Window cleaning can be a profitable add-on service
When a building’s windows need to be cleaned, the property manager is likely to turn to his building service contractor for help. Often, however, the contractor doesn’t do windows and loses the payday to a specialty company. Even worse, the BSC could see his janitorial contract go to a competitor that offers windows in addition to cleaning.
“Owners and property managers are becoming more interested in one-stop shopping rather than having to deal with several contractors,” says Sharon Dabney-Wooldridge, president of The Kleane Kare Team Inc., in Richmond, Va.
Savvy BSCs have always gone beyond basic vacuuming and trash pickup to offer a whole host of activities as add-ons. From stone maintenance to restorative floor care, optional services benefit both contractor and client.
Whether the work is subcontracted or performed in-house, extras maximize account profitability for the BSC while saving the customer money through service bundling. The strategy also satisfies the customer’s desire for one-stop shopping while establishing the BSC as the customer’s go-to source for all cleaning needs.
“If an existing customer already has the need, why pass up revenue that exists?” asks Don Zerivitz, president of ProClean Building Maintenance in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “I have very little pain associated with offering window cleaning. In my mind there’s no reason I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Providing window services is another way to stand out in the crowded marketplace.
“I’m only one of a few cleaning contractors here that offer window cleaning,” Dabney-Wooldridge says. “It’s something that differentiates me from the competition so I can use that as a marketing tool.”
Sub it Out
Window cleaning requires expensive equipment and special training, but offering the service doesn’t necessarily require a big investment. The easiest way to add windows to a BSC’s repertoire is through subcontracting. The BSC partners with a professional window cleaner who performs the work under the BSC’s name so the customer remains unaware of the arrangement.
Possibly the biggest benefit of subcontracting is reduced overhead; the BSC doesn’t have to buy the equipment, pay the salaries or shell out for hefty workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Liability is also reduced, though not eliminated. Plus, there’s no need to find make-work or ramp up marketing efforts when there are no windows to clean.
ProClean opened 19 years ago with window cleaning as a subcontracted service and then brought it in-house for a few years before recently returning to subbing after seeing a 50 percent increase in insurance rates. History has taught Zerivitz some important lessons.
“When we first started, we used two larger companies and our work was second in line of concern to them,” Zerivitz says. “When we went back out, we went with a small company so we became the big fish. The responsiveness, the level of attention, the quality of work is all there and he’s much more competitive because his overhead structure is different than mine is.”
Bigger companies are also more likely to work for several BSCs, which can lead to an uncomfortable situation where your sub is also helping your competitors, Zerivitz says. Partnering with a smaller company ensures exclusivity.
Keep it In-House
If subcontracting is cheaper and easier, why would a BSC bring window cleaning in-house? One word: Control. Anytime work is being performed in a BSC’s name, it is imperative that it be done well and right. Although checks and balances can be put on an outside company, some BSCs prefer to retain control of additional services by bringing them in-house.
That was a hard-learned lesson for Michael Perkins, president of CleanRight Building Maintenance in Tucson, Ariz. When he started his business eight years ago, he believed window cleaning was a critical component of his cleaning services. Not trained in windows, however, he decided to sub out the work — or, even worse, let clients find their own contractor. That choice upset some clients, a couple of whom dropped him entirely.
“To become a full-service company and not lose another client to a competitor who does both, we learned windows,” Perkins says.
To perform the work in-house, BSCs will need to plan for a significant capital outlay.
There are two basic types of window cleaning and each has its own requirements. States have varying rules about liability for window cleaning, but in general, a company can clean windows on the first two stories of a building without special insurance. BSCs that stick to these lower windows will also not need the priciest equipment and most specialized training. Cleaning high-rise windows, however, requires expensive liability and workers’ compensation insurance as well as serious equipment and training.
For low-level windows, the cleaner needs only a squeegee, bucket and ladder. A water-fed pole is a bigger investment that can be used instead to improve efficiency and safety.
Higher floors require a bosun’s chair and rope descent system, which attaches to tiebacks on the roof, as well as ground barricades. Lesser-used, high-ticket items, such as cherry pickers or scaffolding, are typically rented on an as-needed basis.
Although it is required that window cleaners be insured and bonded, they are not legally required to be certified. Proactive BSCs can sign up for certification programs available through organizations like International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA).
“You don’t have to have a license but it’s highly recommended you don’t just send anyone up there,” Dabney-Wooldridge says. “You need people who are experienced and know how to clean windows. You just can’t take chances up there.”
Given the extreme safety issues, particularly with high-rise buildings, ongoing training is important. Perkins attends the IWCA annual conference to learn more about window cleaning and safety issues. IWCA also offers safety seminars and its Web site is a wealth of information, which Kleane Kare uses to stay current on techniques and equipment.
Worth the Risk
Proper equipment and training are so critical because window cleaning is risky business.
“It has, inherently, a greater risk than straight commercial janitorial,” Zerivitz says. “As a business owner, you have to be able to stomach that risk.”
How does one decide if adding window services is worth it? For Zerivitz, the first step was looking at his existing customer base to determine whether there was an opportunity to generate profit on window cleaning. He found out what they were paying for window cleaning services and decided he could be competitive and still make money.
Zerivitz’s second consideration was to look at his split contracts (those that used him for cleaning and someone else for windows) and evaluate how much business might be gained by winning both halves — or how much he stood to lose if another company came in able to do both. His decision to add window cleaning has been profitable, most recently winning him a 40-story downtown condo building.
“We’ll bid a job if it’s just the windows because that can lead to opening the door on the janitorial side and vice versa,” Zerivitz says. “When we have a split contract, we just wait for them to do something wrong so we can win that contract. But I also know whenever we have a split contract and I don’t have the window cleaning, there is a competitor ready to take my cleaning away.”
Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa.
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