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For now, the best way to learn about franchising or working with Brightly is through The Welcoming Center. Find the center’s contact information on this page, or call (215) 557-2626.


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Business for Good: Brightly

The immigrant-owned cleaning service co-operative, opening in Philly next spring, offers workers a pathway to the American middle class

When people think of franchises, big chains — McDonalds, Starbucks — are usually first to come to mind.

Large franchises operate by licensing the rights to their brands and models to individual franchisees, who pay them a percentage of their revenues — and typically pay their workers minimum wage. Not surprisingly, the big business benefits most.

Juan Cuautle and Amalia de la Iglesia want you to think of something different when you hear the word “franchise.”

“It’s usually, like, a few people at the top or one person at the top with all the money and power and then the workers are exploited,” de la Iglesia says. “We looked to social franchises to kind of build a much more equitable and democratic mode.”

Cuautle and de la Iglesia work for Brooklyn-based family and social services nonprofit Center for Family Life (CFL), where they helped launch Brightly, the country’s first franchise of worker-owned cooperative, eco-friendly cleaning services. The franchise focuses on creating worker-owner jobs for immigrants, allowing them to share in the profits and earn living wages — to pave a pathway to a better life.

“It’s usually, like, a few people at the top or one person at the top with all the money and power and then the workers are exploited,” de la Iglesia says. “We looked to social franchises to kind of build a much more equitable and democratic mode.”

What is Brightly?

Brightly was formed as part of CFL’s cooperative development initiative. The almost-five-year-old franchise has quickly grown to five locations serving residential and commercial clients in New York City.

Now, they’re partnering with the nonprofit The Welcoming Center to add a sixth Brightly, here in Philadelphia. They plan a local launch by May 2023 and have already started recruiting and training prospective workers-owners in the Bok Building in South Philadelphia.

The goal: Build better lives by building stable jobs and lifelong agency among hard-working immigrants in Philadelphia, too.

Immigrants make up 14 percent of the population in Philly, accounting in large part for the city’s growth over the last decade. In 2018, immigrants also accounted for about 14 percent of people living in poverty in Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country.

That is not for lack of working — about 67 percent of the city’s immigrants participate in the workforce, according to a report from the Vera Institute of Justice, based on census data. But many of those jobs — like many held by U.S. born residents — pay too little to healthily sustain a family, with minimum wage hovering at $7.25 for privately owned companies.In 2020 immigrants accounted for 24 percent of Philadelphians 16 or older earning minimum wage.

“One worker, one vote,” Cuautle says. “They discuss any topic about business, and they decide together what they are going to do.”

Brightly aims to change that, by changing who owns — and benefits — from a cleaning business. Prior to starting Brightly, CFL worked to develop more than 20 cooperative businesses in industries ranging from childcare to handyman services. As the program’s director, Cuautle found that working in multiple industries made it difficult to develop successful co-ops, because they had to spend so much time learning the ins and outs of new professions.

“We’re not an expert on all things,” Cuautle explains.

So he decided to take a lesson from the Arizmendi Association, a group of cooperatively owned bakeries, landscapers and construction businesses that uses a trusted brand-name to help multiple co-ops in similar industries thrive. Unlike Arizmendi Association, Brightly is a registered franchise in New York, making it the country’s first legal worker-owned cooperative franchise, USA Today reported this year. In 2018, CFL created Brightly as a pilot wherein individual eco-friendly cleaning co-ops would use the franchise’s branding and a single web platform for booking appointments.

Cuautle says they focused on the cleaning industry because the profession has few licensing requirements, which makes it easier to start new businesses, and because many of the immigrants CFL primarily serves in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood have experience working in the industry. The Economic Policy Institute reports that 18.5 percent of house cleaners in the U.S. are immigrants. The industry is also ripe for exploitation: Pay violations, harassment and abuse by clients are all common, The Guardian reports.

CFL’s goal for Brightly: Create a franchise that would pay high, reliable wages and would offer safety and stability to its workers through a cooperative model where the workers are their own bosses. Brightly cleaners make $31 per hour on average; the typical wage for a house cleaner in New York City is $19.77 per hour and $16.86 per hour for office cleaners, per Indeed. In Philly, the average wage is $18.54 per hour for a house cleaner and $15.20 per hour for an officer cleaner.

Nearly all of the co-op members are women. All are immigrants. None is required to provide documentation status.

Brightly also aims to remove financial barriers workers face when starting a franchise. Most cleaning franchises in New York City charge an upfront fee of “upwards of $60,000,” per data from Brightly’s website. There’s no fee to become a Brightly franchisee, just a five percent monthly royalty on revenue from each of the locations. That royalty goes toward fund customer service, marketing, technology, training, and other efforts to make Brightly self-sustaining in the long-term.

Most franchises charge monthly royalty fees ranging from 4 percent to 12 percent of sales, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports; some charge additional fees. McDonalds, for example, charges a franchise royalty fee of about five percent plus fees for advertising, plus, in most cases, rent, The Guardian reports.

For now, CFL is still providing some funding for the program through their other fundraising efforts. Currently, there are five Brightly co-ops serving over 1,000 customers, in Washington Heights, Carroll Gardens, East Harlem, Tribeca and Staten Island. The franchise has about 40 worker-owners. (The number fluctuates as people leave and join the co-ops). Co-ops are capped at 25 members. Many set aside up to 15 percent of revenue from each month for individual managerial costs.

Brightly co-op employees share equally in their individual franchise profits and have an equal say when it comes to making decisions, such as what rates to set for services. If a franchise-wide decision needs to be made, members from all locations meet. This is how they decided to require their workers to be vaccinated against Covid.

“One worker, one vote,” Cuautle says. “They discuss any topic about business, and they decide together what they are going to do.”

CFL partners with community organizations to launch new Brightly co-ops and provide job opportunities to locals seeking work. When they launched the Tribeca co-op, for example, they partnered with a domestic violence shelter. Here in Philly, they’ve been working with The Welcoming Center, a nonprofit that creates local economic opportunities for people from other countries.

Each Brightly co-op starts with an incubation period when CFL teaches members about cooperative governance, hammers out legal concerns and management strategies, and trains on their cleaning procedures.

The journey to Philadelphia

For Nicole Marcote, program manager for The Welcoming Center’s entrepreneurship programs, Brightly’s franchise model addresses some of the challenges she’s seen immigrant entrepreneurs face. “I was always very interested in cooperatives,” Marcote says. “Something that we realized — maybe very similar to what Juan realized — is that supporting a collective of entrepreneurs that share an industry is much easier than to provide one-on-one technical assistance.”

In 2019, The Welcoming Center helped a dozen artists sell their wares in local craft and farmers markets. To Marcote, creating a cooperative business, even if it was in a different sector, felt like a logical next step. The model will help immigrants to the city and women who do unskilled labor build equity by creating stable, well-paying jobs — and impart a sense of pride of ownership.

“This is not really just a job, it’s your business,” she says. “There’s always an entrepreneur in everybody, but not everybody gets the chance to live out those dreams. So we hope that this is an opportunity.”

The Philly co-op will also share in Up & Go, Brightly’s online scheduling system and member-owned app. Cuautle says the platform helps Brightly compete with apps like TaskRabbit, which takes 15 percent of the cost of each job from its workers. Up & Go also prioritizes worker flexibility, allowing cleaners to choose what days work best for them. Workers set rates upon arrival based on the condition of the house. “The goal is to get a little more power to the workers,” de la Iglesia says.

If the initial launch is successful, Marcote envisions adding more locations in Philly. “We’re not as big as New York City,” she says, “but I think there’s definitely areas [to expand]. In the Northeast there’s also a high immigrant population so we can see how that model could work there as well.”

As for the larger franchise, Cuautle says they’ll continue expanding to other cities. They’ve received requests from organizations in Colorado, Florida, Michigan and California.

Right now, Marcote expects the co-op may establish their headquarters in South Philly; that’s where most of the people who’ve come to the info sessions are living. She expects they’ll serve commercial spaces in Center City. But that decision — and any decision about profit sharing and hourly wages — will ultimately be made by Brightly’s local worker-owners. Because that’s how cooperatives thrive.


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