Just Another Day for Window Cleaners
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s 9 o’clock on a Friday morning in November, about 35 degrees outside when window cleaners from Picture Perfect Window Cleaning start work on the service bay door at Preston Hyundai of Boardman. It’s the first job on this chilly day but it won’t be the last through the rest of the winter.
Youngstown-based Picture Perfect will keep cleaning windows for commercial customers through the winter “because they don’t shut down,” says owner Jose Estremera. Winter is especially important as salt from the roads and sidewalks can dirty a business’ windows.
“We believe that your storefront should always be clean,” he says. “Commercial companies keep us afloat in the winter months. We work year-round.”
Estremera and his eight employees serve customers in the Mahoning Valley and in Sharon and Hermitage, Pa. Picture Perfect also has some corporate accounts in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Restaurants, supermarkets, automobile dealerships, big box retailers and mom-and-pop shops all have their windows cleaned throughout the winter, providing window cleaners a source of revenue when residential work slows in December. The last peak demand for homeowners is right before Christmas, Estremera says, when they host holiday gatherings.
But the frequency of commercial work varies from customer to customer, Estremera continues. While restaurants get their windows cleaned weekly, most others have theirs cleaned every other week or monthly, depending on their budgets.
“Some customers have a really tight budget,” Estremera says. “Some don’t even have a budget for window cleaning and the managers pay for it out-of-pocket.”
Pictured: Jose Estremera, owner of Picture Perfect Window Cleaning, says his company is looking to expand into the high-rise building market.
Window cleaners typically determine costs by an on-site estimate. Anything from the type of window to the height of its placement affects the bid submitted. John Blystone, owner of ClearView Window Cleaning in Youngstown, says there could be variables he calls “out of the norm” that drive up the cost.
“If there’s a really high window, and if the land slopes toward the back and the house has a walk-out basement, that second-story window might be more of a third-story from the viewpoint of the rear,” Blystone says. “That requires a longer ladder.”
This summer, Blystone had to clean windows where a house was still under construction. Its exterior was made with Dryvit, a building material made of a sheet of soft foam coated with a cement-like material. Because the material is more susceptible to damage than typical vinyl siding, he couldn’t put a ladder against the side of the house or the gutters.
“In high-end neighborhoods, you’ll find a lot of that,” he says. “It looks ornate and beautiful, but it makes it more difficult for ladder setups.”
That it was a construction cleanup site made the job challenging, he says. When windows come from the manufacturer, they are usually wrapped in plastic or have a plastic film over the glass to prevent scratching. Should cement get on the film, it will eat through the plastic and get to the glass itself.
Removing such debris is one of the most challenging situations a window cleaner can face, so the costs can be as much as three times higher, he says. To reach the windows for this job, Blystone had to use A-frame ladders with telescoping poles that extend up to eight feet. The more challenging setup increased the costs even more, he says.
Blystone also continues commercial work throughout the winter when residential work drops off. The commercial clients make up about 20% of his work, but he doesn’t expect to see that grow in winter, he says.
“If I take on a lot of extra commercial work through the wintertime to increase the money I bring in, I’ve got to continue that work during the spring, summer and fall, which is bread and butter for residential,” he says. “So, I do it like a farmer. I make the bulk of my money during the spring, summer and fall, then live off of that during the winter with the additional commercial work.”
Higher Level Services Inc. of Youngstown plans to lay off its 12 workers right before Christmas and recall them in the spring – something that its president, Danielle Legendre, says her workers look forward to.
“When it’s time to make the money, they bust it and they work hard,” she says, “so they look forward to having a break.”
The company still does some work through the winter, including a few commercial clients, and some gutter cleaning for residential customers on warmer days, she says. The company offers power washing and cleaning roofs and chandelier/lighting.
Legendre is a second-generation business owner. In 2016, she and her business partner, Matt Scaggs, bought the company that her father, Robert Legendre, founded 25 years ago. The bulk of the company’s work is residential, although she and Scaggs are looking into adding additional services for winter work, she says. They also want to incorporate more technology.
Mobile technology allows window-cleaning companies to track the location and progress of their workers in the field, says Picture Perfect’s Estremera. It also lets him adjust an invoice instantly when a customer has a last-minute change to a job. “It shows customers 15 minutes ahead of time when we’re coming and allows them to schedule online,” he says.
Looking ahead, Estremera wants his company to break into the high-rise building market, that is, buildings higher than 10 stories. Currently, his team is trained and insured for up to 10 stories, or 120 feet. About 95% of his commercial work is done on structures with three or four stories.
After training his workers, securing the proper insurances and investing in new equipment, Picture Perfect can pursue larger commercial customers in larger cities. His goal is to establish the company in the high-rise market within two years.
“I’m going to conventions this year during the slow months,” he says. “Before I invest in the safety equipment, which is expensive, I want to make sure we have a few customers.”
Pictured at top: Charles Perkins and Vincent Clark clean the windows of the service bay door at Preston Hyundai of Boardman.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to our print edition and sign up to our free daily headlines.