|Phil Prado, who owns a one-person window-washing service business, said he likes working outside because he gets to talk with clients and people on the street. Click to enlarge.
A Window-Washing Service on Two Wheels: “Dirty windows are bad for business,” said Phil Prado, 50, giving the rationale for his own business: a one-man, two-wheeled window-washing service that has him pedaling around downtown and Midtown Manhattan.
Mr. Prado uses a bicycle because his customers are often only a few blocks apart in areas where the traffic is as bad as the parking. Because he lives on Staten Island near the ferry terminal, he said, it’s a snap to bring the bike over three mornings a week — he typically works only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
He is a familiar sight on the street as he rides with a five-gallon bucket of soapy water hanging from his handlebars and an extendable pole under his seat, tied to the crossbar with his chamois window rag. “I like what I do because I have no boss, I’m working outside and I get to conversate with clients and everyone on the street,” Mr. Prado said as he pedaled along Hudson Street one recent weekday, wearing a blue windbreaker bearing his company name, Squeaky Clean Windows Inc., and his cellphone number.
He stopped at Puffy’s Tavern, extended the pole all 18 feet and affixed the spongelike wand soaked with soapy water. Pointing to some smudges on the windows, he said, “Wherever you have sports on TV, you have people leaning up against the glass outside to watch — that’s why sports bars have the dirtiest windows.” After whisking the windows into a lather, he replaced the wand with a 30-inch-wide squeegee and wiped it all dry and clean. “Here’s my overhead, right here,” Mr. Prado said, gripping a bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid he squirts into the water.
His competitors tend to stay home in the winter, he said, leaving windows to cloud up with dust from the rock salt. “So the winter is when I pick up the bulk of my customers,” said Mr. Prado, who uses waterproof, insulated rubber gloves, and sometimes wears a battery-powered heated jumpsuit under “up to 10 layers” of clothing, which he peels off as he and the day warm up. “The other window-washers get cold because they don’t understand layering,” said Mr. Prado, who was born in New Jersey and began washing windows in Manhattan at age 17, first at the Waldorf-Astoria and then for a business in Brooklyn. He is unmarried but has a girlfriend.
After holding several other jobs, he started his own route on Staten Island 14 years ago, then moved into Manhattan nine years ago to make more money. Mr. Prado said he can handle up to 50 storefronts a day. He cleans each customer’s windows weekly, and charges a monthly fee, starting at $40 for the smallest stores. On Tuesdays, his route takes him from Water Street up to Canal Street. Wednesdays, he roams up to Union Square, hitting SoHo and Greenwich Village. Thursdays, he hits larger storefronts all the way up to West 54th Street to serve the Maserati dealership there.
At night, he lies on a heating pad to soothe his back. His health regimen includes tea with honey, vitamins and an early bedtime. “I haven’t missed a week in 10 years,” he said. “I can’t afford to get sick and leave my windows dirty so Joe Schmo can come in and take my clients.”
While taking care of some high-end shops on Spring Street in SoHo, Mr. Prado said he serviced well over 100 storefronts, but always carries a pile of business cards to attract new customers. “If I see dirty windows, I’m going in with a card and a price,” he said. On West Broadway, he walked past the MaxStudio clothing store and saw streaks on the windows. “Oh, what a shame, I can’t even walk past this place,” he said, and he strode inside. The woman behind the counter said the shop had a window-washer. “If your guy has your windows looking like that, he’s not showing up every week,” Mr. Prado said. He offered her “the best price in New York” and his “first month free” offer.
Jousting for customers can get fierce, he said, like the time when he was in a shop wooing the owner and the washer who held the account showed up. “He threw my tools in the street,” Mr. Prado said. “But I got the client.” Window-washers see a lot through the windows they clean, he said, but “we also see behind us, in the reflection.” Which is why he never needs to lock his bicycle. “Even when my back is turned, I’m watching it all the time,” he said. “Now you know all my secrets.”
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