Should you offer apartment cleaning services?


There is more to starting up an apartment cleaning service than meets the eye. Cleaning apartments for a living may sound like a clever idea, since they are compact and located in large clusters.


I have helped thousands of people start cleaning businesses.


Periodically someone has the notion to specialize in apartment cleaning only. The rationale behind their thinking goes as follows.


  • I can get a dozen or more clients in one building. That would be more efficient in both marketing and logistics.


  • Cleaning apartments would be fast and simple. I could complete more jobs in one day.


  • Word of mouth would spread quickly throughout the building or complex. All I have to do is get one job to start.


I operated a professional cleaning service for ten years, and experimented with cleaning apartments. I did move-ins/move-outs, building maintenance, created special package-deals, special rates for tenants, you name it. However, I always reached the same conclusion. Apartment cleaning does not pay well enough, so you end up having to solicit more jobs. In the end, it was always just too difficult to find enough jobs to make it worth the effort. Residential and office cleaning just paid better.


Consider these not-so-obvious elements before you decide to pursue the specialized field of apartment cleaning. What are some of the obstacles?


Scale

My thinking was along the same lines as mentioned above. I thought, “I will have access to dozens, even hundreds, of clients in one place.” In reality, it was often impossible even to get my foot in the door. How do you gain access into a high-security building just to land the truly well paying jobs? I would spend hours trying to just get in to the buildings with no luck.


Eventually I realized that this was a bad way to spend my start-up phase. I felt frustrated and dejected, and all the initial fervor about being my own boss was starting to fizzle. In the amount of time I spent trying to access the apartment-building customers, I could have secured three to five house-cleaning jobs just by flyering a suburban neighborhood. I could have actually been enjoying myself, strolling and chatting with people, as opposed to being viewed as a intruder.


Retention

For every successful apartment account that stabilized into a steady cleaning job (many of the apartment jobs simply were one-offs) I could easily have landed three to five houses in suburbia that would have lasted for months, and very likely, for many years.




Apartments and Condos

In Manhattan, what is called an apartment is often the equivalent to a well-appointed mansion in the rest of the US. In this situation, which is a special sort of urban center, the rationale to clean apartments does work better, but still you will have to overcome some very entrenched obstacles. For one thing, just try to get into the building!


Apartments and condominiums are fairly equal in value to a professional cleaner. Condos are generally owned, whereas apartments are generally rented or leased. But what does it matter to an independent cleaning service operator if the customer owns their place or not? It doesn't.


The point about condos is that they are usually too small, and condo owners tend to be big bargain hunters. Even when I found condo owners who would pay me what my time was worth, it was more expedient for me to schedule one three-hour job in that time slot, and earn $150, than it would have been to schedule two condos that paid $60 each.


Eventually, I had a $75 minimum, and guess what? All the apartment and condo jobs dissipated. This was in Boulder, a town where the median house value was $650,000.


Word will spread quickly

If you do take the lesser paying jobs, word will quickly spread around the building or town and you will soon have a number of poorly paying cleaning jobs that you will resent. Structurally, this could be very bad for your business. You need to recognize that you can actually get what you want, within reason. It is very possible to methodically cultivate the right client relationships to stabilize your cleaning service. This is something I learned by doing the wrong way for the first year. Now I know better.



Apartment culture

I have lived in apartment buildings at various times throughout the years, and have observed firsthand the apartment-dwelling culture. In the English speaking world, it's a sure bet that the majority of apartment dwellers will be bargain hunters and thrift shoppers. These are not the people who will decide to pay their cleaning person a living wage. What's more, these folks will not feel any devotion to keep a good cleaner, either, especially when their next-door neighbor offers to pop in and clean for a song at their convenience. This bargain-hunting mentality simply happens to belong to most people who gravitate toward that type of housing system. This is not good or bad, it is simply that I want you to be informed about what is, or is not a good functional fit when deciding on your cleaning service objectives.


I have noticed that in every apartment building in which I have lived, there is one person who cleans frequently in the building, and guess what? That person lives there. If you do not live in the building, chance are that you will lose the job to the person who does. This simply does not happen very often in suburban neighborhoods where there are separate residences. Most of your clients do not care where you live, only that you are reliable and dependable. People in the suburbs tend to be much more autonomous about the service people they hire.


Get informed

In my opinion, if you want to make a good living as a professional cleaner, forego apartment buildings and condos. Just train your focus on large homes in wealthy neighborhoods, where the owners have no interest in doing their own cleaning, and where you will be valued for doing a good job and building a solid reputation as well as a longterm relationship. There are ways to find those clients and to optimize your exposure to them. Making assumptions about any course of action is a good way to kill your business. Instead, make the effort to get an educated and informed opinion through a mentor. 

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