|John Sanders. owner of John's Window Washing, cleans a window at Huck Finn Shopping Center on Monday, March 9. Sanders celebrates 22 years in business, working with his brother, Steve Sanders, and his daughter, Alura Johnson.|
Local window washing business owner looks back on a successful 22 years (By Trevor McDonald) -Through 22 years, the business has expanded through word-of-mouth endorsements and countless handshakes.
A local business owner knew he picked the right career path the moment he saw a man cleaning the windows at the Aldi grocery store in Hannibal. When John Sanders asked the man a few questions about the tools of the window washing trade, “it scared him to death.” After working two years at Watlow, Sanders established John's Window Washing, slowly gathering customers along S. Main St. Through 22 years, the business has expanded through word-of-mouth endorsements and countless handshakes.
In the beginning, Sanders drove around town by himself in a 1986 Pontiac Trans Am, with a step ladder poking out the back. Today, he works out of two minivans on jobs of all sizes, alongside his brother, Steve Sanders, and his oldest daughter, Alura Johnson.
Sanders was born in Germany, but his ties to this area ran through generations. His ancestors settled along Highway 79 years ago. He remembered fondly how he visited aunts, uncles and cousins up and down the scenic river route. Sanders said he loved visiting Hannibal on summer vacations during his childhood years, hanging out in Monkey Run and walking all over town — sharing stories and jokes with people around him.
After graduating from the Munich American High School in Germany, Sanders traveled to the United States for college. After “failing miserably at the college experience,” he took a job with a window washing company in Kansas City, learning the trade in three months. When he moved to Northeast Missouri, his career took root. Sanders' with friendly interactions and positive attitudes. “I never made anyone sign a contract. The mutual understanding is great,” he said.
Dedication defined: Sanders and his colleagues work year-round, including on weekends. He recalled working 60 days in a row one summer. He said the crew is usually on call for residential customers who have events including baby showers, parties, and grand openings, prompting a fill-in window washing. On one occasion, his crew performed a grand opening when it was eight degrees outside. "you can't stop working in the winter, because they don't stop sending you bills in the winter," he said.
During a few deft strokes with the cleaner-soaked fleece and the squeegee, Sanders showed how effortlessly he parlayed his craft, using his 6-foot-7-inch frame and his with 30-inch to 36-inch tools. He reached about 10 feet up the glass with each expertly-placed stroke. He said being fast and efficient, coupled with great results, has helped him keep his price steady. Occasionally, he jokes with an employee inside a business while he cleans. When they pull out a stool or ladder to reach an item on the top shelf, he lets out a good-natured, “You need help with that?”
A local ambassador: When Sanders and fellow crew members wash the storefront windows on Main Street in Hannibal, passersby often hear blues music wafting from the nearby minivan. Sanders said he enjoys helping visitors find places to eat and things to do whenever he can. When he hears someone speaking with an accent, he asks them where they visited from and swaps stories. And if he hears a visitor speaking in German, he greets them in the same language.
In a career spanning over two decades, Sanders said he strove “to be a positive force in my world.” As the crew members courteously interact with others, Sanders said they served as ambassadors for the businesses they worked with and the historic downtown district they strove to keep beautiful.
Conversations, bartering and memories: John's Window Washing takes on jobs of all sizes in Hannibal, Palmyra and Quincy. From a two-window, $5 cleaning job to the much-appreciated, expansive jobs at the Hannibal Regional Medical Group and Hannibal Clinic — no two tasks are the same.
Working in communities where he knows so many people, Sanders has bartered his work for items ranging from pottery to t-shirts and repair jobs. He smiled warmly when he recalled the little things customers gave him over the years — an unexpected tip, Christmas cards for his children. “People have been tremendously kind to me and my kids,” Sanders said.
The view ahead: Sanders said business has increased regularly, even with a changing business atmosphere reflecting more corporate control. He said the days have changed from when he would walk into each business to talk with the manager or employee before receiving payment. Now, some corporations require Sanders to fill out a bill and fax it, removing those personal interactions he loves.
But some of Sanders' jobs still remind him of that bygone era. Specifically, the “mom and pop shops” and Crescent Jewelry stick out in his mind. Sanders can count on a warm conversation with Bobby Heiser when he comes in to pick up payment for his work, a payment which has been the same amount for 20 years.
Those sorts of relationships trump money for Sanders. “I never did this to get rich. I've been down and out where I had nothing,” he said. “I feel rich. This job gives me some flexibility to spend time and vacations with my kids, and my three girls are the focal point of my life. it also gives me the opportunity to interact with all walks of life, and I think that's the best education in life.”