Cleaning companies remain operational, adapting to what may be industry’s new norm
FARGO — Cleaning businesses are no longer just making homes pretty — they're keeping spaces safe in the age of COVID-19.
Disinfecting and sterilizing has become a science for Jeffrey Skinner and Jim Tinney, owners of Home Helper Services in Fargo.
“We’ve been getting a biology and science degree the last couple months,” Tinney joked.
Coronavirus has put cleanliness and sanitation at the forefront of people’s minds. Tinney and Skinner think this shift may elevate the industry’s perception as a whole.
“After this, I think the cleaning industry will have more respect given to it,” Skinner said. “Honestly, it’s not a very respected industry. It’s, ‘You’re just a maid.’ We consider it an art form that people can clean, because not everybody can do it.”
Home Helper Services, which offers residential and commercial cleaning, is still open, pivoting each day to come up with innovative ways to keep the lights on, Tinney said, which has included educating their staff to understand the true depth of disinfecting.
Employees aren’t allowed to work if they’re feeling ill, and only one cleaner — who is wearing a mask — is allowed per house. Once they’ve arrived at a house, shoes are left outside, and they wash their hands and glove up; the same process when they leave. Clients are also asked to notify if they’re feeling sick.
In between each home, all equipment — including the handles and bottoms of the vacuums — is sprayed and wiped down.
“These changes are probably going to be what the industry requires of all the cleaners going forward after this,” Tinney said. “This would be like our 9/11 point for this industry.”
The business has been down about 25% of clients, but the financial blow hasn’t put a dent in morale.
“They’re OK with it. They want to help,” Skinner said of his employees coming into contact with clients. “They want to be first responders, which we are considered.”
Closing hasn’t ever crossed the mind of Christa Hummel, owner of Cloud 9 Cleaning in Fargo. Business has slowly tapered for residential cleanings during a time that normally would’ve been busy with move-outs.
On the residential side, a lot of customers have changed their minds about wanting cleaning services. Cloud 9 is short at least 10 to 15 houses a day. Construction cleaning has also slowed down, but commercial has picked up, though it’s still pretty slow, Hummel said.
Hummel’s employees also take additional steps to protect themselves and the clients when entering a space.
“We’re going through gloves like crazy,” Hummel said. “Typically we would use them during bathroom cleanings and that sort of thing, now we’re using them 24/7.”
Every employee wears a mask and washes their hands upon entering and before they leave, as well as wiping down their equipment with Clorox wipes before loading it into the car. Hummel went out and bought bottles of Mary Kay’s Satin Hands hand cream for her employees’ cracked and dry hands.
“We're going to keep our doors open, though. I’m quite positive about that,” she said. “I’ve been doing this too long and have worked too hard. We’re gonna fight through this.”
Hummel's employees are receiving hazard pay due to COVID-19. When places begin to reopen, Hummel thinks there will be a boom in business.
“We do cleanings in retirement communities, where they’ve completely shut us down,” she said. “That’s 50-plus customers that haven’t had cleaning in two months.”
Precision Cleaning in Fargo specializes in restaurants and bars, which make up about 65 to 70% of its business, which also won’t have had cleaning services for some time. When these businesses first closed, Melissa Babcock, who owns Precision with her husband, debated shutting their doors.
“We kind of thought we would lose all of (the accounts), that everybody would want to just shut it down,” she said. “But some of the accounts have to stay open. Knowing they were still there, we couldn’t abandon them knowing they needed services, probably now more than ever. So that quickly went out the door.”
Precision is still operating, but in very low capacity, with most revenue coming from commercial cleaning. The business also does carpet cleaning, which picked up significantly this week as people are preparing to move out at the end of the month.
Still, Precision has had to lay off a majority of its staff.
“I have two people that are working part time doing what we have left,” she said. “It’s been a very crazy situation.”
When the employees go into commercial spaces, their cleaning regimen consists of all areas people are touching routinely, like door frames, phones, keypads and edges of desks.
All the Precision cleaners wear masks and gloves, too. Most people weren’t requesting the intense touchpoint cleaning pre-coronavirus, but Babcock thinks these services will become the new norm.
“I don't think people are going to go back. I think the situation has obviously made people think about the spread of germs and how easy it is,” she said.