Neil Mellors was originally an accountant who decided to go into business for himself almost a decade ago by starting a commercial cleaning business in Edmonton, Alberta. His company, Barmel Building Maintenance Ltd., focuses mainly on commercial properties like offices, warehouses, and post-construction cleanups, but he’ll occasionally do a house cleaning.
Besides handling commercial work in the Edmonton area, he has a crew that manages buildings in Red Deer, Alberta, an hour and a half away. “I have two employees that look after things down there,” Neil said.
Family help is crucial
For the most part, Neil finds himself involved in helping with the cleaning, although he says he is working hard to remove himself from the day-to-day operations of the business. Things have been so busy lately that he’s found additional help at home. “One of my daughters, Olivia, is still in grade school but she likes to help out sometimes to earn a bit of extra money. And my wife, Carole, is going to help me a little bit as well. She’s a teacher and she’s pretty busy but is willing to help out,” said Neil.
This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada, so Neil took the weekend off to spend time with his family, a rare weekend away from work. “I don’t normally take any time off,” he said. That meant that Monday was nearly 24 hours of back-to-back work to catch up on the cleaning that had been skipped over the weekend.
This hectic work schedule must be why Neil suggested that the number one thing that anyone thinking of starting their own cleaning business needed was having the support of your family. “You’ve got to have your family on board, particularly your spouse, because it’s a challenge. It can be hard on the family, hard on relationships and finances. Getting things off the ground is not an easy thing. You have to have your whole family on board. It’s not like a job, it affects your whole way of life,” Neil said.
Creating a legacy
Neil was definitely thinking of his family when he decided to start his own business.
“My wife and I adopted two girls from China, Olivia and Zoe, which is part of why I wanted to go into business. I wanted to create a legacy, something to pass on to my kids beyond just a bit of inheritance. Hopefully by the time they’re ready to take over this can provide them with extra income in their adulthood,” he said.
Transition to business owner
As far as the transition from his desk job as an accountant to being a small business owner, Neil found wearing so many hats to be the most difficult part. “During the course of the day, you can be the president of the company and also a cleaner in the company, instead of just sitting at my desk focused on one thing, crunching numbers. It was a big transition for me, that’s where the real challenge was. Over the years I’ve grown to be proficient at it,” said Neil. “Now it’s a day filled with bookkeeping, looking up insurance rates, hiring or firing employees, trying to get clients, making sales pitches, a whole range of things. I’ve come to really enjoy this. I couldn’t go back to having a desk job and sitting there doing one thing all day. I really enjoy the challenge of what I’m doing.”
When he was first getting going, he picked up a small law firm as a client, and they remain a loyal customer many years later. “I didn’t know much about the level of cleanliness a professional office would expect. For the first six months we went back and forth a lot, me trying to meet their expectations and learn exactly what they wanted. If there’s a problem, they let me know, so it’s worked out really well.”
Don’t put metal in the microwave!
Sometimes, the unexpected will happen. Neil had a worker who was complaining that he got hungry working the long hours cleaning at night, so Neil suggested bringing something to pop into the client’s microwave to tide him over. The next night, the cleaner brought a cup of noodles container that had a metal twist tie on top that he put into the microwave, turned on and walked away. The next thing Neil knew, the microwave was on fire. “The place was a document storage company with hundreds of thousands of documents lying around. If the sprinkler went off we’d be in big trouble. I ended up really having to scrub out the microwave, and he didn’t get to eat his noodles,” Neil laughed.
Neil also has been able to help out those in the community who needed a hand to pull them out of a tough spot. One of his workers, Mike, has been working for Neil for over three years, but when Neil first met him he was homeless. “He somehow got my business card and gave me call, saying, ‘My name is Mike and I need a job.’ He gave me a sales pitch about himself and told me where he was staying. I thought, this guy seems ok, and decided to take a risk. I went downtown and picked him up so I could try him out cleaning for a couple of nights. He’s now been with me over three years and is living on his own, renting an apartment in the suburbs. He was down on his luck, had lost his job and his family, his life had really snowballed, but now he’s back and rebuilding his life,” said Neil. Thanks to community-oriented small businesses like Neil’s, that’s one person who has been given a second lease on life.
How does Neil feel about the business today? “It’s hard work, but it’s slowly coming together.” To book a high-quality cleaning for your commercial property in Edmonton or Red Deer, Alberta, give Barmel Building Maintenance a shot.