Written by Janet Davies
Lyndsay Richmond and Erin Richmond-Jones are sisters – busy sisters. Erin runs a landscaping company with her husband. Terra Vista has been 20 years in The County and is going strong, and Lyndsay is Manager of the Picton BIA (business improvement association.) She’s currently on maternity leave, but you can’t make a go-getter sit still, so, rather than taking it easy, Lindsay is launching a new business to service the vacation rental industry. “I’m hands-on involved in my own business,” says Erin. “But I’m lending my administrative skills to this start-up with Lindsay.” The new company is called County Cleaners Inc.
The game plan is to create a top-notch cleaning business, hire quality staff and train and encourage them to more or less run it themselves. Lyndsay and Erin aim to fill a need in the market, create local employment and satisfy their own ebullient entrepreneurial urges. “My husband and I operate a couple of vacation houses, one for five years, one we acquired last year,” says Erin. “We know first hand the need for professional cleaning services. Lindsay and I know the quality that’s needed, we know how to manage people and, with our networking abilities, we knew we could build a business. Hopefully the staff will run it themselves and we’ll help them ensure quality, professionalism and great customer service. We’re both real Type A’s,” she laughs. “We have to have things done properly and professionally, and I know that’s what customers want from the cleaning business, too.”
“We knew people were having trouble finding reliable cleaning services,” says Lyndsay and adds somewhat ruefully, “Even getting people to just show up. In rental properties, especially, you really need someone there to do the turn around, if the owners don’t live close by or they can’t just run over if the cleaner doesn’t turn up. When you have paying guests you have a real timeline.” Erin carries on. “Economic growth in The County is very tied to tourism so we have to meet the needs of that industry, and one of the big needs is service. Our landscaping business is seeing an explosion of demand locally and for the holiday rental business, too. If visitors get to their destination and find it’s totally not what they expected, not cleaned, kind of messy, not looked after, that’s bad for business in The County.
“We are thoroughly training our staff, in fact our lead cleaners already have years of experience, many in the hotel business, so they work to that kind of hotel standard in both residential and vacation properties. It’s what we looked for when we hired, and it’s what we look for when we go in after them to check, in these early days. We’re getting feedback from the customers that tells us it’s working. We hired well.” What are hotel standards? Erin explains, “Depends on the client’s needs. If it’s a residential property they might want to stick to a budget and have just three hours, so the focus would be on floors, kitchen and bathrooms. For turnover at a rental property EVERYTHING has to be spotless. No fingerprints on the windowsill, no dust in the corners. If you’re changing linens, they’re done in a certain way. We bought high-end professional steamers so any bacteria is gone from floors and sinks. There is a turndown service on the beds with the linens. That’s what we call hotel standard.”
“We did a first come first served launch of the business, and we found we were almost at capacity after just five days!” Lindsay says, still shaking her head in surprise. “We will only take on as many clients as we can handle well. We want to be very professional, very reliable, so we’re taking a slow growth approach. Clients are emailing us their schedules. As early as May many clients already had their bookings for the season and could give us dates. We committed to others who will be giving us dates as soon as they’re confirmed so we can put them in our calendar. But even just knowing they do changeovers every Friday we can block time off for clients and they will give us 72 hours notice to confirm. We use an online calendar system that our cleaners and we can tap into. We can all go online and see where there are overlaps and make sure we are prepared for that.”
“We have hired good people so far. We’re very satisfied,” Erin says with a nod. “We didn’t know how quickly our calendar would fill up, so we hired two full-time and two part-time to start off. Then we reached our capacity, and of course their capacity, so we actually went back and contacted some people who applied initially for the jobs and asked if they were interested in part time so we can have some extra help. We want to make sure we have that in place before we take on any more properties. We could easily have 10 or 12 properties to clean on a Friday or Saturday, but only if we have enough staff. Changeover dates are the crucial thing, pretty much all vacation rentals have the same changeover days.”
As the sisters are not the cleaners, what do they envision for the future of County Cleaners Inc.? “It’s going to be really important to have a supervisor, someone in a managerial role,” Erin offers. “We are both busy elsewhere and you have to be able to hand over to someone. We were eager to get County Cleaners Inc., launched to provide employment opportunities for cleaning staff but also for someone who can be a hands-on manager. Right now we have a good person who is our supervisor, she cleans too, but eventually we see her doing the client meetings and really managing the operation. It’s important that someone is onsite taking personal responsibility for the service. Quality control is crucial.” Lindsay continues, “We are both already busy, and we weren’t actively looking for more full-time jobs!” she laughs. “But we really did see a need for this kind of service. And we really do want to build a strong operation and solid employment for people who need extra cash.”
Erin breaks in with a quick pitch to the public. “Anyone who is interested in joining us for working Thursday to Sunday positions is really welcome to get in touch! Those are the days we really need, and that’s what the whole vacation rental community is going to need more and more. It’s a changing time in The County. Servicing holiday accommodation is a growing industry. Some people say it’s not exactly skilled labour, but that’s not true. You have to know what you’re doing or be willing to be trained. You have to have pride in your work. We are choosing people carefully because we’re building our reputation, and it’s actually not that easy. Finding good people is an issue with all the trades in The County right now because demand for services and for tradespeople is very high. That’s a good thing but it’s a real challenge too. We’re excited to be doing something like this. And seriously, if you’re interested, give us a call!
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.