Clean, Shake and Innovation: Damien Boehm’s Polishing Of The Market

Giulia Sirignani
on May 2, 2023

Urban Clean was a comeback attempt from another business gone bust. In the latest series of Game Changers, entrepreneur and business strategist Damien Boehm tells Gemma Acton how he’s shaking up the Australian franchise industry by taking a traditional service like cleaning and innovating to deliver a business that’s going global.

Entrepreneur, franchisor, investor and business strategist, Damien Boehm was down but not dejected when he set up Urban Clean in 2010. A property development business he’d invested heavily in failed when the Brisbane market, battered by floods and constant rain, had taken a downturn. Damien and his partners incurred massive debts. 

“I’d worked for a property developer and then I branched off on my own and was doing small townhouse and unit developments around inner-city Brisbane. This was just before the Brisbane Floods and the rain didn’t stop. I was buying blocks of land, developing units, and living project to project. I’d finish a block of units, sell it down, grab some income for myself, and then put the rest of the money into the next project. Some of these I did on my own, and some I did with partners. The business started suffering because of the delays with the weather, and eventually ended up in receivership,” explains Damien.

Damien, married with two young children and another on the way, needed to find a new venture with a good revenue stream, and fast.

“I had to sell everything,” remembers Damien. “I almost went broke and almost lost my house. I had to get a job knocking on doors for a roof restoration company. This was a big change for me, from living the life of a developer (which can be a little bit flashy and showy) to someone down and out, knocking on doors.”

“Commercial cleaning just popped up all the time as this great business where you could win a cleaning contract. If you knew how to put cleaning teams together and service the client, you’d theoretically be able to keep that client forever. I thought if I could win commercial cleaning contracts and staff them, then I wouldn’t be in the mess that I was in,” says Damien.

“It’s one of those things where you sort of have dreams and aspirations and when they all start crashing down you have to begin at the bottom all over again. I realised I had to do something different because trying to make a bunch of money out of just one deal or one transaction then move on to the next one, wasn’t a sustainable business model. I needed something that I could build.”

That something was Urban Clean. But the commercial cleaning game wasn’t a bolt out of the gate. For a number of years, Damien had to prop up his income and pay off debts by going door to door as an appointment setter. Damien also used this transitionary time to read self-help and development books and got a mentor to help him inhabit the growth mindset needed to make Urban Clean a success.

Urban Clean

“We started in 2010, although I’m not sure we can say we, because it was me and a vacuum cleaner and that was it. In 2014, we franchised the business. We recruited about six franchise partners, and now we’ve grown to where we are now – 150 across Australia,” says Damien.

Urban Clean operates on a franchise model using innovative technology, authentic training and support, and a modern approach in the commercial cleaning of schools, childcare centres, gyms, offices, manufacturing, construction and medical firms.

There are two types of Franchise: a Unit Franchise which is typically smaller and a Master Franchise (aka a Regional Branch) which gets exclusive control over an entire region, recruiting Unit Franchisees, coaching them and thereby receiving a residual. Franchisees receive an initial cleaning contract revenue guarantee and warranty and are provided with ongoing training and tools.

“For me, the most important thing is developing our franchisees, not so much the number. I always call it a vanity metric. You get over 100 franchises, that sounds great, but what are the people inside the business doing? What are they achieving? What results are they getting? I think that’s what matters most in a business. The rule we share with our franchisees is “win a client, keep them forever”. That’s the idea. You’re servicing them every single month and growing with their business and supporting them,” says Damien.

“Urban Clean is about training and systems. We have a program where we’re showing them, this is how to win a cleaning contract, this is how to staff it, this is how to get efficiencies and cleans and how to increase your profitability. It comes down to having the right systems, having a method where you can win as many cleaning contracts as you want, get profitability out of commercial cleaning contracts, and then have programs to support and train franchisees who want to grow a business of that size.”

Urban Clean

Urban Clean offers something like a mini-MBA to its franchisees, equipping them with the know-how and proven methods to reach success and profitability. 

“In the end business is business,” muses Damien. “It doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, whether you’re selling clothes or you’re selling burgers. What matters is the business model that you follow. You’ve got a customer; you service the customer and there’s profit or there’s no profit depending how you run the business. When it came my turn to franchise, I thought I’m going to do things differently. I wanted to give people a real opportunity, where if they could get an additional income stream and earn 100 or 200,000 dollars more, we could help them do that. If they wanted to build a significant sized business that was in seven figures, I wanted to give them the tools and resources and support to be able to do that. I found out that was quite a radical thing to do in commercial cleaning.”

Now in its 14th year of operation, Damien’s comeback project is truly cleaning up. Described as “the Uber of commercial cleaning” – Urban Clean uses innovative technology, authentic training and support, and a modern approach to set new benchmarks in commercial cleaning.

“I ended up realising what the cleaning industry needed was communication and transparency. So, I developed an App,“ says Damien.

The App ‘Janiflow’ is an industry first and is one of the offerings that sets Urban Clean apart from its competitors.

Short for ‘janitor’ and ‘flow’ – it gives the client full transparency – ie which cleaners are at a clients location, for how long, what they did while there, “explains Damien.  “The cleaners can upload a photo with their ID which can be downloaded by the client if needed. To develop it, I interviewed my 8 best clients, I asked exactly what they wanted and decided to become that perfect cleaning service.”

Another differential is that Urban Clean’s business principles derive from what customers want, not what strategists think makes money.

“When I was growing my business, I eventually got it to a certain size where I could grade my customers. And I graded them A, B, C and D. The D customers, they had to go, but the A grade customers, they were customers that just were a pleasure to do business with. They were very profitable. I just wanted more of them. I thought, what better way of learning how to get more of them than just ask them what they wanted? So, I interviewed all of my A grade customers and they gave me this list. It turned out to be about six things that all businesses were looking for. I went to work designing the service around those six core things that businesses were looking for and that’s when the business took off.”

Urban Clean

Through sheer determination and business savvy, Damien turned his failure into a success story. Urban Clean has tidied up his bank balance sheet considerably, earning him millions and even allowing him to buy a small plane which he pilots himself. Not bad for a boy who had to quit school when his family hit hard times.

“We moved out from Germany to Adelaide when I was a baby,“ recounts Damien. “My parents broke up pretty quickly and I was living with my mum and sister. My mum went through a very difficult time, in fact, she had to leave us. My sister ended up living on the street and I quit school. But I didn’t want to end up on the streets or in foster care.”

His stepfather was a lecturer at Flinders University and agreed to allow Damien to live at the home he owned, only if Damien agreed to dedicate time to books and learning. It was a request that changed the course of Damien’s life.  

“I ended up falling in love with learning and falling in love with books. I got myself into year eleven and twelve and sent myself to school. Then I went to university and studied classical languages. People ask me like, “Why are you in cleaning?” I respond, “because I did a degree in Latin and Greek and there’s not a big job market for ancient Greek and Latin,” Damien jokes.

“That time taught me resilience,” continues Damien. “It doesn’t really matter what the circumstances are, how bad things are, things that can always get better and there’s always a silver lining on every single cloud. A lot of people think my childhood must have been terrible, but it was a real blessing in my life, and I’ve got a lot of things to be thankful for.”

Ever positive and intent on growth, Damien is now focussed on taking Urban Clean globally.

“I’m a big believer that if you’ve got something good and it’s changing people’s lives, then you have a duty and obligation to share that with as many people as possible. We’re opening in the United States, in the UK and in New Zealand. We had a soft launch last year in Las Vegas and we’re looking at bringing this model right across the world.”

Not bad for the man who started business out of the ashes from another, with the help of a trusty vacuum cleaner.

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