Cleaning Windows in Washington, DC

By Wm R. Griffin, President

Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc.

This year's convention is in the Nation's Capital, Washington, DC. If you've never been to Washington, DC, the IWCA Convention provides a great opportunity to mix business with pleasure. Washington DC is a place of history, power and diversity. There is an almost endless list of places to visit, many of which are free. You can start at the Mint where the money is made and go from there to the White House and Capital where it is spent. Other famous places to see include, the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was shot, The Library of Congress, The Washington Monument, The Vietnam War Memorial, The Kennedy Center and the list goes on and on. One thing you won't run out of in Washington, DC is places to go and things to do and see.

Good Food Nearby

Get out of the hotel, it's costly and the food is never that good. Washington DC is well know for it's ethnic diversity and wide selection of excellent places to eat. In fact I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. I'll be back after a snack.

I asked Stanley Gitelson, President of Extra Clean Inc. in Rockville, MD and Past President of the IWCA for the inside scoop on his favorite local places to eat and he suggested two restaurants downtown that are close to the convention hotel. "If you like steak," said Gitelson, "a restaurant named the 'The Prime Rib' is delightful. It's at the corner of 20th and K St. NW. Another favorite of mine," added Gitelson "is 'the Palm' at 19th off M St. NW. They are both great places for a top class meal."

Kenny Cohn, President of Kevco Building Services in Gaithersburg, MD told me that there are two excellent areas with in walking distance of the convention hotel that are well known for a variety of ethnic food choices. According to Cohn, the "Adams Morgan section of town and the Dupont Circle are close by and offer many great places to get a tasty meal. And if you want to go further, Georgetown is a short cab ride away and offers more choices for food and shopping. Cohn is enthusiastic about the upcoming convention. "Washington DC is the best tourist city in the country," said Cohn.

"The Metro stops right in front of the hotel so you don't really need a car, which will save you some money on parking, which can be pricey. The National Zoo is only three blocks away and they have the new Panda Exhibit. I hope everyone will come to the convention and enjoy the city while they are here. Washington DC is a great place for a convention and a fun place to visit. If you like sports the MCI Center (which is near China town) is about 10 minutes by Metro from the hotel. And I know that there is a game scheduled during the convention," said Cohn.

Cleaning Windows in the Metro Area

Gitelson has operated Extra Clean Inc. in the Greater Metro Washington and Beltway areas since 1988. Prior to that he was in property management for 25 years. Gitelson said, "As a property manager, I used to watch window cleaners come into my office twice a year, bang around for a few minutes, make a mess and leave. I knew there had to be a better way and if I ever left property management I wanted to get into the window cleaning business. When the opportunity presented itself I jumped at it and have been here ever since."

According to Gitelson, Extra Clean has about 105 employees that work in one or more division of the company. The largest divisions are window cleaning and final construction clean up, but they also do caulking and pressure washing.

Gitelson said, "We spend a lot of time training our workers and I think it makes a big difference in employee morale and production. In the classroom and on the job we cover safety issues and product usage. Part of our classroom training involves round table discussions where supervisors and other window cleaners talk about their job and their experiences. We find these informal discussions to be a very effective approach. People open up and get involved in the discussion and learn quite a bit about window cleaning, safety and what's expected of them on the job. Once the initial classroom training is complete, we assign workers to a one story building then, with practice and close supervision they move on to taller buildings."

"We're a bilingual company," said Gitelson. "All our manuals are in Spanish and English. I have motivational signs in my office that are in Spanish and English so that everyone understands my attitude about how to treat the customer and what makes us successful. One of my favorite sayings is 'Customers may not expect 100% performance, but they are entitled to 100% satisfaction.'

We try hard to be a close nit family. Probably 95% of our workers are Hispanic. Our workers have a great work ethic, are dedicated to the job and are very dependable. Most send a large portion of their earnings home to family members in Mexico. I think we provide a great opportunity for people to get a foothold in this country and earn a good living. Where else can someone without a lot of education earn $80.00 to $150.00 a day and have steady work. We act as a sponsor for some of our workers so they can qualify with the INS for a work visa."

Customers Keep it Interesting

"Many of our jobs are quite interesting," said Gitelson. "We clean the glass on the Vice Presidents Residence four times a year, and we clean the Post Office Pavilion, which is a historical landmark, and the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, that has over 8000 people working in it. The buildings themselves aren't much different than any other building, but the people you meet are interesting and the situations you get into can be a little different. At the Secret Service building all the windows are bullet proof and knowing that everyone in the place is packing a gun takes a little getting used too.

"We also clean the building that houses the Italian Navy Attaches Office. On one occasion, we went to the roof and came down over the side of the building and were surprised to find armed guards with guns drawn waiting for us when we reached the ground. I guess our coming over the edge of the roof and down the side of the building made everyone a little nervous. We are a little more aware of security issue because of that incident and try to make sure the right people know what were doing.

"We did the construction clean up on the Ronald Reagan Office Building, it's like the second largest building in Washington DC with 3.1 million square feet (the Pentagon is the largest). The construction clean up alone on the building took 2 years. And with all the skylights and wall high glass it's quite an interesting and time consuming job."

According to Gitelson, He started his business out of his home and wore out four telephones making calls to everybody that he could find that might want their windows cleaned. Gitelson said, "Getting involved in the IWCA early on was very helpful to me. They had all the information I needed about equipment and I was able to network with others in the business that could help me when I got in trouble or needed answers to a question."

Gitelson believes there is a lot of work in the Metro area. "There is really no need to step on each other's toes. Business is good. Sometimes we're cleaning 7 days a wk, 24 hours a day. We are successful on roughly 85% of the bids we submit. If you sharpen your pencil and give a little extra you'll do just fine. There are two things that separate you from your competition. One is your company's name and the other is the quality of your supervisors. Your supervisors can make or break you. All of my supervisors are bilingual, in uniform and have ID badges. They are all involved in the training of new workers. If it weren't for my supervisors and the training that we do, we wouldn't be any different than my competition," says Gitelson.

As far as window cleaning goes, Washington DC is primarily a non-union town. Gitelson's workers are paid a flat day rate that is based on how long they have been with the company, their skill level and the complexity of the jobs they are working on.

Cohn agrees, "It's competitive, but there is quite a bit of work in the Washington DC area. If you hustle you can stay as busy as you want." Cohen warns, "Property managers are very knowledgeable about OSHA and ANSI regulations so you need to know what you are doing to keep things safe and to stay out of trouble. Our buildings aren't really too tall here, as no building can stand taller than the capital and that is about 10 or 12 stories. So were not working on sky scrapers here."

As for the Weather

"It's cold," said Cohn. "I just hope it doesn't snow. That wouldn't be good."