Working in a male-dominated industry is the norm for many women in franchising. Working in an industry dominated by men wearing kilts? Only the norm for one unique Vancouver, Canada-based window cleaning franchise.
In 2002, Nicholas Brand began cleaning windows in the Vancouver area in a very peculiar uniform – a handmade kilt. The quirky concept took off, with Men in Kilts expanding and putting more men in Scottish garb to work window cleaning, pressure washing and gutter cleaning. However, Men in Kilts needed a woman to take the company to the next level. In 2009, Tressa Wood joined the business to develop its franchising efforts. Today, she leads the company as CEO.
“They joke that I’m the one who wears the pants,” says Wood.
Wood, a former executive at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and 1-800-PLUMBER, said the keys to thriving in a male-dominated business – or any business, for that matter – is in demanding respect. “My experience is people will treat you the way you let them treat you,” she says.
In April 2011, Men in Kilts made its American debut in Seattle. Today, it operates 10 franchises in Canada and the U.S.
As more men have donned kilts for cleaning duties, there have been new women key to the expansion. One very important example is the sole female Men in Kilts franchisor: Judy Briggs. Like Wood, she has experience working in a male dominated industry. Briggs, who also owns a 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise, actually worked with Wood in the past when Wood was still vice president of operations at the company. This August, Briggs choose to buy a Men in Kilts franchise.
“I’m not afraid to get up on a ladder and do the same thing that the guys are doing,” says Briggs. “People say, you’re Men in Kilts. I saw, I’m a wo-MAN. Women can do it as well as men.”
Briggs and Wood emphasized not fitting the “men” qualification of Men in Kilts did nothing to hold them back in the franchise. Especially as the franchise was young, they felt they were judged by performance and accomplishments, instead of having to break into a boys' club as can be the case in some older companies.
The duo also said that, while the kilts may be a more important than the gender of the wearer, the Scottish garb was less significant than the idea behind them.
“Some people think the kilt is a gimmick,” says Wood. “I understand how people can think that initially. But... it’s a way to have fun and stand out. It’s great for social media, marketing and PR.”
“The bottom line is, it is all about customer service,” says Briggs, who, unlike Wood, will don a kilt for work. “We’re having fun and exceeding customers’ expectations.”
For those still curious about the kilts, however, Wood has the inside scoop. Workers usually wear shorts underneath, as well as leggings in the winter. Only extreme wind will hamper the kilted cleaners.
“Rain, snow, any weather—they can wear them.”