What one cleaning business owner had to do to learn his mail slot was compromising his office security.

This article was originally published in the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International’s newsletter, but it is the most mentioned of all my articles, so I am reprinting it here.


Normally these blog posts are written to educate, but today, this post is a combination of entertainment and venting. I just had a very bad day, or rather night. It all fell apart. Most people who write about their business seem like we have all the answers and you probably imagine our businesses run like some perfect machine. Hopefully you can see in this article that we, or at least I, by no means have a perfect company and maybe laugh a little at my expense. It also shows how important it is to do what ever it takes to keep the client happy. Sometimes you just have to tell someone that will understand the crazy things we do for our business.

I have a new commercial account for about a month — an ice cream parlor about five minutes from my office. We have to clean it after 8 p.m. and before 7 a.m. The job is small at only two hours a night, but it is five nights a week for about $12,000 a year. A nice account. The person who had been cleaning it is leaving because she moved further away. She gave her notice two weeks ago, and we have had no problems. Last night was her last night, and she was supposed to meet the new guy, train him, and hand over the keys. It should be cake walk as all she had to do was supervise the new guy and get paid the same as when she did the work. They were supposed to meet at 8:30 p.m.

My Wife, the Roller Derby Queen

I get a text at 8:30 p.m. that she is running late but is on the way and will be there by 9:00 p.m. so I go to bed. At 10:45 p.m., I get a text that she never showed up, and the new guy went home and called another employee who sends me the text. I have a back up person, but of course she is out sick this week, so I get the clean the place. No big deal. I will just get up at 4:00 a.m. and do the work from 5:00 – 7:00 a.m. But I cannot sleep. I am mad and I find myself worrying that maybe it will run late and not be done by 7:00 a.m. when my BNI networking group will meet at this restaurant. So not only will I lose the customer, my networking group will see what a terrible job we did.

So I give up and decide to clean it so I can go to bed when I am done. At midnight I am trying to sneak out of the house, and I find my wife is up. She was too wired from Roller Derby practice to sleep and I do not want to tell her what is up because I do not want to be told at midnight how she told me not to take the account, which she did, and that I ignored her, which I did. I’m already in a very bad mood and being told how right she was at this time will not be good for our marriage. So I make idle chatter with her about how great derby practice was when in truth I am not hearing a word she is saying. I wait for her to go to bed at 12:30 and then drive to the office, which takes about 30 minutes.

Now it really gets fun. I lost my keys at home (because I lose things all the time and the women in my life, my wife, Becky, and GM, Rachel, make sure I remember things), and I was using my backup set. I get to the office at 1:00 a.m., and, of course, my key does not work. Turns out it is a key to the office next door where we used to be until we moved to the larger space. My back up keys have the old office keys. I remember that both offices have attic access in the bathroom so I go into the empty office and pull myself into the attic. I discover three things.

  1. The personal training is paying off because I can pull myself into an attic with no ladder. About the only good news of the night. 
  2. The attics of the two offices do not, in fact, connect. 
  3. Climbing around in an attic at 1:00 a.m., using a cell phone as a flash light, in a building you do not own is an incredibly stupid thing to do. I can only imagine what would have happened if I fell or hurt myself in an office no one uses and no one knew I was in.

So I get down and manage not to kill myself. It is now 2:00 a.m., and I am debating the merits of cutting a whole through the drywall with my keys MacGyver-style into my office and paying the landlord to fix it. Then I remember the mail slot in my front door. I spend about another 15 minutes trying to turn the knob with my arm in the mail slot. I pray no police officers drive by. I can touch the knob but not turn it, and I am tearing my arm up.

Then I notice, there are screws on the outside of the mail slot. So I drive to Walmart at 2:45 a.m., and I buy a screw driver. I drive back, take the mail slot cover off, and now I can turn the knob. I get in and fix the mail slot. I get the back up key to the ice cream parlor and drive there. It is now 3:00 a.m. I clean the parlor and since I am so worn out, it takes until 5:30 a.m. I go back to the office and nap on the couch until 7:00 a.m. when the first employee comes in, then I start my day on two hours of sleep and no shower after cleaning a greasy dive.

Account saved. Now I need to figure out how I am getting the keys back from the now very former employee. I also need to change the mail slot since I now know it’s easy to break in, and there are not very good police patrols in my area. After all, I spent nearly two hours breaking into the business, and no one noticed. Finally, I have to find a way explain what happened to my wife in a way that will not result in bodily injury because she can take me in fight — roller derby, remember? — and she proofreads my articles for me every week. 

Isn’t owning a business great? 

Derek Christian is the owner of My Maid Service with locations in Cincinnati, OH and Dallas, TX, as well as a business coach through Cleaning Business Builders and publisher of CleaningBusinessToday.com.  Derek is now an investor in several cleaning companies including My Maid Service Dayton and Real World Services Columbus.  Derek is also a consultant for industry leaders Marvelous Maids and Castle Keepers.