Rick Douglas was an oceanographer working for NOAA and realized he didn’t want to be a “lifer” at the government agency. After reading an article about the necessary service that cleaning businesses provide and how you can learn on the job, he started his own cleaning company in 1981. Minit Maids is the longest running residential cleaning service in Charlotte, NC, and he’s come to feel like the people he’s worked with throughout the decades are family.
There was a learning curve in the beginning. “I was not a great cleaner. I didn’t want to move things on the kitchen counter to clean under them because I didn’t think it was necessary,” Rick laughed. He picked up skills along the way and figured out what the best cleaning cloths and products are.
The company provides green cleaning for their clients as a way to avoid the toxic fumes from conventional cleaners and to provide a more healthy environment for their clients’ homes. His transition to eco-friendly cleaning was hastened when he had three pregnant women working for him. Rick researched the safest and most effective plant-derived cleaning products and highly recommends Better Life. “It worked so well that I implemented it for all our teams. It’s subtle how chemicals work on our bodies, so it’s important to do safer cleaning.”
If he could do it all over, Rick says he’d get more training in management or maybe an MBA to help accelerate the growth of the business. “I did it the slower way. I never got a loan to use for marketing expenses or office management. We would have gotten to our level of success faster by using some risk capital to grow it.” That said, he’s pleased with the trajectory of the company and found it invaluable to be able to learn how to clean so he can relate to what his employees deal with on a daily basis.
His focus now is on becoming the best manager he can be, to incentivize and motivate his team. “You have to really care about your employees and have that emotional IQ. It doesn’t work for people who try to run a cleaning business military style.”
Rick still does a few inspections in the field—debugging, as he calls it—to figure out which areas his cleaners need more training on. “I’m a problem solver. I can handle customers in the field. And it’s good for the office to get out there and see what hard work it is, to be able to empathize.”
Minit Maids is a proud supporter of Cleaning For A Reason, having donated over $64k worth of cleaning services to women in the community who are recovering from cancer treatments over the last decade. Recently one of the beneficiaries of the cleaning services was interviewed on local television and Rick was pleased to hear how his company impacted her life in a positive way. “Having a clean house is uplifting. It directly helps them during this difficult period.”
One of the perils of cleaning houses that all looks the same is that your team might end up cleaning the wrong home. That’s what happened a few years into the business, when Rick’s team came back from the job site mentioning that there was an extra room they cleaned that wasn’t on the checklist he had provided. Then the customer called to ask why the home wasn’t cleaned and Rick discovered that the team had cleaned the condo right next door. They never heard a peep from the condo owner who got a free cleaning, although he might have been trying to avoid getting charged retroactively for the great job they did.
“We have some long-term customers whose kids we clean for, who we knew when they were little and now they have houses of their own. It definitely reveals your age!”
When you’ve been cleaning one community for over three decades, you’ve got some deep roots to your clients’ lives. “We have some long-term customers whose kids we clean for, who we knew when they were little and now they have houses of their own. It definitely reveals your age!” If a long-standing client happens to move out of the area, Rick will jump on the phone to give them his best wishes. “It’s your extended family. We’re an essential and trusted service.”
On the rare occasions that issues crop up, Rick welcomes the opportunity to set things right. “We have missteps but they hang with you. Once you handle a customer properly, they see that you care.”
With the customer handled after an issue, how does he tackle the problem with the staff member? He’s a big believer in building up his team’s confidence and has found a lot of help from Brené Brown’s books. “You have to treat your team in a very level-headed, nurturing way. Don’t make them feel worthless, but build them up, tell them they can do this, say that you can show them how to do this better next time. Do you want to work somewhere that you feel terrible? No. We focus on feedback and training, or cross-training with another team member. We show them that this is how they’ll make more money and tips, that they’ll enjoy their job more when they’re better at it. It’s not super rah-rah, I don’t do rah-rah stuff. But treat people like they want to be treated… and still run your business.”
When he’s not juggling the demands of the business, you might run into Rick on a trail as he hikes around the area. He’s also into healthy cooking and living, and imparts his wisdom to anyone he thinks might be open to learning more.
Those in need of cleaning service in Charlotte would do well to book with Minit Maids. You might get some free healthy living advice from Rick thrown in!
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