After forty years of cold weather and long winters, Brenda Harrington traded her nurse’s uniform in Alaska for a cleaning service smock in South Carolina. “I was ready for warm weather and just burned out on nursing,” Brenda said recently when I caught up with her while she was driving home from a long day spent deep cleaning a client’s house.
She’s been busy building up her cleaning business, House of Roses Housekeeping, over the last three years while adjusting to life in the Lower 48. “I used to spend all of my time in the summer fishing. I’m a real outdoors person,” Brenda said. She remains committed to having a work/life balance by only working weekends during the winter.
The high quality of her service has netted awards that she’s rightfully proud of, including an award for being the top house cleaner in Charleston and a local small business award. This recognition of her performance has begun to generate more recurring cleaning appointments from her clientele, which she is pleased to see.
Her training as a nurse also comes in handy while providing cleaning services. “I like to help people out when they need it. One of my clients is a disabled lady with three children and has had several back surgeries. I have to get on her to stop and take it easy.”
She transports her entire suite of cleaning equipment in her red and black 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible as she goes from job to job. “I can fit two dead bodies in the back of my trunk,” Brenda joked, “And I can fit the vacuum in there, too.” As she spoke to me, she dropped off her business partner and best friend, Tammy Boyd, telling her she’d see her bright and early tomorrow morning.
Brenda and Tammy met at a neighborhood bar and immediately bonded over watching funny cat videos. “She’s a cat lady with seven cats, and I’m a dog lady. Everybody thinks we’re sisters,” said Brenda. After being burned by hiring a dishonest worker to help her, Brenda was thrilled to have Tammy join the business. “You’ve got to be real particular with who you bring with you on a job. I lost a good client with my first worker who took some jewelry. Make sure you trust the person you’re bringing with you.”
She’s personable and likes to be friends with her clients, even describing herself and Tammy as “huggy-type people,” sometimes to her detriment. They cleaned one client’s house a few times then gave him a hug while leaving instead of a handshake—she hasn’t heard from him since. “I think it was the hug,” Brenda chuckled.
Pet wranglers + house cleaners = Houses of Roses
The duo frequently find themselves wrangling pets at clients’ homes and have several tales of dogs gone wild. After one client’s skittish dog, Dakota, was let outside to relieve herself, Brenda spent over 45 minutes chasing her around the backyard to try to get her back in the house. “I had to go into the refrigerator and bribe her to get her into the house. Now I bring dog treats every time I go to a cleaning with a dog. The dogs trust us, and we give them love.” Another dog, Marshmallow, skidded out into a backyard pool and had to be rescued by the team.
Corralling pets isn’t the only thing that can go wrong on the job; Brenda inadvertently made a pregnant client cry when she told her that the job was going to take a little longer than she thought because the house was so dirty. Another client’s husband invited them to go skinny-dipping in his pool and flirted with the team while his wife was standing right there.
Hooked on five-star reviews
Brenda’s greatest satisfaction is in getting positive feedback from clients. “I like it when people are happy with us, when someone can come into their house and say ‘Wow!’ When Tammy got her first five-star review, she was hooked. Before that, she hated [the job] but now she’s hooked. It’s wonderful that you put hard work into a job and that it’s appreciated.”
Pricing strategy and growing the business
Brenda made the common mistake of pricing her services too low when she first started, but got some advice from a friend in Alaska and brought her prices up to market pricing.
Her focus is to build out the client base before she hires more people to help her, but her end goal is to manage a bustling crew of high quality cleaning professionals. “I will put Merry Maids out of business here in Charleston,” she said firmly. “ My employees will have us coming behind them to ensure that things are done the right way. Otherwise your business will not grow.”
Housekeeping tip: make it smell good
With a business name like House of Roses Housekeeping, the question of scent is bound to come up. Brenda mentioned a few products that she relies on to make houses smell clean, including Mr. Clean with Gain, lavender air freshener from Renuzit, and spraying a room with Moonlight Breeze by Febreze when she’s finished cleaning. She does recommend asking clients if they have any sensitivity to scents, bleach, or cleaning products before dousing their homes with smells.
Why hire a cleaning company?
Like other cleaning services we’ve interviewed, Brenda notes that people seem overwhelmed with their daily routine and are working long hours. “They don’t have time to clean, and if their kids are in school, they want to spend time with them on the weekend. Housekeeping service is perfect for people who are busy, overwhelmed, and who let things go but need a little help. Especially people with kids.”