When Renee Harrell was a little girl in Peru, her mother taught her the importance of cleanliness.
Now as the owner of a cleaning business in the middle of a pandemic, that lesson is more important than ever.
“I really believe cleaning companies are essential,” Harrell, who owns Renee’s 757 Cleaning, said. “We are going to have more and more clients that really need our help to disinfect their houses because there’s less chance of germs then.”
But even though Harrell’s business provides a level of clean she sees as important during the coronavirus pandemic, she’s still losing business. Her business is down 40 percent and her staff has reduced by half since the pandemic first came to the area.
A lot of that is because her employees are no longer going into schools and offices that are shutdown. Many of her clients, especially older ones, also have canceled their cleaning services because they don’t want people in their homes.
Harrell said she doesn’t know if this trend will change.
“At the beginning, I thought everything would go back to normal,” she said. “And now I’m concerned that probably not, we don’t even know if we’ll be able to stay open.”
Harrell said she’s preparing to see a lot of offices not reopen, which will continue to limit her business.
In the meantime, there are new clients who have sought out cleaning services during this time. As a result, Harrell said she has changed some of her protocols. For example, prior to the pandemic, disinfecting items such as light switches and door knobs would be an extra cost because it wasn’t included in standard cleaning. Now clients receive this service regardless.
Staff are also having to test their temperatures and wear personal protective equipment as much as possible. Harrell said finding equipment, especially gloves, has become difficult but she’s working hard to ensure the protection of her staff and clients.
Harrell isn’t sure how her cleaning business will adapt as the pandemic continues.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future and it’s scary,” she said. “We still have bills to pay, people to pay.”
Home Clean Heroes of the Peninsula is currently operating at 30 percent capacity, said Jeff Ruiz, co-owner of the franchise location in Williamsburg.
“A lot of them are waiting for the executive order to lift that restriction,” he said. “So business is slow.”
Previously the business had around 100 recurring residential customers and now most of their cleanings are for people moving in or moving out.
When the company opened last November, Ruiz said they were outperforming the corporate office location, and now it’s a tailspin.
Ruiz said they closed April 6 and recently re-opened on April 24.
“Prior to that Easter weekend, we decided to close just because we didn’t want to risk our techs and vice versa, the customers,” he said. “We didn’t want to risk coming into their homes because this is such as deadly virus that you don’t detect until you have it.”
Since their business is part of the Home Clean Heroes franchise company out of Virginia Beach, they have gotten extra PPE like masks and gloves for their cleaning staff.
Ruiz is looking into disinfectant foggers and may use it as an add-on service.
Currently the business is fully staffed, maintaining six technicians and the company has applied for a small business payroll loan as well.
As for if the company would service a household positive for the coronavirus, he said they wouldn’t know ahead of time and “even if they did, we would just make sure that everyone’s aware.”
“We still provide a great service,” Ruiz said. “There’s no hiccups on our side, we’ve kept everything consistent so basically we can handle any workload.”
Stacey Huskey, co-owner of Merry Maids franchise locations in Newport News and Virginia Beach, said while there has been a decrease in business, they are doing well overall.
“We’re trying to be creative as possible,” she said.
The franchise serves all of Hampton Roads and recently teamed up with Home Instead Senior Care, disinfecting their facilities. Because the business is part of the Merry Maids franchise, they have access to hospital grade cleaning supplies, Huskey said.
“We’ve been doing that for all our customers’ homes,” Huskey said. “Every cleaning comes with a free disinfecting.”
Most of their services that are in high demand are residential cleanings and working with Realtors for people moving in or moving out.
The company’s operations have changed in response to the coronavirus by adding social distancing measures for staff as well as personal protective equipment.
Staff must also wear fresh gloves in each house, wear a handmade mask sewn by Huskey’s mother and during cleaning, must social distance from the customers if they’re home, she said. After the job, all the products are disinfected between each house.
Huskey said they have been asked by people who have been affected by the coronavirus to clean their house and if anybody in their home has been sick in the last two weeks, they won’t do it.
They have not laid off any staff and recently got a small business payroll loan.
All Merry Maids locations have been asked to donate 25 to 50 free cleanings for Nurses’ Week, Huskey said, and they plan to donate 100 cleanings starting next week — they are in the process of contacting hospital administrators from Sentara, Riverside and other local hospitals.
“We’re all locally owned and operated so we just wanted to do something to give back,” she said.
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