Jonathan Barnett of Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning: “Letting Go to Grow”

Letting Go to Grow: When you first start a business, you want to do everything yourself. It’s your baby, after all. To be a C-Suite leader, though, you have to learn to let go of that need to control everything. If you don’t, if you let yourself become inundated with daily tasks and fiddly matters, […]

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Letting Go to Grow: When you first start a business, you want to do everything yourself. It’s your baby, after all. To be a C-Suite leader, though, you have to learn to let go of that need to control everything. If you don’t, if you let yourself become inundated with daily tasks and fiddly matters, you’re failing as a leader.

As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Founder and President Jonathan Barnett of Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning.

Through innovative products and modern technology, Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning offers green carpet cleaning and exceptional results through a unique, low-moisture process. Oxi Fresh’s advanced franchisee support system — including its centralized Scheduling Center and innovative marketing strategies — provides franchisees the opportunity to focus on growing their business instead of merely operating them.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Entrepreneurship has been in my blood since I was a kid — my grandpa was an inventor and entrepreneur, and he really inspired me. I think he is one of the reasons that, in college, I opened a fireworks stand called Johnny B’s Fireworks. Over the next few years, I kept expanding to new stands and was able to sell it all for a tidy sum when I graduated.

From there, I kept learning about business and never stopped looking for opportunities. When I was earning my MBA, I became intrigued by franchising; I even owned a basketball franchise in the IBL for a short time. I realized that franchising was an ideal platform for my business vision. From there came Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’d have to say that was meeting the late, great Fred DeLuca, founder of Subway. We were attending a conference, and I had the opportunity to speak with him. I started talking about Oxi Fresh and how quickly we were growing, which he thought was pretty good. Hearing “pretty good” from a guy like Fred was incredibly encouraging. Fred asked me if we had international locations, and I told him no.

Then he punched me.

Not in the face, of course, but pretty hard in the arm. With the punch came the question, “Why not?” It was all in good fun, of course, but the question had the same weight as the punch. Why not? Why not go international? What was stopping us? Just me. Now we have Canadian locations, and we want to find master franchisees for other countries around the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Act like you’ve got the green light.” A lot of people live life waiting for permission or the perfect circumstances to do something bold — and so many people end up not acting at all. The business idea stays on paper, a dream and nothing more. Instead, you’ve got to take the leap.

The situation when I started Oxi Fresh wasn’t perfect. I was still young, and it was a market full of experienced competitors, but I didn’t wait for the universe to give me permission. I had a vision, and so I worked hard to make it real. And the risk paid off.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?

Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s important to measure not only things like customer satisfaction but also management and leadership performance. The systems outlined in Mr. Wickman’s book have streamlined how we approach our meetings, which has improved our team’s overall effectiveness. Everyone gets to stay in the loop on big projects without it taking too much of anyone’s time. It’s a much better system than our old way of managing meetings, which lacked structure and direction.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Oxi Fresh is a technology company that cleans carpets. By creating and implementing various time-saving programs and systems, we have greatly boosted the speed at which our franchisees can develop their businesses.

Take our CRM (Customer Relationship Management Software) as an example. When we first started scheduling appointments, we booked everything in Excel documents, but that was clunky and slow. So, we invested significant time and money into an online booking platform.

The CRM is now integral to nearly every other part of our business. It communicates with our email marketing, it gives us invaluable marketing data, it’s used to manage employee schedules, and so much more. By investing in the CRM, we’ve empowered our franchisees to pursue growth — and that’s just one example out of many.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

I would pass on three things: you can’t measure what you don’t monitor, you have to let go to grow, and you have to act like you’ve got the green light.

For the first, you need data to make decisions. Gut instinct is important, but it can only take you so far and can lead you down bad paths in time. For the second, being a leader means letting other people have some control. You can’t do everything on your own if you want to become a major player in the business world. For the third point, don’t delay and don’t wait for everything to be perfect. Better to be a growing business in a messy world than a theoretical business waiting for the perfect moment that will never come.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

It wasn’t a specific phrase or piece of advice I received, but more the idea of always trusting your gut. For example, you can rely too much on your gut when it comes to picking vendors. We’ve had issues where a person we’re interested in working with is personable, put-together, and seemingly focused on the task.

As time passed, though, the vendor or their business just couldn’t deliver. They acted the part but just couldn’t follow through. And so, I’ve learned that while my first impressions on vendors and projects are valuable, those feelings then need to be backed up by data. Gut instinct is useful, but proof is better.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • The simplest trait is a willingness to work hard. When I first started Oxi Fresh, I put up fliers. As we grew, I’d regularly be on calls with franchisees, advising them on issues. Now, I’m always searching for new opportunities for the company.
  • The second trait — which anyone can develop if they work at it — is the ability to major in the majors and minor in the minors. When I first started the business, I was involved in every little thing — I even narrated our training videos. And with a new company, that sharp focus on various matters is achievable. However, as a business grows, you need to accept the fact that not all problems and opportunities are created equal. There are big ones and little ones. As a leader, you need to force yourself to see the difference and delegate.
  • Last but not least, I’m a risk-taker, and the example I would give is opening Oxi Fresh. Who thought there’d be space for another big carpet cleaner? The market was already rife with competitors, but I saw the opportunity for a modern company to make a significant impact. So, I took the risk, worked hard, and the gamble paid off.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?

As a C-Suite executive, you need to treat the company not as a series of departments but as a cohesive whole. Yes, there are different teams and priorities, but you need to make all of those things work together and benefit one another. After all, few things are more destructive than a company that is at odds with itself.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

A big myth is that “hard-working” means “workaholic.” Being a CEO does not mean an 80-hour workweek is the norm, nor is being a C-Suite executive an excuse to ignore your family. A good executive implements systems that both make the business more profitable and easier to manage.

Another myth is that an executive must be impersonal. Some people assume that once you become a C-Suite executive, your humanity stays outside your office. Nonsense. A good executive is invested in both their business and their people. That does make some decisions a lot harder, but it also means you make your choices for the right reasons.

What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I feel the most common mistakes come down to how C-Suite leaders interact with their staff. Some new leaders think they need to come in strong and prove they’re tough. Others trust their new teams too little or too much.

All of these approaches cause problems. The hard-headed person alienates their team, severely hampering any future relationships. The person who doesn’t trust their team ends up micromanaging and alienating them. The leader who trusts too much will likely repeat the mistakes of the previous leader.

To avoid this, you need to carefully observe the people you’ll be leading and find a healthy middle ground between oversight and trust as well as between strictness and flexibility. This will take time and effort, but it’s the best way to help both your business and your team.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Time for a boring answer — day-to-day administration. Being a CEO means focusing on big decisions, choosing major strategies, etc. It also means that you have to reply to many emails, give authorization to projects, approve budgets, etc. Even when you have sound systems and quality employees, administrative duties take a good chunk of your time. So, if you want to lead, be ready to sit down and get through some daily tedium.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.

You’ve Got the Green Light: Just like an entrepreneur can’t let themselves become paralyzed waiting for the perfect moment, C-Suite leaders can’t lead while waiting for life to give them the green light. They need to seize the moment and act.

Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning exists because I took that approach. If I waited around for the perfect moment, it would never have come. That’s because people looking for the perfect moment are, in many ways, actually looking for excuses not to take that big leap. If you do that as a C-Suite leader, you won’t accomplish anything.

Letting Go to Grow: When you first start a business, you want to do everything yourself. It’s your baby, after all. To be a C-Suite leader, though, you have to learn to let go of that need to control everything. If you don’t, if you let yourself become inundated with daily tasks and fiddly matters, you’re failing as a leader.

You won’t have the time to review brand strategy, nor can you discover new opportunities if you’re spending all your time reviewing each and every step of every project. And, worse perhaps, you’re failing to develop your team. They can’t grow as employees if you’re suffocating them every second with constant oversight.

When Oxi Fresh first started, we had two people answering calls. Now, if I had gone over every call with them or had them transfer me any customer the moment there was any question or issue, I might still just have two folks answering phones. Instead, as we grew, I let go and handed responsibility over to my staff. Now, we have a huge scheduling center answering calls from all over the nation.

Speed Through Systems: We all know the old saying that “Time is Money.” The reason we all know it, though, is because it’s true. Time wasted is money lost, and time well-spent is money gained. It’s vital to create systems that save time and reduce labor. This will free you and your staff up from busy work and allow you to focus your efforts on growth and development.

At Oxi Fresh, we used to book every appointment in a spreadsheet. This process worked, but it was all manual, so it took time and led to mistakes. That’s why, early on, I decided to invest in an online booking software that we could make our own. This was an expensive program, but the system created speed, which saved time, which saved money.

Ownership Through Scoring: It’s hard for someone to really know how they’re performing without something measurable. Scoring and metrics for employees, leaders, and departments will help you better understand where your business is succeeding and where it needs work. Plus, scoring creates a sense of ownership among your employees — no one wants to be doing a bad job.

An example of this with Oxi Fresh is our customer survey program. After every job, customers get a text or email asking them to rate and comment on their appointment. Our franchisees then use this data to quickly and accurately evaluate their employees and make adjustments to training and requirements. When we first implemented this program about a decade ago, we quickly saw a big increase in customer satisfaction.

Profits with a Purpose: When you run a business, it can be easy to get caught up in numbers and earnings as things unto themselves. However, I find tying your profits to a cause is healthy for both you, your employees, and the business as a whole. By giving your profits a noble purpose, you have a goal that can inspire you. You’re here to make money, yes, but you’re also here to make the world a better place.

At Oxi Fresh, we donate to with every job booked online. This nonprofit helps families around the world get reliable access to safe water and sanitation solutions. Our donations have helped around 10,000 people to date, and every day we help more and more folks. Working with has been both good for the brand — customers love supporting companies that give back — and good for my team.

In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

There’s a lot of things you can do, but I think a lot of them boil down to fostering a spirit of kindness and fun. For the former, you want people to feel comfortable and happy at work; not only is this simply a good thing to do as a leader, but it also makes employees happier and more effective. For the latter, just having a good time with your team goes a long way to having a great culture.

At Oxi Fresh, we enjoy having team days. We go out to a restaurant, get food and drinks, and just relax with each other. Sometimes we do an activity like bowling or paintball, but more often than not, we just spend time with each other and take a breather.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As fun as it is to go big with something like this, I’d actually like to zoom in on something specific to the world of franchising. I believe this industry needs to rethink its relationship with technology. For a lot of brands, technology is something that fills in gaps. We need X, so let’s sign up for Y. It’s almost reactionary.

The change I want to see is companies adopting the philosophy that technology is a fundamental part of who they are, and so it must be thoroughly integrated into every system they have. The amount of money and time franchise companies could save from such integration is staggering, and I think customers would have significantly improved experiences as well.

How can our readers further follow you online?

They can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter, but if you want news about Oxi Fresh, just head to our website for more information. We’re doing lots of great stuff!

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