Dane County Small Business Awards: Grakei Maids’ tidy approach to retention

0616 Grakeimaids Ezine Panel

When explaining her company’s success, Laura Barnard, owner and director of operations for Grakei Maids LLC, cites a fateful decision she made at the company’s inception.

Unlike the gig economy and its need for 1099 workers, Barnard chose to create a W-2 business model and structure, which has not only helped Grakei Maids sustain a few bumps along the way, but also protects its employees through employer contributions to unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance.

The result of taking care of the people who are the backbone of her company has been consistent growth, interrupted only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not the only reason why the woman and minority-owned business impressed Dane County Small Business Award judges. Grakei Maids is one of five companies to win a 2022 Dane County Small Business Award, and it was selected by a judging panel of past award winners that evaluated each nominee on revenue growth since inception, the benefit package provided to employees, and community contributions.

Cleaning house

Grakei Maids started in 2008 as a solo cleaner operation and was established in 2011 as an LLC with employees. The Argentinean-born Barnard, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has built the company into a trusted cleaning business specializing in home and office cleaning. The company serves more than 340 clients a year and employs a staff of full-time and temporary cleaning technicians. Since becoming a limited liability company, Grakei Maids has generated $5.2 million in gross revenue, even with a 40% drop during the pandemic. Sales have rebounded in part because residential and business clients have an even better understanding of the health benefits of a disinfected workspace or house.

Providing company vehicles, bilingual support, and opportunities for professional growth are also key parts of Barnard’s employee retention strategy, but the employee-centric approach is augmented by an innovative benefits package. Perhaps the most extraordinary part of that package is that established team supervisors are allowed to use Grakei Maids’ LLC credentials to obtain additional clients and run their own cleaning business on the side.

Barnard, a 2020 40 Under 40 honoree by In Business magazine, realizes that it sounds risky to give her staff such access, but it has been proven that employees with a strong sense of ownership take more pride in their work. Her conviction is that such employees are more likely to take on projects that serve as a reflection of their business management abilities, not just their cleaning skills. So, as part of a mentorship package for employees in leadership roles, she provides resources to help them learn more aspects of the cleaning business and advance their careers.

“I am a strong believer that sense of ownership brings about many significant benefits for both companies and their workforce,” Barnard explains. “What prompted me to offer this benefit is that in recent years I’ve been invited by two local nonprofits to offer free seminars in Spanish to Latino entrepreneurs. Most of them happened to be janitors and personal maids who were interested in starting their own cleaning business. It’s always great to pass along some knowledge to new cleaning business owners.”

It’s also great to share the company’s good fortune with the community, as Grakei Maids has done by providing free cleaning services to patients undergoing cancer treatment in Dane County. To help local cancer patients, Grakei Maids teamed up with a nonprofit called Cleaning for a Reason, which formed in 2006 and recruits maid services to partner with it to clean homes at no charge for women undergoing cancer treatment throughout the United States and Canada.

The charity gives all its partners access to its database, and there they can accept new patients, schedule their cleanings, and track their service history. As of May 2022, Grakei Maids had served 50 patients and performed 145 free cleanings worth more than $20,000. “We joined Cleaning for a Reason in 2013 because we believe in its mission and wanted to extend our reach to include charitable cleans to households battling cancer in our community,” Barnard says. “There’s a big need for that and Grakei Maids became the first company in Dane County to be among the Top 100 donors. We are very glad to have this platform for giving back to our community.” 

Favorable judgment

The 2022 Dane County Small Business Award judges included Jon Konarske, publisher of In Business magazine, and past award winners Jeanne Carpenter, owner of Firefly Coffeehouse; Fatou Ceesay, owner and manager of Cairasu Home Care; and Jason Potter, CEO of Farwell.

While the award is not Grakei Maids’ first honor — in 2014, it earned a Latina-Owned Business of the Year Award presented by the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County — the recognition by business peers is meaningful. “It validates the long hours and thoughts that went into starting and structuring the business,” Barnard says. “You hope you create something that will last, and this recognition indicates we are on the right path.”

Editor’s note: The public can network with this year’s winners at an award program and reception on Thursday, July 21, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison.

Coming up:
Tuesday, June 21: Impact Association Management
Thursday, June 23: Sign Art Studio
Tuesday, June 28: The Creative Company

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.