Ask Steve

Ask Steve: When Should I Move My Cleaning Business Into Commercial Office Space?

The worst is to wind up in the middle as in “too big” for your house but “too small” for a separate off-site office

Cleaning officeHi Steve,

Here’s a question that is concerning my wife and I quite a bit. (Well, actually my wife more than me!) When did you leave the low overhead of working out of your home and make the move into a commercial office space?

Our office is in a separate building outside of our home and we let our techs keep our vans at their homes. And yes, from a security standpoint this bothers me - both for break-ins and the temptation for the techs to earn a little “extra money on the side” with my van.

So I've been restlessly itching to get into a commercial building. So Steve, let me know when you pulled the trigger, how it worked out for you and what I should look out for.

Thanks so much,

-Restless in Raton


Dear Restless,

You actually are asking two separate, but related, questions. Let’s focus on the first one: When and if you should make the jump to an ‘off-site’ commercial location.

Your call of course, but I stayed working out of my home for too long. This comfort zone can just be so tempting. And the low overhead was a factor too in my procrastination!

But we had three trucks in the street (in a residential neighborhood) and five techs drinking coffee in my kitchen every morning while sneaking peeks at Sioux in her nightgown. Finally, my dear wife said "Enough is enough!"

I did do one thing smart. I went straight from my house to a large enough office/warehouse condominium. While I would never counsel you to bite off more than you can chew, this incremental upsizing can be a killer both logistically and financially with all of the moves involved.

So, as always, I would urge you to begin with the end in mindand rent or buy a property that allows you to expand. However, give serious thought to the advantages of buying your own property and becoming your own landlord.

For example, we bought a 6,000 square foot commercial office/warehouse condo. But for the first few years, we leased out half of it which covered most of our monthly mortgage payment. Then as we grew, we slowly eased our tenants out until we occupied the entire space.

NOTE: Remember that your mortgage payment is going toward a long-term investment instead of being frittered away in rent. When I sold my company, I kept the warehouse and today it is paid off and provides a very nice rental income. Plus it is worth 4 to 5 times what I initially paid for it. So yes, I am a huge believer in real estate for long-term investing.

However, Restless, the big challenges in making the jump will not directly be the cost of the rent or mortgage payment. We found the bigger problem was the staffing and organizing ourselves from a seat of the pants operation into a real business. This transition was agonizing.


So in general, my two cents says if you want to stay a small one (or maybe two) truck operation with a trusted full-time helper and occasional other help as needed, then to continue working out of your home.

But if you want to get big, bite the bullet and buy (don't rent) a quality office/warehouse in a good part of town that is centrally located to your work.

NOTE: Stay small or get big? Either one works. But the worst is to wind up in the middle as in “too big” for your house but “too small” for a separate off-site office.  This “Road In-Between” business model can be agonizing on many different levels and yet this is where I find too many carpet cleaners spend their life.

For my free “Avoiding the Road In-between” Special Report just write me at and put the phrase “ICS In Between” in the subject line.

So let’s assume you do make the jump, Restless. (I’m betting you will!) If so, here are a few reminders/ cautions:

1. Carefully check zoning laws. The seller has no obligation to do this for you and you won’t want an ugly surprise after closing.

2. Will there be enough space to store your vehicles? If you are in a cold climate please buy enough bays to keep all your truckmounts inside and protected from freezing. (This changed my life as I no longer had to dread those freezing Colorado nights with a frozen up pump or heat exchanger!)

3. Is there enough real estate to add on to your building in the future?

4. How difficult will it be for your customers to find you? Sure, right now you may not want customers bringing rugs and furniture in for cleaning. But who knows about the future?

5. And of course, check the same things you would in buying a house. Termites, structural integrity and potential repair costs, adequate electrical service and energy costs of maintaining the building.

My two cents and best wishes!

 Steve and ICS want to consult for you! For a personal reply write Steve HERE with your questions, problems, struggles and challenges! Your help is on the way! A new “Ask Steve” will debut each Thursday in the ICS eNewsletter, which you can register for by clicking here

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