Two-time ARCSI President Alison Palmer tells us how far she’s come since the early days of her cleaning company, and even further since the beginning of a professional association.
CBT: Tell us when and how you got started in your cleaning business.
AP: I started Custom Maid in May of 1985 when it became clear to me that the corporate world was not meeting my needs. At that time, I had hired a team from a local cleaning company to clean my home; at that time, the team model had recently emerged as had the “cleaning company” as a business. As I observed my team one day, I noted how efficiently they worked and how wonderful a job they had done cleaning my home; and as I handed over the cash for the fees, I thought to myself, “man, Alison, you’re in the wrong business.” I did tons of research and even checked out the few franchises available at that time, but in the end, I launched Custom Maid.

CBT: To what do you attribute your business growth and success? And what keeps your business thriving nearly than 30 years later?

AP: I have a knack that I think I inherited from my Dad to hire really great people who stay a long time and are loyal and dependable. I learned gradually that I had to create an atmosphere of team-building; it has to be a team. When I first started hiring my teams, I felt guilty sending them out to do what I used to do; I inadvertently created a “them” and “us” culture. But when I let go of that guilt and joined the team, my employees felt it and started to stay longer. Today, Custom Maid has daily team meetings for both learning and training as well as fellowship. This has allowed me to develop a core group of people who embrace our core values and who help build others into our team. 

CBT: What is the most important piece of your business formula that allows you to deliver consistently amazing service to your customers? 
AP: Hire good people, train them well (not for a few days, but rather a few weeks) and do random quality assurance checks.

CBT: You’ve recently accepted the post of President of the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International (ARCSI). How does your long-term service and leadership in this trade association translate to an improved business for you?
AP: I am honored to take on the presidency of ARCSI once again.  I have had a passion for the organization since I came across it in 2006.  At that point, I had been in business for 21 years, but was growing bored and unengaged.  I became re-energized by meeting other successful business owners.  ARCSI has broadened my horizons and given me more confidence as a business owner.

CBT: What are some of the biggest challenges that ARCSI and its elected and volunteer leadership have been able to address?
AP: This is a profession. We are professional cleaning technicians. We are professional business owners. We know the science behind cleaning. We have a code of ethics. We have a Seal of Excellence, a validation of proper business and cleaning credentials, commitment to the code of ethics and solid business practices that protect the customer, and dedication to ongoing business and cleaning education.

CBT: As an established company of nearly 30 years, what continuing professional development and training activities do you use to keep your business competitive? 
AP: I have never missed an ARCSI event (convention or Executive Leadership Conference) since 2006.  Even though some of the material gets repeated, it is always in a different way, by a new person, from another point of view.  Sometimes you need to hear the same thing a few times before it sinks in!  I have never left an event without at least two or three new ideas.  Also, just getting out of the office and into another venue refreshes my psyche so I can go home and begin again.

CBT: If you could go back and give your start-up self some advice, what would it be?
AP: Join ARCSI and participate to the fullest.  You only get out of the membership what you put into it.  The support I have received from colleagues across the country has been my most valuable asset – aside from my own blood, sweat and lots of tears.