He does windows!
Conor Braverman washes windows the old-fashioned way.
As storm clouds gather on a recent July morning, Conor Braverman, owner of Squeaky Clean Window Washing Service LLC, and his two-man crew pull up to the Mansion Hill Inn in Madison. The company has been cleaning the windows at the iconic bed and breakfast for about five years. It is one of several commercial businesses the company handles, but residential window cleaning is truly its bread and butter.
The idea of making a career out of washing windows, much less starting his own window washing business, never crossed Braverman’s mind early on. “Window washing chose me,” he says. He was 21 at the time, washing windows for another company and realized how lucrative it could be before deciding to go off on his own a couple years later.
Braverman spent three hours a day delivering mailbox flyers to homes publicizing his business before launching. “I started the whole thing with $5,000,” he laughs. “That was the big pull. I didn’t have to make a huge investment. I bought a $2,500 truck plus about $2,500 in equipment.”
At the time, his goal was to make enough money in the warm weather months to be able to take the winters off, and he was able to do that for the first six years, even while working for a moving company as well, but demand kept growing and soon he needed more help. He left the moving company and launched his business full time in 2007.
Squeaky Clean Window Cleaning Service cleans residential windows, gutters, and screens, and concentrates primarily on homes under four stories.
The Mansion Hill Inn is one exception. The building that is now owned by Trek Bicycle Corp. dates back to the mid-1850s and has between 80 and 90 different windows of all shapes and sizes, plus a belvedere at the top accessed by a spiral staircase inside. Not surprisingly, its historic, wavy-glass windows must be cleaned with extreme care.
Everything is done with ladders, squeegees, sponges, and rags. While many in the window-cleaning industry favor water-fed poles for exterior window cleaning, Braverman is an outlier. “I have a water-fed pole, and it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea,but honestly, I haven’t been impressed with the results,” he states. “We do it the old-fashioned way. I have a little niche and I’m just happy with where I am.” His 1,300-plus clients likely agree.
Epidemic after the pandemic
Braverman climbs an extension ladder to a small, second-level balcony on the side of the inn, an ever-present tool belt full of rags, squeegees, and sponges dangling from his hips. The company uses a mixture of vinegar and Dawn dishwashing soap for cleaning. “When I first started the business, I called around and everyone was using Dawn,” he says. It’s become an industry standard, he notes, and vinegar, of course, is environmentally friendly.
The age of windows doesn’t necessarily change the process, but it can change the tools. His go-to products are walnut scrub pads he purchases online. Produced from walnut shells, they are made for cleaning dishes, but the industry is moving toward them as well, when razor blades, steel wool, or bronze wool isn’t necessary.
Andrew Krug and Collin Kovacs, Braverman’s two employees, usually can complete the Mansion Hill Inn job in five to six hours. “They’ve been with me for five-plus years. We have a very good working relationship, and we have fun,” Braverman says. “I think people enjoy us because of that.”
In fact, Squeaky Clean Window Cleaning Service once had six full-time employees, but the pandemic and related shutdowns took its toll. “We haven’t quite recovered,” Braverman admits, adding that his is one of many window cleaning companies in the city, and all are extremely busy. “There’s no shortage of work, just people.”
In response, Braverman bumped up his employee’s wages, but like so many business owners, he’s constantly looking for more applicants. The churn has been frustrating.
One drawback, he admits, is that the business is seasonal, “and we’re too small to offer benefits, so that’s also a problem. But now people just don’t show up for work!” he laments. “I feel like there’s a disconnect. People don’t want to do manual labor anymore. That’s our biggest hurdle. Everyone’s dealing with that. I call it the ‘epidemic after a pandemic,’ but we’re still chugging along.”
About 70% of the company’s homeowners get their windows cleaned once a year, with the remainder washing windows twice.
“Residential window cleaning is sort of a luxury,” he admits. Spring and fall are the most popular seasons with October being the company’s busiest month. At home, Braverman prefers to clean his own windows in spring but says the benefit to cleaning before winter is that clean windows allow for more daylight and can contribute to lower heating costs for homes with entire walls of glass. On the flip side, not cleaning windows over time can reduce the functionality of windows, or worse, rot old wood-frame windows if left unchecked.
For homeowners who choose to wash their own windows, cloudy days may be best, but Braverman prefers to clean windows at home and on the job in bright sunshine because “the windows just sparkle.” The only difference is the speed at which they need to work to avoid streaking.
He has been asked to clean solar panels on occasion, but the company does not specialize in it. “People sometimes forget that solar panels need to be cleaned to work at their highest efficiency, and it can be dangerous for a homeowner to get up on a roof,” he says, especially one with a steep pitch.
Back at the Inn, Braverman demonstrates cleaning an older door screen using a thicker-piled pad that plucks dust out of the holes, mindful that rain is moving in.
This day is about to fall victim to Mother Nature.
The ladders come down and the crew packs up. There will be no more work today for Kovacs and Krug, while Braverman will head back to his office. When asked how often they clean their own windows, all three shake their heads, grinning.
“Want to know something?” Braverman responds. “I didn’t clean my windows at home for years until I met my wife. She made me do it!” he laughs, sliding the ladder back onto the van.
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