After a Career in Pharmaceuticals, Kenyan Immigrant Tries Franchising


This article about Abdul Cocker, a Kenyan immigrant who came to Long Island in 2006, originally appeared in the Long Island Business News.

It’s been a long time since Abdul Cocker built a business from scratch.

The former head of Bayer AG’s pharmaceutical division in Nairobi, Cocker spent 33 years developing a market for the company’s heart medicine and antibiotics in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia, taking sales from zero to several million dollars.

Now the 65-year-old retired corporate executive who recently relocated to New Hyde Park is embarking on an enterprise of his own. Cocker is the newest Long Island franchisee of the residential cleaning service called Molly Maid – there are seven others in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Open just six weeks, Cocker’s Molly Maid already has five employees and dozens of customers in neighborhoods around its Franklin Square office.

“We’ve gotten a very good response,” Cocker said.

Wanting to be self-employed after his long corporate tenure, Cocker shopped around for just the right franchise opportunity. He considered several food chains like Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds, some educational tutoring, even a home health aide concept before finding Molly Maid.

Cocker said he was attracted by the repeat business aspect of scheduled house cleaning and the five-day work week that Molly Maid offered. After the grind of running an international pharmaceutical division, Cocker wanted “kind of a break” and a business he could develop that would run by itself.

“It looked like a good model with recurring revenue,” he said. “And my weekends are free.”

Another upside to owning a Molly Maid franchise is its comparable affordability. Prospective franchise owners must have a net worth of $250,000, where many franchisors require six times that. Franchise fees range from about $45,000 to $65,000, but the big savings comes in the store build-out because there is none. Franchisees can operate their Molly Maid business from almost any office space. Cocker leases 1,000 square feet on Franklin Avenue. Molly Maid businesses also require no inventory and a limited amount of equipment.

Molly Maid’s corporate office provides marketing materials, but franchisees have to spend at least 5 percent of their revenue on advertising. Cocker has used direct mail and print ads in neighborhood circulars and newspapers, offering $45 off any new customer’s first three cleanings.

The most difficult part of owning a house cleaning franchise, Cocker said, is hiring workers. He said employees need solid references and a good work ethic. Prospective employees undergo thorough background checks and franchisees are responsible for random quality checks to make sure the service is up to par.

“I’m lucky that we managed to find the right people to start with,” Cocker said.

Each employee must be insured and bonded by the franchisee, who is on the hook for any losses or damage that occurs in the course of cleaning a house.

There are more than 450 franchises currently operating in the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Molly Maid system and more than 200 territories available nationally, according to the company’s website.

There are more planned for Long Island, too. Molly Maid has targeted Long Island for immediate growth because of its competitive situation, population density and potential return on investment.
Molly Maid competes with a few other national residential cleaning franchisors, including Merry Maids, Maid Brigade and the Cleaning Authority, along with a handful of local cleaning services.

But the demand for house cleaning has increased, as have demands on homeowners’ time in recent years. The cleaning services industry now eclipses $46 billion a year in revenue, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Molly Maid franchisees receive proprietary business management software, training tools and a regional service manager to assist in operating their businesses, all especially helpful resources for franchise newbies like Cocker.

The former pharmaceutical exec hopes all the help will turn out to be a prescription for success, and if this first Molly Maid territory takes off, Cocker said he might expand.

“I’ve gotten a lot of advice from other franchisees,” he said. “Right now we’re learning the game as we go along.”