A Q&A with Ned Halilovic, Founder of Ambassador Cleaning
Ned Halilovic had little to nothing when he came to America in 1996. As a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Halilovic pursued the American dream to find success in launching his own business, Ambassador Cleaning. After graduating from Concordia College, where he studied Political Science and Pre-Law, Halilovic founded Ambassador Cleaning in 2002.
Ambassador Cleaning provides a wide variety of cleaning, detailing and janitorial services for companies of all sizes. In 2007, Halilovic opened a local franchise of Rainbow Restoration. Rainbow Restoration, unlike Ambassador Cleaning, specializes in emergency cleaning services, such as water mitigation, carpet cleaning, and fire and mold remediation.
We sat down to discuss what inspired Halilovic to pursue his entrepreneurial passion, his journey to success and some of the challenging hardships that he’s found growth in.
Halilovic purchased his Rainbow Restoration franchise in 2007.
Did you always want to own your own business growing up, or is that something that just happened?
My dad was a businessman. He had a store, like a Herbergers, with stylish clothing. I was always working as a kid in a store with him, but I didn’t really know that I’d be in business like him. The idea of a cleaning business came when I was in college. My mom never imagined that I would do a cleaning business. When I graduated from Concordia College and started the cleaning business, she said, “Well, why did you go to college?” It opened lots of doors. You still have to get educated, design your ideas and connect with people. With college, it’s much easier to change careers, whether it’s teaching, opening your own business or any other path.
Did you always think about being independent and wanting to own Ambassador Cleaning?
As a kid growing up, I wanted to like be a businessman like my dad to have independency. On the other hand, I always wanted to be Secret Service, CIA or FBI. I would have loved to do that. But obviously, in my last year at Concordia College, I started cleaning. From a cleaning aspect, I think in America everybody needs cleaning. American people don’t like to clean, and they would rather have somebody clean for them. In my last year of college, when I would clean a quite messy place and make it look good, I would feel really good about doing that. Then I thought that there are a few things that everyone needs and will never die, with cleaning being one of them. Whether it be industrial or commercial, it doesn’t matter. So I thought that was a really great business concept to have. I didn’t waste any time. As soon as I graduated, I got one account and started cleaning. I was the only
employee, cleaning by myself, and one by one it grew into the self-owned Ambassador Cleaning.
How long were you the only employee of Ambassador Cleaning?
Three months. Then I got more and more accounts, and I couldn’t do it myself because it was so popular. I hired more people through word of mouth.
Do you remember how many hours you were working a day approximately?
When I was by myself, I would be doing sales, marketing and door-knocking. Then I would clean early morning and late evening. So, I was putting in about 12 to 15 hours a day, every day, for three years. After those first three years, my wife came in and she helped me a lot.
What allowed you to scale up when a lot of other cleaning businesses just stay at one level?
My goal was to have a half million dollars, then I wanted to have a million, then three million, then five. My goal was, and still is, always increasing. When I started, I couldn’t have freedom if I was just by myself. I was working Saturdays and Sundays. I could never go on vacation and I couldn’t call in sick. It was like I was in prison. I knew from day one, that specific lifestyle wasn’t for me. I knew that I was going to do this and keep working hard until I succeeded and could move out of that lifestyle.
What’s your operating standard process to ensure employees are up to your standards?
I was blessed with good employees who are people that came to this country to work. I have this theory of managing people where I won’t be on your case 24/7 or checking in on you every day. I show them the account, train them and tell them what is important to me. I give them the freedom to work at their pace, but they’re going to get paid much better if they do a quality job in a shorter amount of time. If the manager says that things aren’t up to standard, they’re going to go back and fix it on their own time. If they do a good job and stay focused on their work, then they’ll be able to enjoy the freedom of not being tied to punching in and being at a certain location at a certain time and they’ll make good money.
It sounds like it’s important for you to keep it kind of simple as far as the number of rules you have
As long as they bring the quality customer service we advertise, that’s what matters most to me.
What have been some of the challenges you faced along the way in growing your business? How did you address those challenges?
Hiring somebody who will replace me and who looks for the quality that I wanted was a challenge. I can’t check all accounts. I needed to find an individual who can go out there, click with employees, check these accounts and be positive. Hiring a good manager was tough and challenging to find. That was the first two to three years, but I found a guy that I trust and he’s been with me for 17 years.
How did you find a great manager like that?
We just started talking and I offered him a couple of accounts for him to clean and check. He liked it and he really proved himself. As far as managing, checking and reporting to me with suggestions and coming up with ideas about how can we save money, which was very helpful. He was willing to go the extra mile. After I got married and stuff, my wife also manages some accounts and employees, so it’s not just things on my own. Later on, we had to find an office manager to answer the phones and stay on top of invoices. Now she’s been with me for four or five years.
Rainbow Restoration specializes in emergency cleaning services, such as water mitigation and mold remediation.
How have you managed to retain employees for so long in both businesses?
We offer medical insurance for full-time employees and vacation pay. We like our employees to stay with us. Most of our employees have been with us for over 10 years. 70%, I would say, have been there for 10-plus years. Many are at the five, six and seven-year mark, but the majority of them have 10 or more years. I’m not the bossy type. I always try to give my employees a lot of respect and I get respect in return.
Are there any other important lessons that you’ve learned along the way that you think our readers might appreciate?
Great customer service in America is something that you must have, no matter the type of business. Working with Bell Bank and SCHEELS for years has shown me that customer service is so important, as well as how important it is to surround yourself with good people that will look after your back and make sure that your business is running efficiently. It’s also important to help the employees feel comfortable and friendly and they won’t want to leave. If your competitor comes to your employees and offers a couple of bucks extra, the goal is for them to say “No, thank you. I like the freedom and I’m happy.” I think providing excellent customer service and treating your employees the way that you want to be treated in a friendly environment will keep you going and growing.
Have you faced any staffing issues lately at either Ambassador Cleaning or Rainbow Restoration?
Yes and no. For example, I want to hire an operations manager, or possibly, General Manager, for the Rainbow Rainbow International Restoration side of my business and that has been a bit of a challenge. But we haven’t been like other businesses that were forced to close their doors. We haven’t had their staffing issues, thank God.
Do you still hire people predominantly from the Bosnia-Herzegovina region?
No, we have people from all over now, including people from Africa and from the Middle East. We have a very unique and diverse staff. The refugees that come here are a true labor force. If you look at big companies like Marvin windows, like 80% of their staff is immigrants. Some of these companies would not be existing here if there were no refugees or immigrants from the Middle East or Bosnia. If you’re looking for a long run, these are guys that will stick around and remain loyal to you if you just treat them how employees should be treated. If they invest a little bit in them and train them, these people will stay forever.
Is investing in your employees something that you’ve tried to do with both Ambassador Cleaning and the franchised Rainbow Restoration?
Yes. Employees with a lot of accounts get their own vehicle, and they drive to and from accounts with it. I give them vehicles, health insurance, and holiday and recreation pay. It’s important to find a niche to attract people to come to you. When you bring one good, hard-working employee, you want him to brag about the business and talk about you to another person. Then that person can say, “This guy told me so many good things about you and I want to work as he does.” Then he’s happy and going to bring more people on board. That’s what happened to me. One guy started working for me and he brought in probably seven or eight guys whom all began working full-time for me. I think it’s important to make people happy and help them like the work they’re doing.
What’s it like running a franchise like Rainbow Restoration? I have to imagine there are some unique components.
I think for anyone opening a franchise like Rainbow Restoration, I would definitely encourage people to look into the franchise model because you have support. Your paperwork is done and everything is already there. You just have to come and run it. You have to do the sales for yourself and employ people, but a franchise gives you an extra push compared to starting your own business. Franchising already has everything, from marketing to sales and all the tools that you could need.
Do you have any tips for people with opening a franchise, no matter the industry?
Look at what their values are, what they stand for, how many franchises they have and why people like them. Do your research into their mission, purpose and why they started. I don’t think that you can go wrong if you have money to invest in the franchise as long as you do the things that they tell you to do. You have to do the sales and put in the work to see the benefits, but it’s going to be worth it.
Contact Ambassador Cleaning
Contact Rainbow Restoration