Bri Dinan became a warrior for the green cause when she was studying for her English degree at the University of Delaware. When she discovered that the university was trying to build a natural gas power plant on campus and that they had already signed a billion dollar contract with a 75-year lease, she, along with many students and community members, spearheaded a protest campaign around campus. They recognized that the power plant would have been terrible for the air quality of residents of the town and future students at the university, so they orchestrated public protests, notified the TV news, and garnered thousands of petition signatures. “We made a real PR mess for them,” Bri said. The group was successful, and the university backed out of the deal. “Everyone told us we couldn’t do it, but we totally did. That’s when I knew that I wanted to keep fighting for a more sustainable future.”
Believing in the power of green
After graduating and moving to Philadelphia, Bri became active in environmental journalism, attended anti-fracking protests, and had been researching the impact of chemicals on the environment. It’s no surprise that less than a year later, she would launch her own eco-friendly business, Philly Maid Green. “I knew that the best way to make the world sustainable was through business—you set an example, employ people, and have a positive impact,” she said. Philly Maid Green has been active for just over a year now, with a team of five cleaners and with a roster of seventy regular clients.
$10 at the Dollar store
At first it wasn’t clear what business she was going to launch. After graduation, she moved to Philadelphia to find job opportunities but found herself hustling for work and barely scraping by with tutoring and freelance writing gigs. When this work dried up and she wasn’t sure where her next meal was coming from, she went with her stomach rumbling to the dollar store to spend her last $10 on materials to make cleaning supplies with–vinegar, baking soda, and spray bottles—and started cleaning houses. At that point, something clicked. “I had learned all this stuff about chemicals when I was working as an environmental journalist, how they make you sick. I was surprised that no one knew this. With cleaning, it’s great to be able to show people how easy it is to become green and sustainable. Learning to be green starts in the home,” said Bri.
Greening the community
Even in those early days of building up a client-base of customers whose houses she cleaned, Bri had a vision for the future. “I created Philly Maid Green as a way to make Philly more green,” she said. In addition to creating her own eco-friendly cleaning products, she also leads educational DIY workshops to teach people about the dangers of the chemicals that exist in conventional cleaning products and show people how to make their own. She also organizes community cleanups where the group attacks the trash at a local park. “I wanted to incorporate education, advocacy, and affordable yet high quality cleaning service to make this city more sustainable.”
The educational component is what Bri likes best about the job. “I love seeing the progress made in making people understand. I just posted on Instagram about Obama signing the update to the Toxic Substances Act, and got so many likes, I couldn’t believe people cared.” She does education around the clock, even at friends and family’s houses. “I’ll see that they have Comet under the sink and let them know that it contains known carcinogens and that we have something better they can use. People are shocked. I learned that the air in your house is 500 times more polluted than the outside of your house due to chemicals in everyday products like cleaners. It blew my mind. It causes asthma, allergies, developmental problems, and learning disabilities.”
Running a cleaning company by public bus
Philly Maid Green’s commitment to the environment extends to their mode of transport as well. “Since we’re green, we use public transportation most of the time. I’ve never had a car, so I was taking buses and carrying vacuums on buses from one end of the city to the other all last summer, for nine hours a day. I’m not going to not hire someone just because they don’t have a car. We give the team portable vacuums to make it a bit easier on them.”
Finding and retaining reliable help
Like many other cleaning services I’ve spoken with, hiring and retaining employees remains the biggest challenge. Also like several companies, she has found success in hiring people close to her, like her boyfriend Casey, who researches and develops their line of organic cleaning products and helps clean. Bri considers herself fortunate to have a partner that understands the pressures of running a business and her nonstop 24/7 schedule.
She got a double whammy recently when, on the day of a surgery scheduled for Casey that would put him out of service for a few weeks, she got a call from one of her cleaners who had to quit that day due to a family issue. Suddenly she was down two full time team members and needed to quickly backfill. She has not yet found the magic answer for finding and keeping people, but wants to pay her team as fairly as possible. “It’s hard work and I want them to feel appreciated. We’re trying to formulate benefits, like, go six weeks without a complaint and get paid for six extra hours, or refer a cleaner who stays eight weeks and you get a cash bonus. I’m still figuring it out.”
Hoarders TV show
A few months after launching the business, she got a call from the Hoarders TV show requesting her help cleaning up a house they were filming in West Philadelphia. She wasn’t sure what to expect. “I kept calling the producers and asking questions, like ‘Am I going to need a power hose or a body suit?’ They said no, there were no animals. It ended up just being an arts and crafts hoarder, which is my type of hoarder,” Bri laughed. “We got there and the house was mostly empty by that time, so we cleaned around them and followed behind as they tried to declutter more stuff. Our job was to make it spotless for the big reveal.” Philly Maid Green has “about a millisecond” on camera if you catch that episode.
The Hoarders gig wasn’t her most memorable cleaning experience—that came a few weeks ago when she and a few trainees showed up on a boiling hot summer day to clean a client’s home that had no electricity. “I had just sent an email to clients asking them to leave their A/C on because it’s going to be really hot while we’re cleaning. But we get there and there’s no electricity, no A/C. They had just moved in that day and didn’t realize that the power was off. It was super hot—it felt like 115 degrees. So I took the top floor, the attic, so that the other cleaners were more comfortable down below with windows open and a bit of shade…. I like cleaning, it’s therapeutic to me. And it’s like a steam sauna when you’re doing it in 115 degree heat.”
Entrepreneur freedom and energy
Bri always knew she wanted to work for herself and not other people. During college she got a job working from home and she was hooked. “I’m never NOT working from home ever again,” she said. Since there aren’t a lot of jobs that allow you that freedom, she started her own company.
When she was just getting started, she went to as many community and neighborhood meetings as possible, introducing herself and her company at events around the city. She highly recommends this strategy for people just starting out. “Be confident, go to a lot of networking events, and give out your card. Start by meeting people face-to-face.”
Bri finds inspiration from other female entrepreneurs. Her partner, Casey, took her to try out for Shark Tank, where she started learning about Barbara Corcoran, the real estate investor. “Women in business are the future. Women are creating more businesses and more jobs for other women, other mothers, other community members,” said Bri. They learned a lot from the Shark Tank experience and got to practice the business pitch while learning quite a bit about the cleaning business and how green cleaning is continuing to grow year over year.
To take advantage of an eco-friendly cleaning service in the Philadelphia area, book a clean with Philly Maid Green.