When Mike Salas, owner of Dirt Busters in Orange County, California, heard about the flooding in Louisiana in August 2016, he knew he had to do something to help. He started researching and asked his crew if they wanted to contribute. Once they started asking for donations, they had $8,000 in cash within a week and were overwhelmed by the food and clothing items others brought by. They had originally planned to ship everything east, but one of his crew had the brilliant idea that they make a road trip and deliver it in person. Mike also spoke with a pastor who suggested that what people really needed was labor—people to remove the soggy carpets and to pull everything out of the house down to the studs of the walls. An idea began to hatch, and Mike asked if anyone wanted to join him on this mission.
“We drove out there, it took us two and a half days to get there, and we sponsored a family. We removed old carpeting, drywall, cleaned and sanitized everything. Then we took them to Walmart and told them they could buy anything they needed. Their house got totally rebuilt. It was a really cool experience. My guys were beside themselves, didn’t think they could really do anything to help but saw that every little bit goes to making things better. I had a blast doing it… but the drive sucked.”
After that experience, Mike is looking around for other opportunities to help the community closer to him in Orange County. The team has assisted numerous senior citizens who are in hoarder situations with tight budgets living on their fixed income. “Honestly, I feel lucky that I’m in a position where I can help people. Five years ago I was literally strapped for cash, but the company has grown big enough for us to be able to give back.”
Dirt Busters has exploded in popularity to bring in millions of dollars of business since Mike founded the company in 2012 after working for another cleaning service. He describes his childhood as moving around a lot and being “super OCD” about cleaning everything. “Here was a five year old, cleaning everything and sanitizing,” he said, laughing at the memory of himself. Mike also got lots of practice cleaning while in the military. “In the service you basically clean when you’re not doing your occupation—buff floors, clean toilets.” After the military and while he was going to school, he found part-time work at a cleaning restoration service which he enjoyed.
Then he decided it was time to branch out on his own. “One day, I came up to my boss and said that I wanted to start my own cleaning company. I thought he was going to be really pissed, but he took me aside and said that if I really wanted to do this, he’d help me. So he took me under his wing and showed me the back end of how to run a business. I worked in the office for a whole year and then ventured off on my own.” Thanks to that mentorship, Mike got an invaluable look at the nuts and bolts of running a successful cleaning business, and he’s happy to share that information back with anyone who’s looking to start their own business. He highly recommends networking through the Chamber of Commerce and learning how to do the administrative work such as taxes and workman’s comp. “Uncle Sam is something you don’t want to mess around with,” he laughed.
One of the first investments he made in the business was to buy a commercial van and wrap it with the image of his mascot, Buster. “I knew I needed to have a wrap because I’d get great exposure while doing a whole lot of driving.” In fact, some of his first jobs came as a result of the owner of a juice company seeing his van. He’s added Go-pro cameras to the outside of the van to capture reactions to the image which he says are “priceless— what is that?!”
Five years later, Mike has 14 team members doing the cleanings while he handles quality control and pitches new business by providing on-site quotes. He has multiple vans on the road and frequently takes Buster out to farmers’ markets and other spots to drum up business. Buster is a huge hit with kids, which was Mike’s intent. “I want kids to remember this as the cleaning company their mom used, and to have a friendly mascot that attracts children.” Originally Mike put his wife in the mascot but she found it “way too hot” to wear. Nowadays, he hires college kids who are ex-cheerleaders to enthusiastically jump around in Buster.
As a business owner, Mike sees the value in paying his team a wage they can make a living on and gives them commission on each house they clean. He also bonds closely with his staff, calling them family. “I love taking care of my team, they come first. I love having functions where they bring all their families. The best is having a team of people that make something come alive. I just lost one of my key guys, Carlos, who got accepted to the police academy. He cleaned carpets all day and would do ride alongs with police officers at night and do training early in the morning. I always tell my team that this is a stepping stone job. If you want to leave and start your own business, I’ll encourage that and help you.”
Even though Mike makes running his business sound like a lot of fun, he has other hobbies as well. “I love restoring old cars—I have a ‘67 Charger, an old Thunderbird. I love to exercise and have three dogs. I play the drums and guitar, and I’m getting really addicted to coffee and social media.”
To have this energetic powerhouse do an amazing job cleaning your Orange County home, book a cleaning service with Dirt Busters today.
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