When we talk about cleaning up the environment in Canada, for the most part we are referring to the big picture – protecting our lakes, reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.

But there is another kind of air pollution, maybe even more dangerous to your health, that most of us overlook. It is the air you’re breathing in your home and office right now.

Lane Martin and his family have been cleaning up the air content in homes and businesses for decades and he believes this up close and personal air pollution will become a huge issue in coming years.

“We think 10% of people are aware [of this issue],” says Martin, “but Sick Building Syndrome is getting to be huge.”

He is positioning his company, Modern PURAIR®, to take advantage of that by becoming the major franchise right across Canada promoting clean air indoors.

In 1984 the World Health Organization first identified Sick Building Syndrome. In newer buildings it was linked to outgassing from components like carpets, plastics, paint and dust from construction materials like gyproc or sawdust.

Other sources like pet dander, moulds, and fungus grow in building vents and home heating ducts.

These noxious substances are concentrated and literally shoved down our throat because late 20th century architecture gave rise to sealed buildings with forced air systems to take advantage of efficiencies in heating during the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

“Twenty years ago indoor air quality was unknown,” explains Martin. He describes vents and ducts as the “lungs of a building”, but those lungs are filling up with a concoction of items that are sometimes comical. Here is a sampling of things the Martins have pulled from houses within the Okanagan: rats nests, lunches abandoned by building workers, $1,800 and, from the ducts of Kelowna’s old arena, 1950-era pornography and beer bottles.

These curiosities however are not as revolting as the growing moulds, fungus, dirt and detritus that accumulate in untended vent and duct systems.

In 2003, E. Jane Sidnell and Owen Pawson, writing in Engineers & the Law, quoted a report that identified 58 Ontario government buildings with mould problems. Court cases there, in Manitoba and New Brunswick took the side of employees suing for illnesses caused by air-borne contaminants within those sealed buildings.

Modern PURAIR® is targeting employers and nervous building owners with a certification program to prove that their ducts and the air are as clean as modern technology can make them.

Customer Awareness

Even so, Martin estimates that only 10% of Canadians are aware of what they are breathing at home and the office, which presents his company with an opportunity. “Our business model is to go after the 90% who don’t know.”

Martin’s father Don Martin, is the CEO of Modern PURAIR®, and he was, says Martin Jr., the first man to operate a duct cleaning business in Canada when he obtained equipment to clean ducts in Calgary back in 1967.

Don grew the business, sold it, and then, years later bought out a similar business in Kelowna and renamed it Modern Furnace and Air Duct Cleaning Ltd. In 2007 the Martins created Modern PURAIR® Inc. as a licensee of that firm strictly to create a franchise business.

They were both surprised to discover that there were no franchises in Canada and only two small ones in the United States.

Although the Martins didn’t have any franchise experience at that time, franchising numbers in Canada are encouraging. The Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) says a new franchisee is four times more likely to survive when compared to an independent business.

There are 350 franchise systems in Canada. The top three are Tim Hortons (2,902 locations), Subway (2,356 locations) and McDonald’s (1,410 locations).

Canadian franchisees who belong to the CFA have 40,000 businesses and generated $90 billion last year, approximately 10% of Canada’s 2007 GDP.

For a new franchisor like Modern PURAIR® the trick is to get the formula right as quickly as possible.

For that reason Martin says they’ll keep to small cities while fine tuning their system. “We’d like to get into as many markets as we can with 50,000 to 150,000 people.”

Martin says there are no comparable opportunities where one man operations, for $75,000 can start generating six figure incomes.

Right now the company has operations in Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, Kamloops, Salmon Arm and, shortly, Chilliwack.

To sell the idea to potential investors Martin lists several advantages. The owners will likely be one-person operators, who will need to be out on the road doing work. When customers call in, they will reach PURAIR®’s call centre, based in the leased Kelowna office. For every three franchises PURAIR® will add one more person to the call centre.

At the end of his five year lease, he says, “I expect we’ll have to move out of here into bigger facilities. We’ll probably keep the call centre here and get another spot for administration and production.”

As with other franchises, the purchase fee will include training, advice on how to set up a business and equipment, except for a vehicle lease. A vehicle needed to work in Kelowna on commercial buildings rather than residences in a smaller community is larger, and more expensive to run and lease.

But Martin is torn between a desire to grow the company slowly and a need to get it out before others with deeper pockets become aware of the opportunity. “Yes, honestly, we’re a bit worried about someone trying to scoop us in the next 24 months.”

Modern Equipment

Martin should take some consolation from his head start and PURAIR®’s advantage because of the equipment they use.