Mark Melton has turned his master franchise from Coverall Cleaning Concepts into a tidy $9 million empire by supplying training, marketing, sales, and other services to his 250 franchise owners, many of them Hmong and Hispanic immigrants. Cleaning offices, says Melton, 46, "is not glamorous work. But it's stable, year-round, and highly sought after, and no technology is going to make the industry obsolete. It really impacts owners' lives."

What makes a Melton franchise an accessible route into the ownership society is the low barrier to entry. One midlevel package, available for an investment of $11,750, with $6,000 down, guarantees $2,000 in monthly income from clients provided by Melton. After insurance, finance costs, and a 15% royalty fee, franchisees can expect to pocket two-thirds of their billings. Some go-getters have boosted their monthly billings to $10,000.

"I bought the $1,500 package with my income tax refund and started with three clients. Now I have 13," says Francisco Reinoso. An X-ray technician in Guatemala, he'd had to settle for work as a janitor in Bakersfield. "At church, people look up to me and ask, 'Francisco, can I have a job?' Owning a business, that makes me feel like part of the United States."

Patrick J. Sauer