Squeegee Trade Just Scraping By
As reported by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Yet another axiom of the recession: Economy down, window smudges up. Just ask Erwin Mielke.
"Ugly," the owner of Clear-Vu Window Cleaning Inc. said when asked to describe the state of his commercial accounts. "I've probably lost a third of my business already. That's just one of the first things they cut is (they decide) they can look through dirty windows."
Some window cleaning firms say their business has been affected only slightly, or not at all.
"I'm actually hiring," said Ben Boswell, operations manager for one of the area's larger companies, Al's Window Cleaning & Building Services. But others, like Clear-Vu, have seen at least a downtick.
"Everything's down," said Jason Vance, owner of Window Brothers Inc., New Berlin. "Our accounts are either cutting back or cutting off."
In the last few weeks Vance has seen revenue drop 10% to 20%. Clear-Vu, of West Allis, is off more than one-fourth from last year.
Tony Dawkins, owner of a one-man Milwaukee operation called Squeegee Wonders, said some regular customers are now waiting until their windows are "super dirty" before they call.
"I have to charge them more because I have to work harder," he said.
What seems to have been hit hardest are jobs at first-story shops and offices, and other low-elevation work. Some businesses are picking up buckets and squeegees, or even paper towels and Windex, and tackling the job themselves.
"In the summer they're probably going to be able to muddle through, but in winter it's not going to happen," Mielke said.
He said restaurants in particular have cut back on professional window cleaning.
"They're saying they don't have any business," Mielke said.
Clear-Vu has reduced its staff from 18 to 16, cut benefits and frozen pay. Until last fall the firm had cleaners working seven days a week.
"Now we don't even work very many Saturdays," Mielke said.
Commercial customers, meanwhile, are pushing for lower rates. And in a business that has, as economists say, low barriers to entry, some cleaners are willing to accommodate them.
"I've got competitors who are really hungry out there and just doing the job for nothing," Mielke said. "So that hurts."
Vance, who described his own pricing as "kind of more competitive than I'd like to be," has been stung, too.
"I just got off the phone with a customer (who) told me they just had a competitor come by and undercut me with the price," he said.
In another pattern characteristic of uncertain economic times, prospective customers seem to be husbanding cash and waiting until the last minute to decide to have work done, Vance said.
Still, the constantly replenished supply of grimy glass offers hope.
"There are always dirty windows," Vance said.
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