After losing nearly half of her revenue just three years after starting her business, Debera Mabry is now on the road to $500,000 / year just five years later because of some wise investments in herself, her staff and her company image and branding.

CBT: Give us a little background on your company. When did you get started? 

DM: I own The Cleaning Affair, a small housekeeping company located in Vancouver, WA.  I have been in business since 2006.  Currently we have 8 staff and over 140 clients.  My approach is that everyone should experience the joy of utilizing a professional housecleaning service.  So many of our clients tell us how they are now taking time to go out to dinner or see a movie since hiring our service.  Using a housecleaning service almost magically gives clients permission to enjoy a few moments of leisure, as they don’t feel guilty because the housework is already done.  We are members of the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International (ARCSI) and a certified firm through the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).  Our staff are certified House Cleaning Technicians (HCT) trained by Bruce Vance of the Institute for Service Excellence (ISE).  We support the local high schools with gift baskets to auction off for their fundraising events, provide free housekeeping services to women undergoing active cancer treatment through Cleaning for a Reason (C4R), and sponsor clients of severe need through Link the Pink.
CBT: Why did you decide to open a cleaning company? 
DM: In 2006, I lost my job and received a small stipend.  Unemployed, my choices were to either procure another job working for someone else, or gather my nerves and jump in full force with my own business.  I had several friends who owned house cleaning companies. With my administrative experience coupled with my OCD personality, I knew housekeeping was right up my alley.  I spent the next couple months working with my friends’ companies learning the trade inside and out.  Obtaining my business license and appropriate insurance coverage, I was well on my way to hiring my first employee.  My intentions were to grow fast, hire employees to do the work and enjoy the money rolling in.  Well, as I quickly learned, owning a business means long hours, hard work, and constant changes and adjustments and employees. That was a whole n’other story!  Nothing I imagined as a business owner.
CBT: What did you do before you had a cleaning company? 
DM: Prior to housekeeping, I served in the USAF as a Medical Administrative Specialist.  Following my military career, I worked in Executive Medical Administration with the local hospitals and WA State Health Insurance plan.  During this time, I gained experience not only in “hospital level” sanitation and became familiar with MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) protocols and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance, but also delved into Human Resource responsibilities, writing policy and procedure guidelines, coordinating meetings, compiling budget projections, contract management and was even on a committee to establish an Employee Benefitted Daycare facility. As a business owner, I’ve been able to use all of these skills in developing and managing The Cleaning Affair.
CBT: I know from talking to you that you got hit pretty hard during the recession. What happened to your business? 
DM: By the end of 2009, I had five employees and growth was eminent.  Suddenly, the calls stopped and clients were losing their jobs and their homes.  Between 2009 and 2010 our gross profit dropped nearly in half from $147,000 to $86,000, which resulted in layoffs and mass reorganization, not to mention falling into arrears with the IRS, Labor & Industries and WA Department of Revenue.  WOW!  Is owning a business fun!  
CBT: What was your thought process when all of that was happening? What changes did you make?
DM: Due to the $60,000 drop in revenue during the “recession,” I knew I had to make drastic changes or die trying.  I targeted the end of 2010 to see if strategic revisions would result in business survival.  Several strategies that I believe directly aided in profitability were donning a new look with a catchy name change to The Cleaning Affair and slogan “We do it, so you don’t have too,” the redesign of our website, and the selection of an attractive maid image as our mascot.  We did door-to-door flyers, coupon deals, and providing online payment options.  I also streamlined the services we offered and increased client rates where appropriate.  Eliminating some select services helped improve our cleaning times and reduce outgoing expenses, which enabled improved advertising modalities and standardized employee benefits.
CBT: How have those changes not only helped you survive the recession but also thrive as we come out of it?
DM: By the end of 2011, increased revenues were returning which enabled me to invest further into my company with better equipment, progressive advertising and staff training.  Using the WA Workforce Investment Act, I was able to join forces with other cleaning companies and certify my employees as HCTs through IICRC.  I became a member of the Cleaning Business Builders (CBB) Foundations of Success group, where I received intense training and individualized coaching tailored to managing a successful housecleaning service.  As a direct result, our profits have nearly doubled!  Another investment which helped me transition from a militant management style to a more compassionate and engaging leadership was my subscription to HiPEP – High Performance Employee Program, a coaching service designed to incentivize and engage employees.
CBT: Looking back, if you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
DM: I don’t believe I would change anything about how I developed my business.  It’s a journey, each day, learning and growing.  My best advice to anyone taking that leap of faith of owning a business would be keep your mind, ears and heart open.  Be strategic and constantly forecast; re-evaluate the direction of your company and don’t get settled into a simple routine. Always find better ways to do things, always consider improved cleaning products and techniques and never be afraid to ask for advice or consult your employees.  Realize that with growth comes change; with change comes a wealth of knowledge that, if utilized and applied appropriately, can provide a flourishing environment.
CBT: Looking forward, what does the future hold for The Cleaning Affair?
DM: Having joined ARCSI in 2013, I will be attending the 2013 ARCSI Convention and Education Conference in Las Vegas.  As the first certified housecleaning company on the West coast through IICRC, I will be implementing more strategic advertising.  We will continue to support Cleaning for a Reason and begin to take on one C4R client per team.  We are striving to earn the Angie’s List Super Service Award for 2013.  While making great efforts to give back to our community, I foresee our gross profits to surpass $500,000 by 2015.  My personal goal is to move from working in the field part-time to working in the office full-time.  Perhaps one day in the future, I could see myself as an IICRC-approved instructor for the House Cleaning Technician certification.