Uni mates’ initiative built cleaning empire

Cleaning and hygiene practices have never been so important than in a Covid-19 world, and Dunedin-founded cleaning business CrestClean is benefiting from that. Managing director Grant McLauchlan talks to Riley Kennedy about the company’s origins and its growth.

Grant McLauchlan and Rene Mangnus’ friendship could not get any more Kiwi if they tried.

In the late 1980s, the pair met at a social event while studying commerce at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

They realised they had quite a lot in common, particularly their keen interest in business, and "got on like a house on fire", Mr McLauchlan said.

"We were just a couple of Kiwi blokes who were a bit entrepreneurial," he said.

They did everything together, from surf life-saving, including winning a national title, to travelling overseas on their OE.

While in England, they realised franchising was a popular business model overseas and wondered how they could apply it back home.

Returning to New Zealand, Mr McLauchlan and Mr Mangnus decided the service industry would be the way to go.

They identified cleaning as a large industry with secure cashflows and revenue.

In December 1996, they bought a small Dunedin cleaning company, made the existing owner the franchisee, and called it CrestClean.

More than 25 years later, the company has grown to nearly 700 franchises throughout 19 regions of New Zealand and has more than 5500 clients.

CrestClean’s head office and support team are in Dunedin, led by Mr McLauchlan, and its marketing and brand team is led by Mr Mangnus in Tauranga.

The company recently won the supreme franchise system of the year award at the 2021 Westpac New Zealand Franchise Awards.

It also won business to business franchise system of the year.

Mr McLauchlan described it as a "wonderful achievement", made even more special as it coincided with the company’s 25th anniversary.

CrestClean managing director and co-founder Grant McLauchlan holds the company’s recent awards....
CrestClean managing director and co-founder Grant McLauchlan holds the company’s recent awards. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
After its first franchise, CrestClean grew to three in Dunedin and then expanded to Christchurch and Hamilton.

By 2000, it had grown into the Auckland market.

Looking back, Mr McLauchlan said the first five years were "tough going", the company trading at a loss most years.

It had been hard to break into the industry, especially not being known as a brand, and trying to get the market share required to grow.

"Eventually our revenue was more than our expenditure and we were away laughing," he said.

Since then, CrestClean had seen double-digit growth, even through the Covid-19 pandemic.

It had been "incredibly daunting" going into the first lockdown nearly two years ago.

"No financial system is designed to just come to a stop all of a sudden like that."

After all their support staff had gone home, he and Mr Mangnus pondered what the future would be.

It was quickly established that CrestClean’s franchises were able to trade as essential services, cleaning other essential services’ premises.

It also secured work through the health system at hospitals and other clinics.

Unlike most other businesses, CrestClean was "match fit" when Covid arrived because it had been through Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in the early 2000s and swine flu in 2009.

Each time, the business had adapted its protocols and cleaning products to suit.

"So when it [Covid-19] hit we were ready to go and knew what to do," Mr McLauchlan said.

He was proud to point out that all of its franchises had survived the lockdowns and were still going.

The Omicron outbreak was one of the most difficult parts of the past two years, particularly with uncertainty it had created.

CrestClean co-founders Grant McLauchlan, of Dunedin, and Rene Mangnus, of Tauranga. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
CrestClean co-founders Grant McLauchlan, of Dunedin, and Rene Mangnus, of Tauranga. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
While operationally a pandemic might be hard to cope with, CrestClean had been able to take advantage of it.

Any illness created a greater awareness of the importance of workplace hygiene.

Sars and swine flu created a short-term emphasis, but the "buzz drifted off pretty quickly".

Covid-19 was different, especially now it was in the community, as businesses were having to look at ways to keep everyone safe, Mr McLauchlan said.

"A big part of that is cleaning of course," Mr McLauchlan said.

Another big growth phase for the company had been when the Health and Safety at Work Act was passed in 2015.

It required businesses to be responsible by thinking about the hygiene practices in their workplaces, and CrestClean attracted a lot of new clients at that time, Mr McLauchlan said.

Mr McLauchlan was proud of the push the business gave its franchisees to strive for home ownership.

It gave them the work and skills needed to buy their first homes.

The benefit was that banks were more likely to lend to franchisees because of their strong cashflows and revenue.

CrestClean also provided formal classroom sessions and practical training for all of its staff.

"That is something I’m very proud of," he said.

Asked whether CrestClean would be around to celebrate a half century in another 25 years, Mr McLauchlan said "without a doubt".

The business had set some "lofty targets" for the future, he said.

"There are lots of opportunities to grow and we are going to grab them."



Well how about they go back to the beginning and clean up U of Otago's student quarter?