that [would offer me] some side income.

She pumped in about $5,000 to kickstart the business — just enough to hire the first few employees to start providing cleaning services.

But it wasn’t even an established company per se, she asserted.

The casual business didn’t have a company name, only had a “handful of staff”, and relied heavily on word-of-mouth and flyers to market itself.

Moving From Offline To Online

Thanks to the small business capital, the company only took a year to break even, but profits reaped were consistently reinvested back into the company to grow it further.

Fast forward 10 years, the home cleaning business has since grown into a full-fledged company with 6 different business arms.

She humbly credits the success to her eldest son, a Stanford graduate, for pushing her to take her company to greater heights.

[He] advised me to use digitisation to scale the business. He had seen it as the path forward for small businesses in the US, and told me that he believed I could “borrow” some things from top tech companies and really take what I had to the next level.

“I was hesitant to believe him at first, since it all seemed quite faraway and we had just been a small outfit for so long, but I was willing to give it a try.”

She first settled on a company name for her home cleaning business, calling it Homefresh.

She then acted on the advice of her son and created a website for it in 2014, which she described as a “basic step to digitisation”.

After establishing an online presence, she turned to digital marketing on Google Adwords to ‘up’ her marketing game.

It was a massive success to say the least, as the ads produced a return of more than 8 times the money spent on the campaign.

“It got us results immediately because we were one of the first office cleaning companies in Singapore to run Google ads at the time. We started growing at a much faster pace [and] quickly realised that [the] digital marketing [approach] was a winning formula,” said Lily.

Growing To A Stable Of 6 Brands

Lily then took this strategy to expand into other adjacent verticals such as office cleaning, carpet and upholstery cleaning, aircon servicing and repairs, marble and parquet polishing, as well as pest control.

All these various brands — a mix of B2B and B2C businesses — now fall under the Luce Maintenance Group umbrella.

According to Lily, before they discovered digital marketing, their “revenue was really negligible”.

In 2015, they raked in only $200,000; but it skyrocketed to over $1 million in revenue in 2016 and they doubled that amount to over $2 million in 2017.

Now, they are on track to hitting $4 million this year — a phenomenal jump in a short span of three years.

Beyond revenue growth, their staff headcount and pool of clients also grew in tandem.

OfficeCleanz team / Image Credit: OfficeCleanz

The company now employs over 200 staff and to date, they have taken on a full spectrum of contracts from government agencies, startups, to Fortune 500 companies like LG and Boeing.

A Cleaner-Matching App  

But with scale comes complexity.

With regards to the operational aspect, they had to make sure that they “[adopt] technology in the right places to streamline operations, save costs, and pass on those savings to the consumers.”

“While startups are [into] leveraging the newest and latest in technology like blockchain and artificial intelligence, the path to technology adoption for an SME is very different. Our focus is more on adapting existing enterprise technology so that it can benefit local businesses from the start.”

She cited a personal example of the cleaning industry in Singapore: “We work with many individuals above the age of 60. This demographic does not tend to be very digital-savvy so it is difficult to find a reliable way to recruit them on short notice when we are awarded a new contract.”

A fancy Uber-style app doesn’t work because [they don’t have] a smartphone, so we had to contextualise the technology to this group.

Luce Maintenance Group’s cleaning staff / Image Credit: OfficeCleanz

They ended up building a database of cleaners, along with their phone numbers and residential postal codes.

Following that, they also developed an app that allowed them to find nearby cleaners closest to the work site and generate suitable matches for the assignment.

These shortlisted cleaners are then notified via text messages, who can then proceed to accept the job if keen.

Plans To Branch Out To Hong Kong

While her company has seen exponential growth over the past years, Lily feels that there is still potential and capacity for it to expand further.

“I think we are still only at the beginning of our exponential growth curve, and we have plans to expand abroad to our next market, Hong Kong,” she said.

“We aim to replicate a digital marketing-first strategy, and we have already started to see success on this front. As we finalise growth plans into Hong Kong, we will adopt the same omni-channel approach we have taken in Singapore, but add some Chinese localisation to it.”

She added that this holistic marketing strategy has allowed them to build strong brands and well-optimised lead funnels for their various services, which is crucial for them to secure customers.

Once we got customers through the door, that’s already half the battle won.

Featured Image Credit: OfficeCleanz

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