Cleaning Up

Commercial Cleaning/Landscaping

Most people don't think that landscaping qualifies as cleaning. But if you're Christine Marshall and Althea Seeds, it does.

"We wanted to provide a few other services that set us apart from other cleaning businesses," says Marshall, co-owner of Scrub-a-Dub Cleaning Services of Allentown, Pennsylvania. The landscaping aspect of their business includes such tasks as planting flowers and shrubs, removing old trees, mowing lawns, edging beds, and even designing new landscaping. The pair will also run errands, like picking up prescriptions or delivering a package, for existing clients. They don't actively solicit such jobs but are willing to do them, for a fee, to make themselves more valuable to their regular customers. Even if it's pet sitting, Seeds and Marshall are willing to take on just about any task a client wants to have done, proving the truth of their company motto: "At your door for any chore."

The landscaping work evolved from their outside clean-up services. One client, the owner of a suburban restaurant, hired them to fix up a couple of flower and shrub beds. At first, it was to be a small job. "Once he saw what we did, he trusted us and just let us go on our own," says Marshall, explaining how planting annuals in one small area led to their re-doing the landscaping on the entire lot, and even making new flower beds. "We did it and he loved it."

Restaurant customers also noticed. Many of Scrub-a-Dub's clients are people who saw their work and stopped to ask for a quote, or were referred by the restaurant owner. Each landscaping job generates three or four more from neighbors who see them working. The pair also had signs made up which they place at each job site to attract even more customers. In fact, Scrub-a-Dub has been in business since October 1995, and the pair has yet to advertise, though it's on their agenda for the immediate future. "I know that in the winter months, the demand for landscaping is not going to be there," says Marshall. "We're going to have to fall back on the cleaning aspect of our business."

Marshall and Seeds handle both residential and commercial cleaning, both of which use the same equipment. "Residential cleaning is tougher than cleaning offices," says Seeds. "There are more nooks and crannies to do, and people are fussier because it's their home. Also, it's not the company's money they're spending, it's their own."

Marshall and Seeds credit their initial success to their honesty. "We'll size up a job and if we underbid ourselves, that's our problem," says Marshall. "When we give a quote, that's the price."

Scrub-a-Dub is finding that people prefer their services to those of larger (and perhaps more impersonal) companies. Many customers say getting quotes from other companies was easy--getting them to come back to do the work was not. "You have no idea how many people have said this, time and time again," says Seeds.

Marshall, who always wanted to run her own business, cautions entrepreneurs to try their business "on the side," so to speak, before quitting their regular job. However, she urges those with marketable skills to go for it. "We aren't out to make a large sum of money," she says. "We want to be comfortable and we want to like what we're doing."

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Cleaning Up.

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