Cleanliness is on everyone’s minds these days, particularly as so many of us are working from home, learning from home, or quarantined at home as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to wend its way through the U.S.
In an interview with Karen Webster, Ron Holt, founder of Two Maids & a Mop, a house cleaning franchise service operating nationwide, said the short-term headwinds of economic and healthcare crises are considerable, but the long-term picture is bright.
He noted to Webster that the firm’s roots lie in Florida, where he launched the company 17 years ago, and where he scrambled to deal with the havoc wreaked by hurricanes that sometimes interrupted business for weeks as crews couldn’t get in to service flooded or damaged homes.
“We should be able to weather the storm,” he told Webster, “primarily because we weathered those actual storms many years ago."
With a nod toward the current economic crisis, he said there are at least some lessons that can be gleaned from the Great Recession of a decade ago — namely that house cleaning is less luxury than some might think.
As he told Webster, in the aftermath of the recession, Two Maids & a Mop actually saw growth.
“We didn’t know why at the time,” said Holt, “but when we started looking at data, what we noticed was our demographic shifted.”
He said the cleaning service went from being viewed as a luxury purchase on the part of high net-worth individuals to a service viewed as a necessity — “because everyone was at work,” as Holt said.
Simply put, single-income families now, by necessity, had dual incomes in place to try and offset the impact of previous job losses and volatile stock markets.
Fast forward to today, and Two Maids & a Mop has expanded to 85 “stores” across the country in 70 markets — not storefronts per se, but meeting places where, at least before the age of the coronavirus, cleaning teams and firm employees gather to collect equipment and head out to the days’ jobs.
The COVID-19 Impact
Now, as the virus has shaken daily life, Holt said there have been some jolts.
“Like every business, it’s having a significant impact every day — and it’s a new battle for us,” he said.
There have been suspensions from a number of recurring clients, and as Holt said, recurring business is the bread and butter of firms such as Two Maids & a Mop. Those suspensions have been spurred by clients worried about potential, general health risks. Holt noted that his company has a number of proactive policies in place to guard against those health risks, such as not cleaning locations where there have been any viral-related health concerns (such as the flu). Staffers disinfect their cleaning kits regularly and are beefing up the use of protective gear, such as goggles.
“We are no longer meeting at the office,” he told Webster, “but are treating it more like a drive-through service.”
Only the managers or franchisees are allowed into their respective offices; the cleaning crews pick up and drop off their supplies as pre-determined by 15-minute shifts.
Revenue Tug Of War
Asked by Webster about the current business environment, Holt noted that the company is adding customers as well (even as there have been suspensions), indicating that there is a bit of a tug of war going on within the company’s business model.
He said that, in some cases, residential clients want Holt’s firm to come in more often — in some cases, every day — to disinfect and sanitize their homes (while of course adhering to social distancing guidelines).
Amid the top-line pressures and job worries that are sending small business owners scrambling, there have been scores of random acts of generosity. That’s been the case for Two Maids & a Mop, too, said Holt. He said that in at least one case, a customer, concerned about loss of business that might impact Holt’s firm, paid for other clients’ cleanings tied to that franchise.
To help offset pressures on home cleanings, “We are also diversifying into the commercial space,” Holt told Webster.
That move toward new revenue streams comes as many businesses, including apartment complexes with common areas, churches and even insurance officers are enlisting cleaning services.
Eventually, said Holt, when people do go back to work, they will want to leave cleaning the halls to others so they can be with their families on the weekends. The demand for Two Maids & Mop’s services will be strong, he predicted, when the world returns to more normal times.
One positive development in recent weeks for house cleaning services in general, said Holt, has been that his firm and others have been designated by state and federal governments as essential businesses as defined by the acronym PHC — professional house cleaner.
“We are considered essential first responders,” he said, “so we are being looked at in a manner similar to healthcare workers.”
As he told Webster, cleaning services serve a real healthcare need, starkly in evidence in the age of the coronavirus.
“This no longer is about a homeowner looking at our services as being just about moving dirt or dust — but about providing real health benefits,” he told Webster.