Janitorial services weren’t the only ones taking hits left and right in the wake of the recession. Blows were suffered in many of the additional services offered by building service contractors, particularly those not integral to the health of building occupants. Window cleaning frequencies were, on average, halved — if not cut out altogether.

“Most of the services that were twice a year went to once a year,” says Mike Behrent, manager of Brite Way Window Cleaning, owned by Jack’s Maintenance Service Inc., in Neenah, Wis. “Things that were three times a year tried to go twice. Where you noticed the most was the extra cleanings. If they would normally have you come in to do a spider treatment or clean around the doorways, those calls didn’t even come.”

Not only were frequencies cut to match slashed cleaning budgets, but a lot of long-term customers went out to bid thanks to competition from the flood of companies that were also feeling the squeeze.

Frequencies, prices on the chopping block

When the market was good, site visits would only involve a couple of competitors, says Ron Terry, director of window leaning operations for Complete Building Services in San Mateo, Calif. In 2008, he started noticing the number of other companies bidding the work drastically increasing.

“When times got hard, you’re starting to see 20 or more companies show up,” Terry says. “I think what a lot of business owners of window cleaning companies at that time did was to go after quantity, not really look at the bottom line. Which, I think ended up hurting a lot of them because they were stuck with these jobs that they weren’t making any money on.”

Increased competition naturally drives down prices, as everyone is trying to offer a better deal to lure business away from others.

“When you’re busy, there’s a lot of contracts that night fall through the cracks, because you’ve got so much on your plate, you really can’t go after everything,” Terry says. “But when you’ve got a lack of work, you’re looking under every stone for a job.”

That, coupled with customer spending restrictions, drove down the price of window cleaning jobs.

Brite Way made it through fall of 2009 before it had the rug pulled out from under it when 80 percent of its fall services were cancelled. In 2010, there were no increases in frequencies. 

“Now, in 2011, it’s starting to creep back. I’m comfortable in saying there’s definitely enough work out there if you’re willing to look for it,” Behrent says.
Behrent credits the diversification of services by Jack’s Maintenance for acting as a buoy for the company’s overall health despite a poor showing on the window cleaning side of things.

Facilities that cut back on frequencies included universities, municipal buildings, office buildings, insurance companies and law offices.
Some customers opted to work with their window cleaner for reduced rates.

“Hotels, what they did, because they hate having vacancies, lowered prices to fill up the hotels,” Terry says. “Then they’d come to you and ask for a price adjustment based on their situation. So there are creative ways to try to continue service but at a lower price.”

However, some facilities made no changes in frequencies. Homeowner associations, particularly for high-end condominiums, tended to stick with a schedule. Also, sport stadiums decided not to cut back. Brite Way services Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., home of the Green Bay Packers, as well as Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., where the University of Wisconsin Badgers play.

“Because the fan base would have been upset that they couldn’t see through to look at the players, of course, they had us do their windows,” Behrent says.

Frequency of service, for the past few years, has boiled down to who the building tenants are, and whether they complain, Terry says.

“At some point, management has got to take care of that or they’re going to risk losing a tenant and that tenant is valuable to them,” he says.

Jobs that used to charge $1,000, for instance, might now only bring in about $800, Terry says. However, the company is slowly bringing prices back to what they used to be. Good thing, too, he says, as overhead hasn’t gone down at all despite pricing taking a hit.

Window-cleaning being a service that cannot be put off forever, there is plenty of opportunity to now be offering solutions to window problems that are a consequence of past service cuts.

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