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Franchise in Focus: Teacher Finds Success in Franchising in Southeast Louisiana

You could learn a lot about franchising from Terri Jackson.

That’s partially because she was an elementary and middle school teacher for 25 years. Teaching is kind of her thing.

Or it was, until she retired. But Jackson, who lives in Holden, Louisiana, is a young retiree at age 51 — and she didn’t feel like sitting around on her porch and knitting. Of course, with a husband, three kids, two grandchildren and a dog, she could have found plenty to do. But, no, she liked the idea of a second act with her career. So, she did what most people do. She joined forces with her contractor and started a business.

OK, nobody does that.

But in this case, it made sense, and it turned out to be a great idea. Which is why we’re making Ms. Jackson our Stratus Building Solutions’ Franchise Owner of the Year

for the Southeast Louisiana Region. She has quite an interesting story and is a great example of how flexible the franchise model can be for some business owners.

Jackson met her contractor in 2016, after her house flooded. Four feet of water came into the house, destroying everything below the four-foot mark, and so she and her husband hired a contractor, Eliseo Estrada, who would work on their house for the next six months.

All the while, Jackson and her husband, Erick, were likely thinking, “What the heck just happened?” They had lived in New Orleans during the infamous Hurricane Katrina. “We had 21 feet of water then. We lost everything in that storm.” Jackson says.

So they moved inland, near Baton Rouge, and a little over a decade later, they’re dealing with more flooding.

But on the bright side, Jackson and Estrada hit it off and became friends, as one does when you work with somebody for six months. And as fate would have it, after the work on the Jackson’s home was finished, Estrada’s father handed him a brochure about Stratus. Estrada, as his father had guessed, was interested, but he had a construction business, and he knew what he didn’t know. He felt that managing a payroll and customer service and selling, on top of running his own business, would be tough. But the cleaning part, he could totally do.

And he started to think of his friend, the soon-to-be-retiring teacher, who kept saying, “When I retire, I’m not going to sit home and do nothing.”

Estrada asked Jackson if she would like to go into business with him, and as luck would have it, she said yes. In April of 2017, they became business partners. Two years later, they have six part-time employees and are making a great go of it.

What’s more, about a year later, Jackson decided to also go into business with her husband Erick, one of her sons, Blake, and his wife, Katelynn Field. So now, she is also the CFO of Sweet Rolls Denham Springs, a franchise specializing in rolled ice cream.

We couldn’t help but be impressed. Clearly, running a franchise like Stratus Building Solutions, when you’re on your own, can be a full-time job. But, because Jackson is a co-owner, she has managed to co-own two separate businesses and find time for her kids and grandkids. She also hasn’t completely left teaching. That is, when Stratus franchise owners get their initial training, Jackson teaches two of the classes.

So, according to Jackson, what are some of the most important pieces of advice that new Stratus franchise owners should remember?

Understanding your finances is crucial. That sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to push aside the financial statements and not look at them when you’re busy scheduling jobs and meeting new clients and cleaning. But as Jackson says, “Everybody’s in this to make money, and it doesn’t take a minute to mess up a number. You need to know where your money is going.”

Attitude is everything. Good advice for everyone, but with a business like this, customer service is very important, says Jackson. She has monthly surveys with her clients, so if they want to gripe or applaud what Stratus is doing, they can. “You want to make sure everything is okay. That eliminates a lot of problems down the road.” She even routinely leaves treats, like holiday baskets, cookies and cakes, on workers’ desk with a note that says, “From your Stratus crew.” Obviously, you won’t get far if you don’t do a good job with the day to day cleaning, your core service, but people appreciate feeling appreciated.

Get to know your customers and employees. “I live by two words — educate and communicate. Without those two things, you can’t get anywhere in a business,” Jackson says.

So, keep in mind that if you’re only cleaning and looking at financial statements, you’re probably missing the human element of this business. If you want to be successful, you have to get to know the people you’re working with — and for.

“Everybody’s version of clean is different,” Jackson says. She cites how Stratus only uses eco-friendly cleaning products, so they don’t have harsh smelling chemicals. In fact, she says, “There’s no fragrance.” According to Jackson, some clients have said after a job, “The place doesn’t smell clean.” And then Jackson has to ask, “What do you define as clean-smelling?”

Jackson says that you have to get used to that and understand that, “to one customer, something may be a huge deal that to another client is minor or non-existent.” And knowing your employees — and showing that you appreciate them — may be even more important.

And we appreciate Terri Jackson, and again, congratulate her for being our Franchise Owner of the Year for the Southeast Louisiana Region. Like the floors, equipment and everything else Stratus cleans, Jackson shines.