In the world of professional organizers, Clutter Stoppers is a rarity.
"The vast majority of our members are sole proprietors or small businesses," said Jill Banks, spokeswoman for the 4,000-member National Association of Professional Organizers. "We do have a few members who own franchises, but it is unusual in the industry."
So far, West Hempfield Township-based Clutter Stoppers has about a dozen employees and just one franchisee, in Franklin County. But longtime business partners Todd Sweet and Barry Weldon said a second franchise is in the works, and they think their concept has long-term legs.
Their business model has two main components: An emphasis on compassion and an approach to handling unwanted items that is green in more than one way. That is, they help people dispose of leftovers profitably by placing them with consignors.
"Barry and I started an in-home-care nursing agency in 2004, and as that business grew, we found that our clients, which were largely aging adults, needed help with simple tasks — for instance, switching seasonal wardrobes, or winter comes along and they need help getting their car into the garage, that sort of thing," Sweet said. "I think a lot of older people are realizing that one of the biggest fallacies in life is, 'My kids want it.'"
Decluttering became part of the service line, then became a separate company in 2010. Last year, Sweet and Weldon sold the agency, Keystone In-Home Care, to focus on Clutter Stoppers. That also was when they bought Stock Swap, an upscale home furnishings consignment store that now also serves as the Clutter Stoppers headquarters, and began the complicated and costly process of preparing to offer franchises.
"Barry and I are at the stage of life where it's not necessarily about how many franchises we sell, it's more about how many people were helped," Sweet said. "Franchises allow us to do two things — give a lot more people jobs and help a lot more people with their clutter."
Clutter Stoppers gets referrals from real estate agents and retirement homes and even protective services, they said, but most of their business comes from word of mouth. By their description, their services fit between individual organizing consultants and trash-hauling services — and far from what is depicted on television shows about hoarders and pickers.
"We're sort of the pioneers in this niche, and no one understands exactly what we do," Sweet said. "They think we're going to come in and say, 'hello,' and throw everything away."
"We spent years in the caring business, standing between the customer and the family and whatever else they were dealing with, and trying to make their lives better," Weldon said. "So conflict is the farthest thing from what we do."
They start with a free consultation followed by a quote guaranteed unless the customer changes the parameters of the job significantly. Quotes are for the entire job, not by the hour — they don't want customers to think they're dragging out the process to earn more — so they take into account how involved the customer wants to be.
One thing they have found is that clutter has both physical and psychological aspects. Often what a customer describes as a huge problem is relatively minor, and some homes pitched as "not that bad" can barely admit them for the consultation. Their specialty is dealing sensitively with both parts of the issue and implementing a strategy that aims not for perfection but "organized enough" to work for the client.
On the consignment side, they don't make guarantees and they note that most items from the jobs go to other consignors, not Stock Swap. But, they said, they have experience with what sells best where, and for some customers the proceeds have covered the whole cost of the decluttering, or more.
Mark Weldon, Barry Weldon's son and owner of the Franklin County franchise, said his background is in hospice work and he was attracted to Clutter Stoppers because he liked the concept but didn't have any idea how to go about starting a business on his own. Now, he said, they're working with him on developing complementary concepts he's thinking about incorporating, such as seasonal wrapping and decorating, and arranging homes to help seniors stay independent longer.
"It's really nice to have that support," he said.