By Deborah Kania
Each morning, 14 employees of You’ve Got Maids of New Bern report to work at the home of Phil and Jill Vernelson, owners of the franchise. What was supposed to be temporary headquarters after Hurricane Florence flooded their office location in September 2018 is still in place 10 months later. Also flooded were several vehicles, equipment and supplies. In just one day, they lost 50% of their customers. Some of Phil and Jill’s employees lost their homes or had to relocate out of the area.
Just two months earlier, the New Bern commercial and residential house-cleaning franchise was ranked number seven out of 60 in the nation. New Bern was listed among cities many times larger, such as St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. Phil said he believed the success has come from the high standard of customer service his company provides.
While Phil has experienced high turnover during recovery, he has counted on a core team, including his go-to manager, Margaret Lee. The team climbed back to that number seven spot in June 2019.
“Phil had every reason to quit,” said Frank Berger, founder and CEO of You’ve Got Maids. Berger, who owns the company with his wife, Cynthia, visited the Vernelsons a couple of months after the hurricane. “We could not be more proud of them.”
In addition to running a successful franchise despite their recovery challenges, Berger said Phil and Jill consistently far exceed requirements in their Cleaning for a Reason program, which offers free cleaning to cancer patients.
Phil said he was not going to give up because of his employees, his beloved New Bern, and “the no-quit thing that kicks in.” Maybe this is why they won New Bern Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year in 2019. The franchise is also in the process of expanding into new markets.
This is not the first time the Vernelsons have found success as entrepreneurs. They previously owned Coco’s Beach Bistro in White Lake, North Carolina. It was the first permitted mobile food business in the state in 2012.
Long before that, Phil got his first taste of entrepreneurship working in his grandmother’s restaurant in high school. His resiliency came from his upbringing as well as going through the Great Recession. Today, he runs the business remembering advice from his grandmother: “Look out for rainy days, don’t overspend, and be organized.”
Also listening to this advice is his granddaughter, Allie Riggs. Just like Phil’s experience with his grandmother, Allie is picking up important kernels of advice as she works in the family business while in college. She started cleaning houses when she was 14 years old and is now taking on new responsibilities. Phil said he would like to see the next generation carry the business into the future.
Phil is motivated to continue working instead of enjoying retirement because of his city and his family; more specifically, “loving New Bern and wanting to have a reputation to be proud of and my grandchildren can be proud of.”
Phil has been attending seminars hosted by Craven Community College’s (Craven CC) Small Business Center (SBC) since February 2014. The objective of the SBC is to provide resources to increase the success rate and number of viable small businesses in Craven County. In a recent SBC annual impact survey, Phil said, “excellent job done by Craven Community College, an unbelievable asset to our business community.”
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on Aug. 7, 2019.