Men In Kilts on the ‘Challenging’ Startup Journey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Effort, traditional Scottish garb and a squeegee may take a business far, but ramping up a fast-growing franchise like Men In Kilts isn’t without challenges.

In a bit last May, we introduced you to the Vancouver business, known for work crews who wear kilts because they climb ladders to clean windows and clean gutters.

A 24-year-old Nicholas Brand started the business enterprise back in 2002, discovering that he attracted customers and attention when he wore a hand-sewn kilt face to face. He and somebody franchised it in 2006, and in ’09 2009, Tressa Wood, a veteran of successful Vancouver-based franchisor 1-800-Got-Junk, came up to speed as CEO.

The business enterprise has ambitious plans to maintain every major metro market in the U.S. and Canada by 2017 – although up to now it offers just six franchises underway. The business, though, recently joined forces with among Canada’s largest window-washers, that may now convert to the Men In Kilts brand, and expects a 300 percent upsurge in system-wide revenue this season.

But all having said that, the journey up to now has been "extremely challenging," according to Wood. "Our internal motto for days gone by 24 months has been: ‘Men In Kilts is a huge UNITED STATES success. Failure isn’t a choice.’"

So, what type of challenges has Men In Kilts encountered up to now? Wood didn’t mind acknowledging them.

"We’ve had cash problems, we’ve had partnership conflicts, we’ve had doubters give us a call a tale, we’ve had partners get scared, spouses get scared, we’ve gone months without paychecks, we’ve had deals come close then break apart at the last second, we had half a year without office to work from, we’ve had operational challenges around our expansion into colder markets, and the list continues on and on," she says.

On days when she’d maintain the "holy crap what did I get myself into" stage, she says she’d remind herself: "There exists a solution. Figure it out." She’d then laser-focus on the most significant issue, and make a priority. "It’s daunting, nevertheless, you have to concentrate on the proper thing at the proper time or you’re on the way down."

It can help, she adds, to "only work with people who have integrity and who… have aligned goals and aren’t in it because of their own self-interest to the detriment of others."

And it’s vital that you be that way as a company too, she says. Men In Kilts recently had a deal break apart with a franchisee who had paid his fees and was in his first start-up week. But devastating personal medical issues arose, and the franchisee could no more finance the business enterprise, she said.

"He didn’t require his fees back and — regardless of the fact we’re able to have really used the amount of money and had already invested a huge amount of money and time — I decided [to] refund his money," she says. "Due to the fact it was the proper move to make, not because I had to."

For other early-stage franchises, Wood (via email) offered a few tips:

  • "Keep your eye each and every dollar that goes into and goes out. You should micromanage the &%$# out of your budget."
  • "Find the appropriate partner if you want to bring another person in as an investor; not only people who have money, but individuals who bring franchising experience or the network you will need. "
  • "Get creative, stay focused, do not undertake debt for the first couple of years. That is clearly a key. Keep your debt to a complete minimum for the first couple of years until you work things out or you’ll spend money on the incorrect areas."

Men In Kilts says it now comes with an infrastructure in place with regard to a centralized sales center, technology and training programs. "It has been tough addressing where we are, without doubt," Wood says. But, "we’re all set big. Phew!"