Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Q & A With Window Cleaning Resource - Chris & Alex Lambrinides

This week we have a question & answer session with relatively newcomers to the window cleaning supply market. Chris & Alex Lambrinides (pictured left & right with centre, Thad Eckhoff) bust on to the window cleaning scene with a fresh new approach to an otherwise drab internet window cleaning shop search & have caused all sorts of havoc on their way. It has made interesting news for this blog, but with their window cleaning forum & supply shop & now their own magazine – it has also made my life a lot easier. Never a week goes past where some content from their site can be used to inform & educate window cleaners on a new approach or another window cleaning idea, usually by video.

Being window cleaners themselves with their own company “All County Window Cleaning (ACWC),” they know the products inside out because they use them on a daily basis. They are also in a position to inform window cleaners about new products i.e. what works & what doesn’t. Chris is quite transparent when he comes to his business dealing, opening up & showing other window cleaners how he makes his company successful by sharing his business ideas & company paperwork.

Window Cleaning Resource (WCR) has become a phenomenon all it’s own. What was once a forum is now a supply shop serving customers State wide in the US & internationally. If you are on the internet & a window cleaner, it would be difficult not to come across their site sooner or later due to their cunning use of search engine optimization – yep, they even have a guy that can do that for your website too! Often emulated but never quite beaten, most supply shops are following in the after-burn of what these guys set out to do. As they say; “Imitation is the best form of flattery!”

In the hot seat.. Chris Lambrinides:

So how long were you window cleaning for before you started the forum & shop?
Errr, about 7 years.

What made you open a window cleaning forum & shop?
We didn't really like the options available out there for Window Cleaning forums. Bad moderation, lack of technology, and unappealing design. Our window cleaning business had grown pretty large so we were ordering a lot of supplies. We noticed when calling for supplies we knew way more than the order takers on the other end of the phone. That seemed a bit odd to me as they got to play with these tools all day. We got to talking and thought it be a really neat idea to have a store staffed by all window cleaners. People that had actually used the tools before in real life situations. People that could relate to the situation the customer was in on the other end of the phone. Then we thought why not just combine the two. We also wanted to translate our expertise with the products we carried into online format. That’s where the idea for all the product videos came from, we want every single product to have a video.. We are almost there.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Money! It is really tough to have a supply business that doesn't carry "everything" – It’s hard to afford "everything" if the business doesn't have "everything" to sell to make a profit. Its a tough circle, but we finally got it worked out. This has been a great year for us, thousands of new customers, and great loyal repeat customers, it has translated into us being able to completely expand our inventory and stock.
Being hated (by other suppliers), we dabble in everything, so everyone in the Window Cleaning world sees us as competition. The forums, the stores, the organizations and now the magazines, they are all bothered by us.

How do you manage to run a window cleaning business successfully with a window cleaning shop?
The window cleaning business pretty much runs itself. I have a wonderful staff in place that handles everything. Alex oversees the warehouse all day. I work on WCR next door from the Window Cleaning office. I do this so I still keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the window cleaning business. I wouldn't call it micro managing or anything. But I just listen as I work and interject when I need to.
I haven’t found a way to be in massive growth mode at both companies at the same time, my brain isn’t wired for that. So once WCR started I pulled ACWC out of growth mode and into profit mode. A company is much easier to run when not in growth mode. Ill probably switch them up in 2 years or so. I’m very excited about WCR right now, that’s where my brain is at. Right now I have a list of about 320 new things I want to do at WCR. We need some interns!

How many hours do you work in a day?
10 - 14

Out of all the technology you utilize in business – which is your favorite? (Pictured: Murphy the mascot).
The internet.

What is the ‘must have’ for any window cleaner out there, technology-wise?
Probably a smart phone so they can run everything from the road.

You’ve been successful in quite a short period of time – has it changed you?
I don’t think so.. maybe? maybe not?

You’ve had a few run-ins with other suppliers – do you think they envy your success?
Absolutely! We have completely disrupted their business and forced them to completely change the way they operate. You'll see these companies be forced to get out of profit mode and back into growth mode to keep up. I see it being diddled down to 3 or 4 of us in a few years, then down to 2.

At what point did Alex join you in the window cleaning field?
Probably (thinking) like 6 months in, on the weekends. I remember the first job site so vividly, he was absolutely hating it. 6/6 storms that hadn't been cleaned in 10 years. After that, probably 3 summer vacations in a row before he graduated high school.

What bugs you about Alex?
He’s cranky.

Who is the better window cleaner? You or Alex?

What’s your nickname in the office?
Not sure, I’m sure I have a few when I’m not around.

Where do you see “Window Cleaning Resource” in 10 years time?
Killing it! - Offering a wide variety of products and services to professional cleaners. We are currently in the States, the top destination for professional window cleaners, to learn, grow, and gain information on running a profitable business. I mean that’s what it’s all about, teaching these guys on the site how to make a very good living thorough professional window cleaning. I would like to expand that Internationally. Get even more eye balls on the site, more opinions, and tid-bits of information from window cleaners all across the world.

(Pictured: Chris solves the problem of how to tell his barber how he wants his haircut - he keeps a picture on his iphone!)
Where do you see window cleaning in 10 years time?
I imagine it will look pretty close to what it does now. Water-fed poles and pure water cleaning will be come even more popular than they are now. I hope we can get to the point here that cleaners think to pull the WFP off the truck before they do the ladder. Kind of a reversal of what’s happening now.

When did you decide to produce “ready made” postcards for window cleaners? Was there a call for them initially?
Well I was already producing them for years for my own WC biz, so I figured damn, - these things are good, why hide them away. So I unleashed them and all our internal forms. I'm hoping to release our operations manual and company handbook in March 2011.

What’s your next big purchase for WCR & All County window Cleaning?
Hahah I just last week got a new furnace and hot water heater for ACWC. WCR will definitely be a bigger warehouse. The one we have now is super convenient because it’s right next door but we need more space. More space for products, a larger retail store, a training area for both traditional and WFP cleaning and a real dedicated filming studio type area for the videos.
There are so many window cleaning type shows I want to do that we simply don’t have sufficient space for. We are on the hunt though, if anyone knows of any good buildings for sale in the north jersey area?

What is the most profitable work of All County Window Cleaning? Windows, gutters, pressure washing?
1. We make the most $ from residential window cleaning.
2. Pressure washing is our best add on.
3. And gutter protection installation is our highest margin transaction

On video “Window Cleaning Resource HQ” seems a fun place to work – is it more serious off camera?
We are deadly serious behind the scenes when it comes to managing "customer experience." That includes:
• How the phone call was handled and who spoke to them.
• Was the online check out smooth for them.
• Was everything easy for them to find in the store.
• How quick can we get this order shipped out the door.
• 4 Step process to ensure - they get exactly what they ordered very time.
• Was the order packed with extreme care to ensure safe delivery.
• Did they get the best price.
• Was the shipping price highly accurate to what USPS or Fedex charged.
• Quick invoicing, Did they get an confirmation right away.
• Did they get their tracking # right away.
All those little things that make for a great purchasing experience that we are very serious about. We are also trying to grow very quickly so it gets a little stressful. Everything else is kinda fun and easy going. We drink a lot of “redbull” and walk around barefoot. It is extremely causal through out the office. When a job applicant or sales person comes in they must think they've just entered some ones house.

What season do you sell more window cleaning tools? Why?
Mid spring, work is flowing in for most window cleaners and they have some cash to stock up for the year or the next couple of months.

Do you think your business model could be transferred to another field? Have you thought about it?
Well its no secret the business model is basically - open our doors to everyone & show them how we did it with our window cleaning business. Show them what’s possible, educate them, support them, help them and interact with them daily. Help them build great companies. Great companies consume more supplies and services. Add in the best prices, customer experience, and quick delivery.
Could we do it with another field? Probably not - I would like to think we are experts in the window cleaning business. I’m not an expert at anything else so I don’t think we could apply it to another field. But someone else certainly could.

Who came up with the idea for your new magazine?
I think it was a joint effort, between Alex, myself and Steph’ from our graphic design department.

Why did you leave the board of the IWCA?
Tough question;
1) The majority of the board of directors didn't like me. So it was kinda hard to want to participate in something where I didn't feel welcome. Don’t get me wrong they have some really smart, cool, successful business people on that board. I would have loved to stay, and learn from them.

2) I became a distraction to the board. They were constantly dealing with complaints from our competitors about things. Dealing with me was a burden for them.

3) There is a new association on the horizon that I’m going to be a part of. Ideas started bouncing around after I got on the board. I knew instantly I wanted to be a part of it, so I figured it would be best to bail early than to hang around a year then quit. This way they can at least fill my spot to the dude who came in 5th or whatever right away.

Who is your hero in the Window Cleaning world?
Oh, I don’t really have one. Don Chute maybe. That guy was so cool, if it wasn't for him WCR wouldn't be here today. He was the first one that allowed us to distribute his products, and he actually helped us hook up with some of our other manufacturers. Real genuine guy, loved him.

What’s next for WCR?
"Changing the industry through education"
I stole that from my friend Ron - this is his site: Pro Power Wash.
Make sure you check it out, but the slogan totally describes what I want WCR to be and do. WCR + a better community feel, better website, better store, more shows, more education, more learning opportunities - Just a better overall experience and product offering for the window cleaners that check in with us on a daily basis.

Pictured: WCR Board Meeting

Your down time consists of what?
Hanging with JR (my baby), snowboarding and reading.

Pizza or Bacon? Choose one!
Pizza - Minimum 10 slices a week.

In the hot seat - Alex Lambrinides;

Who came up with the name “Window Cleaning Resource?”
Chris came to me with the idea about a month before we launched the site with the idea. After going to a soon to be competitor's warehouse, Chris told me that we could do it better. I was sold right then.

Besides the Slayer, which is your next favorite squeegee?
I have always been a fan of the Unger Ergotec. I used the same Ergotec handle for about 6 years before I let someone else borrow it… I never got it back. Lost in a sharp I suppose.

You seem more hands on the tools than Chris – do you prefer it this way?
I do. I always liked getting my hands on new tools and equipment. Now I enjoy sharing all the new toys with window cleaners I talk to over the phone and on the forum. Chris is defiantly more techie then me. I really do enjoy being in the warehouse with the phone ringing like crazy.

How often do you go out & clean your own windows? 
When my girlfriend threatens to clean the windows herself.

How many people have you fired at All County Window Cleaning this year?
I only fire 5 to 8 people a year. Mostly people who show up late in the first week of work. Sounds cruel, but I simply don't care about people who have no respect for other peoples valuable time. I'm shocked that in todays economy, people with "easy" window cleaning jobs can't even show up on time.

Alex in Snuggy! (Chris sent this picture).
Who is the nice guy? You or Chris?
Ha! We take turns I think. Chris and I are both very passionate people with real emotions and neither of us hide them well. Chris can tell when I'm in a bad mood and visa versa.

What bugs you about Chris?
His stinky lunch. (Pictured: Chris's brocolli & chicken made to go meals). His only other meal is whisky & pizza.

Who is the better window cleaner? You or Chris?
I'm way better, Chris is a terrible window cleaner. He'll tell you himself.

What’s your nickname in the office?
Don't know. Don't know if I want to know.

Are you the only one in the building without an office? Why?
I have an office in ACWC but I share it with Kate and Stephanie who work at WCR. My real office is in the warehouse. It’s not pretty, but that’s how I like it. It’s kind of cold in the winter and kind of hot in the summer and I can spit on the floor. Just my speed!

Where do you see “All County Window Cleaning” in 10 years time?
I see ACWC being in a similar place to where it is now. We have kind of plateaued for the area we are in. I'm sure it will run a little more smooth though. There is always room for improvement.

What's with this dog picture that I keep seeing every now & then on the forum?
Bad ass dog - comes from page 84 of the "skymall" catalogue on airplanes.. He goes on vacation with us & road trips everywhere. Please note we have a laminated plastic version for vacation so he can come swimming with us. Oh, and he ruins nice pictures.

Where do you see window cleaning in 10 years time?
Not far off from where it is now. This is a slow industry to change. There is a whole new generation of cleaners just starting off now who have a lot of valuable time at their disposal. Lets see if they take advantage of it.

You seem to make all the product videos – did you jump in or were you pushed?
I always seemed to know more about the products right out of the box so I never minded doing them.

Just how many videos have been deleted?
Can't put a number on that. There have been quite a few of product video screw-ups, and the occasional last minute judgement call.

What is the best selling product in the WCR store?
Of the non-consumables, the Pulex Tubex detachable holster.

Scrim – are you a fan now?
I am, when I clean my windows at home, I use one scrim and I'm good.

Larry Llazko (well known forum member) – if he didn’t exist, would you have to invent him?
I don't think Larry could be invented. Love him or hate him, Larry’s a fixture of the forum and I wouldn't change a thing about him. He's the one who has always stuck up for us whenever Chris, WCR or I were being trashed.

What’s the best thing about WCR events?
Always a relaxed environment.

Who is your hero in the window cleaning world?
Don't really have one.

What’s next for WCR?
GROWTH. Expanding on the products we carry to win over a larger share of the market. (Pictured: Alex is constantly making new shelving to store the products).

Your down time consists of what?
Don't have to much of that these days, but I like to work out when I can and in the winter snowboarding takes up a lot of my time.

When’s the wedding? This year or next?
Ha! wait and see. If you got an invite would you show?

Pizza or Bacon? Choose one!
I have to say pizza.

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