|Bob Serwas (left), co-owner of Serwas window cleaning services and his partner Chris Mathias, overcame a bankruptcy & rebuilt their business.|
Entrepreneurs rebuild after bankruptcy: Bob Serwas, co-owner of Serwas Window Cleaning Services, knows what it’s like to succeed, fail, and then succeed again. He and his partner, Chris Mathias, have learned that slow and steady is the way to build a business. “I was warned by people not to grow big too fast and that’s exactly what I did,” Serwas said.
Looking back, Serwas, who fell in love with window washing when he was a teenager, was working for a local company when that company was sold to a competitor. The merger did not go well, and Serwas and his partner decided to form Residential Window Specialists in 1996.
The business exploded. In just three years, it was grossing a million dollars a year and the partners had a new challenge. Since window washing is a seasonal business, they wanted to find a way to provide year-round employment.
To fill the gap, they purchased an awning cleaning and sealing division and a mobile blind cleaning and sales division. The result was a growing debt. Serwas commented, “I took out a loan, and the bank socked me with a big payment. At the same time, we discovered that the employees we had were clocking in but not completing jobs.”
What resulted was an accounts receivable nightmare. Companies were billed for jobs that weren’t completed and refused to pay. While Serwas tried to incorporate the new businesses into the existing one, employees were playing video games instead of working. “It went from one crisis to the next,” he stated. “I needed help and was run ragged. The new divisions were wearing me down.”
As the accounts receivable mounted and bills couldn’t be paid, the lender called the loan. Serwas defaulted and had no option but to declare bankruptcy. The next four years were spent building credit and paying off debt. He had lost his house, 10 trucks and most of his personal property. He traded off an old pressure washer for a $100 minivan so his wife could get around, and spent six months living with his parents.
His efforts paid off, and by 2004, he had cleared his credit and purchased a home. Long hours of working a full-time job and cleaning windows on the side along with his wife meant $3,543 in the bank and an opportunity to do the same business again, but to do it right.
“I bought a bucket of equipment and an old computer and started again. I talked to the people at SCORE and decided I would make this work because it’s the only thing I love to do and I do it well. I learned to monitor the business more closely and watch the accounts receivable carefully,” Serwas noted.
Back in business with Mathias, Serwas runs the residential division and Mathias handles commercial accounts. For the past 11 years, growth has been controlled and the gross sales have reached the previous high. There are 23 employees, and Serwas says they are phenomenal workers. Additional services, such as hanging Christmas décor, pest control, gutter cleaning and snow removal, have been added slowly.
The company is now well respected, and Serwas says that he strives to achieve greatness without compromising quality workmanship. He and Mathias have a hectic schedule and look forward to winter when things slow down.
“I feel satisfied at the end of the year when I can finally breathe,” Serwas said. “We look at the final figures and say, ‘Wow.’ But even better are those remarks we get from customers when they say they can’t believe how good their windows look.”