Karen Bickford knew she wanted to be a hairdresser since she was five years old—cutting off all her dolls’ hair—and for several years she achieved that goal by working as a supervisor at Hair Club For Men. After her daughter was born, Karen wanted a job with more control over her schedule and launched The Cleaning Advantage in 2004, servicing central Massachusetts. “I had long hours and worked on Saturdays with a long commute [at Hair Club For Men]. The joke’s on me—running my own business, I never work an 8 hour day. I probably put in 12 to 13 hours.” Her daughter, now a 17-year-old, helps out in the office.
When Karen compares her previous career at Hair Club For Men with her current cleaning business, she sees similarities. “With both industries, you’re getting that wow factor. Putting hair on bald men whose heads are like shiny cue balls, there were times when the wife was crying and then the husband started crying. It’s life changing, and you make a big impact in their lives. It’s the same with housecleaning, you give them free time and peace of mind, and you get to see that transformation, to go into homes that are simply filthy and make them all nice and clean and shiny. It gives you a good feeling.”
A staff of sixteen employees handles the cleaning and Karen’s main focus is on driving business and keeping her team busy. She’s also constantly on the lookout for new talent to help out. “This business is fraught with turnover. It’s tough work. People sign on thinking it will be easy work, like what they do on their own home on Saturdays, but it’s very different. I am always running a help wanted ad and harvesting applications and interviewing. This is the type of business where you can be fully staffed in the morning but be down four people by the afternoon—one you had to fire, one decides to move to Florida with her boyfriend, one loses daycare and can’t cover her shift the next day, and one gets a flat tire. You have to constantly fill the funnel with potential applicants.”
By always having a stream of prospective employees, Karen says she’s gotten better at interviewing instead of just “hiring people with a pulse or who can fog a mirror.” She keeps her staff happy by paying them well and motivating them with bonuses, prizes, and parties. Employees get stars for being on time, getting good reviews, and obtaining referrals. The person with the most stars each week gets to spin the wheel and take home a prize, such as a manicure, pedicure, various gift cards or gas cards.
The Cleaning Advantage has been a part of Cleaning For A Reason since 2007, providing free house cleaning to women who are battling cancer. “This is another life-changing service. You can imagine that when you’re sick to your stomach from chemotherapy the last thing you’re thinking about is cleaning your home.” Karen is proud of the work that they do and keeps in touch with the survivors who are extremely thankful for the service they were able to provide. The company also engages with the local community in a variety of other ways, such as donating candy and prizes to the annual Halloween parade.
Karen thrives on stress—”It’s a part of my personality”—and relishes the issues that she faces as a business owner. “There are a lot of unknowns and every day is a challenge. Some are easy fixes and some just make you want to pull your hair out. No two days are ever the same.”
She also dabbles in real estate, fixing up homes to rent out in Florida and Mexico. Her love of travel sends her to Mexico often to check on the progress of a condo she’s building to rent out and eventually retire to. This is acting as an incentive for her to automate more of her business so that she can stay out of town more often and for longer stretches of time. By hiring virtual assistants and a 24/7 answering service, she’s been able to take some of the work off her shoulders and focus on marketing.
For those people looking for house cleaning services in central Massachusetts, check out The Cleaning Advantage.
If you’re a cleaning service professional who would like to be featured in our magazine, please let us know!