Friday, 13 November 2015

Five For Friday

A collection of squeegees and other cleaning tools hang from Cutrer's tool belt.

Although he has commercial accounts, 90 percent of Cutrer's business is with luxury residential homes in Portland's West End. He enjoys meeting new people, making his own hours and said he makes about $40,000 per year.

Cutrer uses a lift to reach the high windows on an office/garage complex in the Old Port. Scheduling jobs, working weekends, 60-hour workweeks and inclement weather are some of the drawbacks of the business, he said.
Window washer takes cleanliness to new heights - Frank Cutrer makes his living as Maine Panes. Frank Cutrer  has been cleaning windows for a living for the past 10 years, and five years ago he started his own business, Maine Panes. Although he has commercial accounts, 90 percent of his business comes from luxury homes in Portland’s West End. Cutrer says he pulls in about $60,000 a year, which leaves him with about $40,000 after expenses and taxes. Cutrer says he likes meeting new people and making his own hours, but there are drawbacks to the job too. He sometimes works 60-hour weeks, including weekends, and he’s always at the mercy of the weather.

Josh Sherer, 31 of Larry's Window Service cleans windows at the parking structure at 500 Park St. in downtown Des Moines
Window service turns heads downtown: Dangling from the tops of Des Moines’ highest buildings, the window cleaners from Larry’s Window Service have been known to turn the heads of downtown workers. Those onlookers only increase when Larry’s employees don their superhero costumes to clean the pediatric unit windows at local hospitals. The Des Moines-based business got its start in 1969 with brothers Dean and Carl O’Connor.

Original owner Larry O’Connor sold the business in 1989 to his sons, Carl and Dean O’Connor, who run the company today. “When he started in 1969, it was just him. Today, we have more than 60 employees,” Dean O’Connor said. The business cleans windows for residential and commercial customers, and provides pressure washing and building restoration services. “We pressure wash houses and buildings. We recently cleaned EMC and the Younkers building. For building restoration, that’s more waterproofing work and involves a lot of caulking,” O’Connor said. O’Connor spoke with The Des Moines Register about the business.

What is your service territory?
If it’s a big job, we’ll go anywhere in the state. For smaller residential jobs, we stay in Des Moines and the suburbs. For example, we’ll clean the Carroll hospital, the University of Iowa and Iowa State.

Do you have a lot of competition?
There’s no one as big as us that offers as much as we do. There are other one- or two-man operations out there. Some companies will have three or four window cleaners, but nobody to the extent we do.

Do you wash windows year-round?
The weather does play a small role, but we actually do wash windows year-round, especially residential. They tend to be done primarily in the spring and fall, but we will do them year-round. We’ll put methanol in the water on cold days.

Who seeks pressure washing services?
We don’t technically pressure wash residential houses, but we instead use a water-fed pole and scrub the house. It’s often done before it’s painted. We’ll clean the soffits and gutters. We also pressure wash commercial properties, like Meredith’s parking ramp in the spring to get rid of all the sand and dirt from the winter.

When is your building restoration services needed?
If there are leaks in the roof, we’ll be called to fix faulty caulking. We just cut out the old and put in the new. If you have a brick building, you have to wash and reseal those every few years.

What types of equipment do you have?
We have an access swing stage that swings on two cables to reach the windows on high rises, then a motor and platform. We have a rope descent system for repelling down the side of a building sitting on a chair. We have 135-foot lifts and 80-foot lifts. We also use a step ladder and pole for small businesses.

What else does your business do?
We have a side business for anchor points. When you go to a roof and tie something off, you use a roof anchor. Those are to be visually inspected once a year and load tested every 10 years. My brother-in-law and I are working with OSHA to help them understand that better.

Why were your employees this fall dressed as superheroes and scaling area hospitals?
Nationally, lots of children’s hospitals will have window cleaners dress up as superheroes. When UnityPoint asked us to do it, we were very happy to oblige. We went in and met the kids, took photos. It was awesome. We also cleaned the windows at ChildServe in the costumes. It is so worth it and the employees come away from it so inspired. They feel like they’re giving back and making someone’s day.

Chris Parton of Sky Clean Inc. cleans a window on the roof of 21 Battery Park in downtown Asheville.
High-rise window washer has a job with a view: Chris Parton. He co-owns Sky Clean Inc. with his wife, Heather Brooks. Job: High-rise window washer.

How’s you get started? 
About 15 years ago I was in between things, and my brother-in-law had just started a window-washing business in Savannah. So I went and hung off a building with him. I started my own business, but I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with it. Then a couple of months later the Grove Park Inn called and asked me to bid. Miraculously, I got that job, and I’ve had it for 15 years.

Walk us through one of your jobs. 
We do the BB&T building. First we take all of our equipment up to the roof. On the BB&T they have a welded steel rail running all the way around the perimeter of the building. It used to be the support for a suspended scaffolding system, which they don’t use anymore, but it makes an excellent tie-off. We use that to establish an anchor point, and then we start dropping rope over the side.

You’re wearing a full-body harness that comes up over the shoulders and around the waist. You run two ropes, a descending line and a safety line. They’re totally independent of each other — they have independent tie-offs and they’re attached to different parts of your gear. You’ve got a five-gallon bucket with your tools and water and soap. You have a bosun chair, which is just a board with some straps through it, and hooks so you can hang your bucket. You step into the bosun chair, clip it onto your descender, thread it onto your rope, and go over the edge.

Then you rappel down to your first set of windows and go to work. When you finish the lowest windows, you make sure there’s nobody under you. We use cones to mark off the area, but that doesn’t necessarily deter people. You rappel to the ground, detach, grab your bucket, hit the elevator, go back up to the top, move your anchor point to the next drop, and do it all over again.

Have you ever seen anything surprising inside the windows you’re washing? 
We’ve all had that experience. You pop down in front of a window at a hotel or at a college dormitory and there’s someone who is less dressed than they’d like to be under the circumstances. We skip that window and move on.

The coolest thing to see when you’re dropping down is a little kid, especially on a tall hotel. The kids will just be plastered on the glass — they can’t believe you’re out there. We’ve done jobs at children’s hospitals where we dress up as superheroes, or we dress up as elves or Santa for Christmas, and the kids really like that. Actually, they didn’t think it was cool when someone dressed up as Santa. They said, “Santa doesn’t work.”

Occasionally you’ll be washing a window at a hotel and the curtains will be closed. I’ve had people spread open the curtains real fast and almost faint because they weren’t expecting to see someone out there.

What sort of weather keeps you from working? 
Anything above freezing is workable. If it’s super windy, that’s the most dangerous. It can blow your ropes around the corner of the building, or get them wrapped around something, or it can just blow you around. You can also get a lot of updraft, which will blow soap and water straight up onto the windows you just washed.

Who do you like to hire? 
Rock climbers are pretty good with the rope aspect of it. But anybody who’s not afraid and wants to work is potentially a good window cleaner. It’s not rocket science.

Do you ever get scared? 
We used to a do a building in Greenville, about 27 stories. This was in the early days when I was less thorough, and I didn’t want to take the elevator down to the bottom to see if my rope length was right. When I did the drop and got down to the bottom, I realized the end of my rope was about 20 feet off the ground. I was trapped there. Fortunately I had a cellphone on me, so I called one of the guys working with me and he brought a 24-foot ladder. I just rappelled down to the top of the ladder.

To be honest, what scares the pants off me is ladders — being on top of a 40-foot ladder that’s wiggling a little bit. I try not to work on ladders. Forty feet is just as dangerous as 40 stories, and you have no protection if you fall.

What’s the best part of the job? 
We have the best views of anyone. From the top of the BB&T you have a 360-degree unobstructed view of everything. It can be mind-blowing.

Balancing babies & business: Emma Twist with babies Dylan, 3, and Luca, 20 months. Business: Squeaky Clean. Last week, Emma Twist launched the first ever sharing economy window-cleaner service, Squeaky Clean, where she lives in Hampshire and Berkshire. “The idea came this summer when we moved a few months ago,” Twist explained. “I needed a window cleaner, and there was no where to go to find a trusted service or to book and pay online.”

Before joining Campus for Mums and Dads, Twist worked as a director in a digital marketing firm SEO Kings. She signed up to the scheme after seeing it mentioned on Twitter. “I thought it was a great idea to get motivation to really get it going quickly. I’m trying to meet the right like minded people,” she explained. With two young children, it’s easy to get caught up in the “mummy bubble” says Twist. “I’ve been on maternity leave quite a lot for past 4 years, but coming into Campus I feel I can focus on what I want to focus on. That’s really important for your self worth.”

The Campus programme is also already having a massively positive impact on Twist’s business. “It’s steered us in the right direction. Every week you can think ‘have I focused on this enough’ or ‘I need to focus on that more’. There’s always things you can go back on.” “People have such good feedback because they’re also in start ups,” Twist explains. “It’s all about the atmosphere and meeting other mums and dads who have the same struggles. Some days are good and some days are bad but it helps you to know you can get through it.”

TANGERINE DREAM: the Orangeman team of Steve and Toni Thorn with Steve Hughes.
Clean start for Plymouth's Orangeman: A man who started a cleaning business to pay a vet's bill for his sick dog has opened a new dealership in Saltash. When Steve Thorn's pet bulldog contracted meningitis literally on the eve of the new millennium in 2000, he ran up a triple-time £1,300 bill from the vet. Although he had a successful souvenir business, he had cash-flow problems, and a friend suggested he try doing cleaning to raise some quick cash.

Mr Thorn said: "I started the business with my grandad's ladder and £98; this bought me two buckets, a sponge, 2,000 flyers and an orange boiler suit. "It was the only thing in my size – I'm 6ft 2ins – so without much thought I called myself Orangeman. "I started out cleaning windows and washing cars in car parks, industrial estates, anything and everywhere I could think of to bring the money in. "I then moved onto end-of-tenancy cleans, gutter cleaning and such.

"After a bad fall from a ladder while working, which left me unable to work for six months in 2010, I had to slowly rebuild my business. "Luckily I had many loyal customers who stuck with me even during my down time. "In 2014 I decided I wanted to concentrate purely on window and carpet cleaning in an attempt to drive the business forward."

Earlier this year, Steve realised there was a gap in the market. Varitech, which supplies equipment and consumables for window cleaners, had outlets in Newton Abbot and Bodmin but none in the Plymouth and Saltash area. Around the same time, Mr Thorn bought a van from a man who was retiring from business due to ill-health. In conversation, he revealed he was the local distributor for Prochem, which supplies specialist carpet-cleaning materials. Mr Thorn, aged 51, approached both companies, which then made him their local distributor.

In April 2015, Orangeman Cleaning Services Ltd moved into an industrial unit at Forge Lane in Saltash Business Park, in Saltash, and has taken on two new employees: Mr Thorn's wife Toni, aged 38, and an acquaintance, Steve Hughes, who had been made redundant by another cleaning company.
The official opening was carried out by Saltash Mayor Cllr Bill Phillips. Mr Thorn said: "My aim is not to make a fortune, just have a good business which supports my young family and employs good people like Steve Hughes."

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