How Madison Window Cleaning survived and thrived through economic challenges — and how your business can too
We all had big plans in 2020. Kash and Tanya Weger of Madison Window Cleaning Co. Inc. were no exception.
Poised to hit their 90-year anniversary, they had lofty business growth goals. Their goals included adding a new sales role and increasing their staff by nearly 50%, an aggressive revenue growth goal, and considering opening a new division of the business — with many of these goals centered on a brand new building that broke ground in fall of 2019.
“If you’re a good business owner, you have written goals with very specific action items to implement at specific times throughout the coming year. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and you have to pivot. We had just broken ground for our new building six months before the safer-at-home order was put in place. It could have been a devastating blow. But you don’t make it through 90 years of business without the capacity to manage through challenging historic times,” says Tanya.
According to family archives, Madison Window Cleaning was purchased by Tanya’s great-grandfather for $700 in 1930, as the Great Depression was devastating individuals and businesses across the U.S. But Madison Window Cleaning kept growing. It successfully transitioned through three generations of Gedkos (Tanya’s family) from 1930 to 2002.
Kash Weger purchased the business in 2002 from Tanya’s family, and less than a decade later, they faced another major economic challenge in the Great Recession. But again, Madison Window Cleaning stayed the course and kept growing.
And then came 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the doors of many local businesses to close, even if only temporarily. Madison Window Cleaning faced yet another test of their business savvy.
“When the safer-at-home order was issued, we found that we were considered essential since we were involved in the cleaning and maintenance of buildings and took care of other essential businesses,” Tanya says.
However, many of their retail and store-front clients were unfortunately not deemed essential. With doors temporarily closed or no one occupying those buildings, businesses halted their cleaning and janitorial services like Madison Window Cleaning.
Naturally, as a business owner, some fear and doubt began to set in. But the Wegers didn’t allow that fear to stick around.
The tactics Madison Window Cleaning employed throughout the pandemic is a case study in how businesses can persevere through challenges, and these steps may help you as well.
Here is their advice for keeping your business strong not just through the COVID pandemic, but for other challenges your business may face.
Track your numbers constantly and adjust to new trends.
The Wegers noticed early on that the pandemic caused them to lose income from some of their clients in industries that were significantly impacted by the pandemic, such as restaurants, hospitality, and office buildings. However, with more people working from home, they were seeing an increase in residential service requests.
But while the service requests for residential was increasing, the average residential ticket was decreasing. People wanted clean windows and gutters, but the pandemic also meant families didn’t want people coming into their homes, so little to no interior services were being performed.
Noticing these trends, the Wegers made the strategic decision to add a new line of services called Madison Soft Wash. This service includes soft washing and sanitizing roofs, siding, fences, decks, driveways, and other outdoor surfaces. It was a service they knew was in demand — their customers had been asking for it — but previously Madison Window Cleaning had been referring these requests to another business.
They were able to market this service to their current client base and increase the average ticket for homes they were already servicing without spending a lot of money on additional advertising. This new division also created new opportunities for existing employees.
How can you apply this to your business? Review your trends to see where your revenue has taken the biggest hit or where it has grown. For example, if you’re seeing an increase in online orders or sales, you may consider moving some of your in-store staff to focus on activities related to growing your online business.
Is demand for a particular product or service growing or shrinking compared to normal? Adjust your inventory, or cross-train staff typically devoted to a less-requested service to provide one of the growing services.
Is there a product or service your customers are asking for that you don’t currently provide? Do some research and determine if it is feasible for you to begin to offer it.
“However, it’s important that if you take on a new product or service, you should feel confident in your ability not just to do it, but to do it well. If you can’t do it well, it’s not worth taking on,” says Kash.
Adjust your goals for the year. Focus on activity rather than outcome, if needed.
Like Madison Window Cleaning, you likely had business goals going into 2020. And it’s likely that many of those goals got to be out of reach as the pandemic and shutdowns impacted your business.
“For a few months, we kept tracking our original goals for 2020, and it was frustrating to see that we weren’t reaching them, even if it was out of our control. We realized we needed to set new, achievable goals for the year and stop beating ourselves up when in reality we were doing very well all things considered,” Tanya says.
Take a look at what goals will be achievable for the year, bearing in mind the changed economic environment, and consider creating goals based on activity rather than outcome.
“We couldn’t necessarily control whether or not we could add new clients or retain our existing clients. But we could control our level of activity — the calls we made to customers and prospects, the training and education we provided to the staff, and the quality of the products and services we provided. By setting new, achievable goals, we were able to stay focused on ways to continue to grow our people and our business. You have to find new ways to win,” Tanya points out.
Surround yourself with a solid advisory team.
Long before the pandemic hit, the Wegers were confident they had a team of professionals around their business that they could count on.
“Our accountant, our attorney, our business coach, and our banker — we knew we could trust them all to help give us the necessary guidance to get through it,” Tanya says.
This is important at all times, but became especially vital as the Paycheck Protection Program came into fruition. Kash notes that “Park Bank was with us the whole way. Our bankers Elyse [Smithback] and James [Rubin] provided us with consultative services, answered our questions, and worked after hours to ensure we were taken care of.”
Their relationship with their bankers also allowed them to gather the information and documentation they would need early on, which allowed them to be one of the first to get their application submitted.
And the impact of the PPP loan? “Without the constant worry about funding, we were able to do business as usual. Without the PPP loan, I would have had a hard time focusing on making confident and clear decisions to help keep our business moving forward,” Kash says.
If you can, avoid increasing prices for existing customers — but don’t lower them either.
It can be tempting to make up any loss of revenue by increasing prices, but there is a real risk to customer loyalty if you do. Avoid increasing prices for existing customers if you can, unless your product or service has improved to the customer’s benefit.
Find ways to lock in certain prices for a specified period of time. Budgets are so tight and unstable right now, so the more you can guarantee pricing for this year, and perhaps future years, the more likely you are to service that customer long term.
However, the Wegers warn not to lower your prices either.
“If you lower your prices now, you devalue yourself and the industry as a whole. You risk losing too much by cutting prices — that has lasting impact on the quality of your products, level of service, employee compensation, and overall financial wellbeing of your organization,” Tanya notes.
Don’t make the mistake of cutting safety training, especially in higher-risk industries.
There is certainly a cost to employee training; in addition to the cost of the training itself, there is also the cost of the time the employee is not actively working toward the business. It would be easy to drop the training line from the budget but Tanya warns against it, especially for industries that have higher risk for injury.
“The cost of the training is nowhere near the cost of potential injury to an employee. Let alone the long-lasting, sometimes permanent and devastating affects employee accidents or injuries may incur for you, your company, your employee, and your customer.”
One of the major investments made in their new facility was a state-of-the-art dedicated high-rise rope descent training center and classroom. Tanya served on the board of directors for IWCA (International Window Cleaning Association) for several years, chaired the education committee, and helped launch an online learning portal called “CAMPUS IWCA.” She has a real passion for safety education in the window cleaning industry.
“I saw a need for hands-on training in a controlled environment with real-life scenarios played out and we had an opportunity to fill that need,” Tanya says.
They have focused on continuing to find ways to help educate and train others in their industry and raise the bar of professionalism and safety. Their new building now also serves as a regional training facility for Expert Safety Services who delivers OSHA 1910 and BMRA (Building Maintenance Rope Access) and RDS (Rope Descent System) training.
Building your own training facility is, of course, not for everyone, but make sure you stay focused on providing the required training to your team to ensure they stay safe, compliant, and effective.
Learn from others both within your industry and outside of your industry.
One of the first things the Wegers did when the pandemic hit was to stay connected with others in the industry, including coaching and entrepreneurial groups, to learn what others were doing.
By connecting with others in your industry, you may get ideas for ways to offer your products and services in a new way. Even businesses outside of your industry may provide you with some ideas for product and service delivery that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
Join trade associations within your industry both at the local and national level. Not sure where to start? A simple Google search for trade associations in your industry will provide you with options. Looking for something local? Include the state or county where your business is located in the search.
In addition to seeking specific knowledge and ideas from those in their industry or in business, the Wegers also read and listened to resources with positive messages of perseverance and achievement through challenging times. Look for TED Talks and podcasts that can help support a healthy mindset.
Using these resources helped create a positive mindset for the team at Madison Window Cleaning. “We’ve been around for 90 years. We’ve survived the Great Depression, the Great Recession, and everything in between. We can get through this,” Kash recalls thinking.
Despite all of the challenges 2020 had to offer, by taking the steps outlined above, Madison Window Cleaning was able to grow — though admittedly not as much as their original 2020 goals outlined.
Whether your business has been around for 90 years or 90 days, the advice above can help your business remain strong through challenging times.