YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — While the pandemic has shaken many industries, one emerged from it practically spotless.
Local cleaning companies find their services have been in demand through the past 18 months, with some booked well into the foreseeable future.
The industry was forced to shut down for six weeks in spring 2020 but it didn’t have a lasting impact on the bottom line, company owners say.
“We were off our targets but not terribly,” says Katie Burkey, owner of the Molly Maid of Mahoning/Trumbull County franchise. “We ended up faring well.”
Burkey, who has owned the franchise for 28 years, credits the company’s “tried-and-true” methods and products for keeping business steady through the rough patch.
“It helps to perpetuate the system, even through a pandemic,” she says.
Another cleaning franchise that weathered the storm is Fish Window Cleaning of Boardman.
At first, heading into the pandemic was “challenging,” says Keith Stabi, franchise owner.
There was a struggle in the first six week of the shutdowns as the company focuses primarily on commercial windows, three stories and below, and many of those clients were closing.
But where one window closes, another opens.
“That’s when we began to do more residential clients,” Stabi says. “But we did mainly outside-only cleanings of the homeowners’ windows.”
Molly Maid also did a brief shift, switching to periodic commercial cleanings to help businesses sanitize.
Burkey says Molly Maid began getting more business from industrial sites, which she and her staff accepted because “we were willing to help the cause.”
However, she decided against taking on the commercial sector long-term because it isn’t Molly Maid’s area of expertise.
Also branching out was Brilliant Cleaning Services of Boardman.
The company, which is not a franchise, is owned and operated by Theresa Viviano and her partner, Paul Wilson.
Focusing on commercial cleaning during the stay-at-home mandates, Brilliant Cleaning added disinfectant services for business offices.
“We had to work around what everyone’s needs were,” Viviano says.
The business also worked around its clients’ schedule changes.
As it figured out how to support its customer base, Brilliant Cleaning began offering customized services.
“We let our clients decide the serv-ices best for them. We can do our best work the way we do it. Just tell us what you need,” Viviano says.
Approaching the process this way, whether residential or commercial, “shows clients we are interested in their needs,” she says.
Burkey has noticed a change in the industry: terminology has transitioned from “spring cleaning” and “fall cleaning” to “deep cleaning.” The services are identical, she says.
Business is leveling out, Burkey says, although the hot housing market stoked a rise in requests for cleanings.
As home sales exploded, Burkey and her team weren’t able to accommodate the quick turn-around, booking three to six weeks out, and sometimes six to eight weeks. That has since been reduced to two weeks in advance.
Stabi said that throughout the pandemic in 2020, he and his employees did more outside residential cleaning, as many clients chose to stick to distancing protocols.
“We offer free contactless estimates, which means we will come out to the property and leave estimates on the front door,” Stabi says.
An estimate request can also be completed online, and a sales representative will contact the homeowner,.
Molly Maid’s staff helped the franchise remain successful throughout the pandemic shutdowns.
Burkey brought her employees back on a staggered schedule.
At times, her team was working double and triple time, and getting “great monetary bonuses,” which helped to keep her employees incentivized to work.
Plus, employees want to work because they like their industry, Burkey says. Above all, she says her employees are “gracious” and make a great team.
To retain current employees and bring in new staff members, Viviano gave a 30% pay raise across the board.
Stabi says Fish Windown Cleaning is feeling the hiring pinch.
“We get many applicants, but getting those applicants to answer calls or show up for interviews is the hardest struggle,” he says.
“We can’t let being short-staffed be an excuse, but rather a motivator to meet the demand.”
He’s been pitching in, helping with cleaning duties.
“The way to keep this business successful is fulfilling the needs of our customers,” he says. “The job needs to get done no matter what.”
Pictured: Fish Window Cleaning’s Jim Clark cleans windows at the Southern Park Mall.