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Green Acres models 24/7 on-demand cleaning service on Uber

Friday 23rd March 2018

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Three familiar scenarios: the house is a tip and the in-laws announce they are coming for dinner; you suddenly remember the landlord is doing an inspection tomorrow and the grass is a metre high; you can’t bear the state of the bathroom any longer, but you don’t have the time (or, let’s face it, the inclination) to clean.

Home services company Green Acres will next week launch a 24/7 service they say will cater to situations like these - people who need a one-off clean, and need it soon.

They are calling it Green Acres GO but the sub-heading is the Uber for home cleaning and lawn mowing. Sign up for the GO mobile app, lodge a job (clean my 3-bed, 2-bath apartment in Takapuna) and the system will give you a price and dispatch a cleaner. The cleaner will (like an Uber driver) have logged on as available for work and will have been screened by Green Acres and rated by previous customers. If you like the look of the person you've been assigned, you accept; if not you don't.

You handle the whole transaction online.

Green Acres says Go is modelled on the Uber experience, although one thing you can’t do is track the cleaner as they move about your place with the vacuum cleaner. And the company isn't planning surge pricing (where you pay more during really busy periods).

Chief executive Logan Sears says about three years ago the company recognised that its traditional model, where a cleaning franchisee signs up regular clients, didn’t suit a lot of potential customers, particularly millennials.

“We realised there was a whole new demographic out there we weren’t dealing with. People that weren’t looking for recurring, they were looking for fast and cheap. Millennials want some brand security, but basically they want fast and cheap. We needed to position ourselves for future markets.”

Sears says the Green Acres group, which has 500 franchisees and turned over around $50 million last year, has made a “high six-figure investment” in GO, researching the market and then setting up the technology platform. It will launch a pilot on Auckland’s north shore on Monday, looking for customers and service providers, getting security checks and testing the system. Then within a couple of months, it hopes to start a 3-5-year roll out to other parts of Auckland, other cities, and eventually the rest of the country.

He says market research suggests the on-demand cleaning and lawn mowing market could be worth $40 million a year, and more than 50,000 households in the country might be willing to use GO, each with an average of 15 service requests a year.

“The new service will appeal strongly to Aucklanders under 40, professionals… many living in young adult households, or young families. They live in apartments and units and many are renting or boarding. They include a high proportion of Asians and non-NZ Europeans.”

At the same time, Green Acres believes there are significant numbers of people willing to do the work – including students, newly-arrived New Zealanders, and retired people. Green Acres' research suggested these potential operators were looking to work on average 10 hours a week and earn an additional $200-$300.

Another pool of workers comes from owner-operators already doing cleaning or lawn mowing, but who want more business, Sears says. He estimates there would be two or three times as many people running small home service firms as there are franchise operators.

“For everyone speaks to a franchise cleaner, two or three are with a privateer. A small business, maybe not paying tax or GST, with low operator expenses, marketing through letterbox drops or word of mouth. We think there’s an opportunity here to activate those guys and bring them into the fold.”

GO cleaners will be self-employed contractors, like the Uber drivers, and Green Acres will take a 20 percent cut on each booking (Uber takes 25 percent). Sears says job pricing will be fixed at a level so that workers take home at least minimum wage.

One of the criticisms levelled against Uber is that the company’s super-low fares are only possible because drivers are underpaid. Under New Zealand law, minimum wage protections don’t apply to self-employed contractors.

Sears expects competitors to try to replicate the GO system, but hopes an 18-month headstart and a dominant position in the franchise market will give Green Acres the edge. Once house cleaning and lawnmowing services are up and running, the company will start adding other services to the mix, Sears says, with car valeting likely to be next up.

And then? Robots, Sears says. Within three years he reckons vacuum cleaner robots will be part of Green Acres’ cleaning service and lawnmowing robots will be helping gardeners. Like those spooky pool cleaners that float around in your swimming pool sucking up bugs, robots will be available to vacuum or mow lawns 24/7 if required.

“It’s a tool we’ll offer. An extension of services available to customers and our operators.”


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