Terri Stewart has been cleaning homes for over thirty years and has seen a lot change over that time period. After decades of working as an independent cleaner, she started her company, The Domestic Engineer, in 2011, partly in response to those changes. “Cleaning is a luxury service,” she said. With her licensed company, she is able to take her business up a notch from independent cleaning by providing insurance and bonding which relieves her clients from any worry should any accident happen while on the job. “There are lots of people who call themselves cleaners, but are they insured?” Terri asked.
Besides insurance, she makes sure her staff is properly background checked and references screened. “I’ve heard a lot of people mentioning reasons why they’ve left their previous cleaner—prescription meds taken, or money taken, or dumb, frivolous things. One lady told me her previous housekeeper stole her mascara.”
Terri learned how critical it is to fully investigate potential employees. “Their resume might look good, but it’s just like Facebook where you can be anybody that you want to be. I realized how important it was to check references and do drug testing and background checks.”
Once her cleaning crew gets through Terri’s vetting process, she makes sure they look professional, too. “We don’t just pop the trunk open and get to work. My girls don’t crawl out with bed-head and wear any crappy t-shirt. We’ve got uniforms and company vehicles.”
Serving a resort community in the middle of 50 different lakes of southern Michigan, Terri’s team flexes up from 6 people to 15 people depending on the time of year. Most of her clients are what she calls “lakers” — people who live somewhere without water, so they purchase homes on the lake. The homes used to be small cottages without running water or electricity, but wealthy folks have built their cottages into three-story mansions that they still insist on calling a cottage.
Terri has been able to completely leave the field and works solely on growing the business. Terri is helped by her best friend, Susan, who has worked with her for the past four years as the general manager. “She is amazing. I could not do this without her, not one day, which is why she never gets a vacation, poor girl!” Unlike most cleaning business owners, Terri is firm about staying out of the field, even in the case of an emergency. “I don’t have it in me to do it. It’s a laborious job, and I did it for years.”
A lot of the success in staying out of the field comes from hiring a solid team. Terri prefers to hire from referrals of people on her staff, providing bonuses to those hires that work out. “I do lots of cool stuff, like contests and gift cards. I think I’m a pretty good person to work for. I wish I had worked for someone like me twenty years ago!” One group that she’s noticed a lack of work ethic from is in younger workers. “They’ll say ‘oh, I sneezed three times this morning, so I can’t come in’ or wait until Monday morning to tell me their kid has been sick all weekend.”
“I give back to the community every chance I get.”
They’ve been a part of Cleaning for a Reason for many years now and love helping women who are undergoing cancer treatments by providing free house cleaning. “It allows us the opportunity to make them feel a little bit better, to show them that someone cares, that we understand and want to help them. Sometimes it can be as minor as folding their laundry, or just sitting and chatting. That’s what they really want.” Terri helped one woman through her treatment whose husband shaved his head in solidarity with his wife losing her locks. It appeared that the woman had completely recovered, and Terri continued cleaning for the couple with the Domestic Engineer. Then, just recently, she got a call that the woman had passed away. “It’s heartbreaking because I got to know her personally.”
Besides providing cleaning services for local women who are battling cancer, Terri is quick to give to other community needs. “I’m always buying t-shirts to sponsor this or that team. I’m currently sponsoring a girls’ volleyball team and a boys’ baseball team. I give back to the community every chance I get.”
”It’s challenging, amusing, gratifying, horrifying, and everything else all rolled into one.”
Like many business owners, Terri is addicted to the excitement and challenges of running her own company. “I like everything to be different every day, not to be monotonous. It’s challenging, amusing, gratifying, horrifying, and everything else all rolled into one.” She also finds it gratifying to be able to help people by giving them time back to spend with their family.
For fun, she hops on her Harley-Davidson Road Glide and hits the road with her husband. “It’s a great big Harley. I’m barely 5’ tall and when I’m out cruising down the road, people find it funny…. I love riding. My first love is the Domestic Engineer, but my second love is riding.”
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