Cleaning & Restoration Association News

How Did You Get Started in the Cleaning Business?

January 5, 2001
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As a new columnist to ICS, Bob Merkt shares his background, experiences, vision for the hard floor maintenance technician, and his love for the industry.



How did you get started in the cleaning business? Growing up, or during career day at school, how many of you said you wanted to be a professional cleaner? You might have said; I want to be a doctor, lawyer, fireman or something to that effect. I suspect not many (if any) of us said, “I want to be a professional cleaner.”

I find it fascinating how many of us got into this business and I would like to start by telling you how I got into the cleaning industry. Like most, I didn’t plan on being a professional cleaner—I just sort of fell into it. Here’s how.

As a boy growing up, my father was in the navy. The navy is famous for keeping everything very clean or “ship shape.” My dad was no exception and growing up in his house meant everything had to be neat, organized and very clean. Making it through adolescence was quite the experience. As a teenager, I worked for my mother who managed a chain of restaurants. Her philosophy, and a key to her success, was cleanliness. She believed the secret to keeping customers coming back was not only to provide good food but to make sure the place was always neat, organized and very clean. Guess whose job it was to clean—that’s right, it was mine. I worked for my mother through high school. After high school, I didn’t care what I did as long as it had nothing to do with cleaning. I went to work in a factory, specifically the boiler room, which was equipped with manual equipment.

However, soon after I was hired, the boilers were automated. They all became computerized and self operated so I was transferred to a different department—the cleaning department. After a year, I couldn’t take it. I wanted a new job, any job, but not cleaning.

On the advice of a friend, I applied for a bellmen’s position at a resort hotel. The resort was seven hours north of where I lived. If hired, it meant I would have to move, but I didn’t care as long as I wasn’t cleaning.

You can imagine my excitement when I was hired. I packed my bags and headed north. Upon arriving to my new job, I learned that the position that was promised me was no longer available. With no money to return home, and too proud to ask my parents, I was forced to accept the only position they had. You guessed it—in the cleaning department.

At first, I was happy because I was learning how to clean carpets, upholstery and hard surface floors. However, that was short lived and my desire to do anything but clean soon returned. I had a friend mail me our hometown newspaper, and after looking in the classifieds, I applied for and was hired as a cook in a family restaurant. I gave notice to my employer; took my final paycheck and hoped it would be enough for me to get home. After paying a few bills, filling the car up with gas and grabbing a bite to eat, I was broke. Nonetheless, I headed south hoping I could make it on one tank of gas. About 60 miles from home, I ran out of gas. I coasted into a gas station wondering how I was going to get home.

While sitting there, depressed and reflecting on my life, I began to remember some of the lessons my mother and father taught me. Realizing that I had to do something, I entered the gas station, introduced myself and told the owner of my plight. I asked him if he had any work I could do to earn enough to pay for the gas I would need to get home. He asked me “What can you do?” and I proudly said, “I can clean.” After cleaning his restrooms, windows and empting the trash he gave me enough fuel to get home.

During the drive home, I looked at the newspaper to get the address on my new job. I noticed an ad from a professional cleaning company and began reflecting on the cleaning I had just completed, how good I felt when I was done, and how satisfied the owner was. I said to myself, cleaning is not such a bad job and besides I am good at it.

Upon returning home, I applied for and got the professional cleaning job. The gentleman I worked for was a true professional. In fact, he was the president of our state association and well respected in our industry. He took me under his wing and groomed me to become a professional cleaner. He was also very big on education and sent me to many schools, workshops and seminars. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was hooked and wanted to be the owner of my own cleaning company. From there, the rest is history.

I started own business in 1987 (Kettle Moraine Professional Cleaners, Inc.) and have since continued to educate myself and help others get educated. In fact, in 1998 I started another company designed to do just that. It is called MEGA—The Merkt Educational Group and Associates.

Additionally, I have been involved with my state’s cleaning association, Association of Wisconsin Cleaning Contactors (AWCC), since 1980. Additional industry-related involvements include: certified instructor for Cleaning Management Institute (CMI) and instructor of the custodial training course Levels I & II; IICRC Master Cleaner; past IICRC board member; soon to be an IICRC instructor; and vice chair of the new IICRC Floor Care Technicians Course (FCT).

I have always enjoyed hard surface floor care and look forward to writing this column.

What to Expect

My vision for this column is to bring you useful, practical information—information that is tried and true from techniques that I have field-tested to industry standards.

Not only will I write technical articles about systems, techniques and procedures, but I will also write about equipment, supplies and materials, as well as articles about managing a hard surface floor cleaning company. Most importantly, I want to address things that are important to you. I encourage you to write, fax or E-Mail your questions, comments and concerns.

I often profess that in this industry I often preach to the choir. A presentation I do entitled Hard Surface Floor Care: We Are the Experts sums it up in that we all have something to offer. In my travels throughout the country, I have learned there are many ways to achieve the same results. I have gleaned a lot from my students and have shared things I have learned to help others. Your contributions are welcome and I will give recognition. In the process if we can help a fellow cleaner become successful and teach them something beneficial, then we all win. The more educated we are, the more successful we will be, and ultimately more profitable.

Finally, I would like to thank my good friend and predecessor, Stanley Quentin Hulin. You can still read Stan’s articles in ICS’ sister publication, Commercial Floor Care. I would also like to thank the people at ICS for this opportunity. It’s an honor to be associated with such a fine publication and its corral of columnists.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to i Cleaning Specialist Magazine.

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