Mike and Kelly Sanders

Mike and Kelly Sanders in Uniontown PA
I had the opportunity to sit down with Mike and Kelly Sanders in Uniontown PA and they are truly most interesting people in this industry. The story is not so much that they clean windows for a living but, how their grandfather got started and how the family has persevered to celebrate this year 65 years in business. This is their story.
Mike's father William started cleaning windows in an 8 story building that still stands in downtown Uniontown PA to this day. In 1952, Gallatin National Bank hired William to clean all of the windows and to do so full-time. He was to clean only the upper level windows as the lowers were being cleaned by another company that William was familiar with. The work was all belt work. For those of you not familiar with belt work the window cleaner wears a belt that has two brass clips that attach to brass pins on either side of the window. The window cleaner stands outside on the ledge while clipped into the building. Many buildings are still cleaned this way today, especially in New York City. The pay was $1.00 per window washed inside and out. After 8 years the GNB the Bank President took a look at the wages being paid to clean the windows at the bank and was amazed that William was being paid better than he was. So in 1960 William was let go from GNB.
Window Cleaning History Mike Sanders remembers his Dad as a simple man but a hard worker always willing to give his last dollar to help the next guy out. William was a father of 5 children, 3 boys and 2 girls. He believed that if you took care of people the reward would come back. With that mind set, in 1960 he started Sanders Services and began taking on commercial and residential window cleaning accounts and also janitorial accts at night. He raised his family simply but instilled excellent work values that can still be seen in Mike to this day. Mike recalls his Dad would not splurge much although he recalls his Dad always drove a Cadillac. Once upon returning home Mike asked his Dad "did you get the account?" William replied, "No I shouldn't have pulled up in the Cadillac, as they thought they couldn't afford me."
Small Business Story Mike started working for the business in 1987. His Dad placed him on another building in downtown Uniontown PA and said "when you can clean these lower windows and not be afraid of the uppers then you're trained. Mike passed the test and he had the pleasure of working alongside his father until 1990 when he retired.
Family Business Mike and his wife Kelly have worked in the business since and have grown the business to where it is today. Mike recalls having to working hard as well, with most of his early days spent getting up at 5am and going to clean windows until about 1pm. He would then come home spend time with the family he now had and then back out after 5 to clean his janitorial accts. Hard work he recalls but he did what he had to do to keep the business going and his family fed.
Mike has 9 employees now and the business focuses on both window cleaning and construction cleans. It is also of note that Mike and Kelly's son and daughter also work in the business today and who knows if they won't someday take over the business their grandfather started.
While we walked the downtown, people would pass and Mike would greet them by name. He would point out the different buildings that they had worked on in the past or still work on today. I was impressed that Sanders Services still cleans more than 30 accounts that William had started while he owned the business. Talk about longevity. As I sat there and interviewed Mike I sure wished I could have met his father William Sanders. His business ethic and just plain human values I think anyone could learn from. It wasn't till I got down the road a while and was reflecting on our conversation that I realized I had met William Sanders thru his Son. He passed down wonderful qualities to Mike and I have to imagine if I did meet William I wouldn't see much a difference.

Check out our Interview with Mike and Kelly Sanders below:

AWC- Your dad had this business, why did you want to join him?
Mike- I didn't know if I wanted to do this in high school. I went to school to lay brick and in Army I was a heavy equipment operator. I overheard my Dad say retirement is coming soon and I sure hope one of the kids will take things over. I wasn't supposed to hear that but it was a turning point for me.

AWC- Mike you have been in business now for over 30 years. What is the biggest challenge to keeping the business going that long?
Mike- Employees

AWC- How do you sort thru and find the best ones?
Mike- I let my wife Kelly do all the interviews, she has a good read on people and can usually pick pretty good people.

AWC- What's the biggest enjoyment of carrying on this business this many years?
Mike- Carrying on my Dads legacy and I wish so badly he was here to see what this business has turned into. It's also a job that you can control your own schedule somewhat. If you have things come up the job is flexible enough it can often be changed around. I have been blessed and have been able to have a good income.

AWC- Do you think your kids will take the business on?
Mike- My daughter who just had a baby and Son who is 17 and also I have an older daughter that may be interested as well. I would love to see one or all of them take it on.

AWC- You have a few employees but for most part you're a small company. How has being small been a contributing factor to your success?
Kelly- Small numbers make for quality work. Quantity is great as long as you can handle the work. We are focused on customer first and we don't take on more unless we can keep that level of service.

AWC- I have worked together with my wife. How does working with your Wife present challenges?
Mike- I'm not sure my goals and expectations are the same. I am in business all the time and I can't shut my mind down. She wants me to shut things off when not at work.

AWC- Can you give an example of that?
Mike- One Saturday a customer called and needed some information and I didn't have it. I wanted so bad to go to the office and get the info. Kelly kept telling me to just let it go. So I know I drive her nuts with that mentality and vice versa.

AWC- Kelly in all fairness, same question?
Kelly- Some days better than others. (Laughs) You have to be able to shut it off when you go home.

AWC- Kelly and Mike you said sometimes your visions in the business are different. What does that mean?
Kelly- Mike is very content in the business and I want to keep growing and adding employees.

AWC- Do you think he just feels the establishment of the business, it is 65 years old? (Laughs)
Kelly- Absolutely our family is raised and we are in a good place financially so I think he just wants to coast out.

AWC- Mike not to cause marital problems but would you agree with that? (Laughs)
Mike- I do. Am happy with where I am at and honestly I would like to slow up at about 55. But I do recognize Kelly's feelings and I may need to open my thinking up to her feelings of growing the business more.
Kelly- Don't get me wrong I want to retire I just want to continue the business.

AWC- What are the advantages of owning a business in a cold weather state?
Mike- Time Off (Laughs) My brother was at the mall one day and he was making conversation with a guy we knew. My brother was stating how cold it was. The gentleman said it must not be that cold I just saw Sanders Services cleaning windows! We do shut it down at 20 degrees.

AWC- I always felt that window cleaning in a cold weather state eliminated competition. Everyone is a window cleaner in April and at times we would have competitors take an account I always thought "let's see if they show up in January" and sure enough we would get customers back in the winter.
AWC- How about disadvantage?
Mike- Paying the bills, when you're not working your cash flow decreases.

AWC- The term "Window Cleaner" how does that term feel to you?
Mike- Over the years you get negativity. I recall people thru the years making comments like "hey your pretty good at that you should do it for a living" little do they know it is my living. It's a struggle at times. But the positive is I love telling people that I have done this all my life. I have supported my family paid for a couple weddings been able to take some nice vacations. Also I don't want to gloat but I consider some of my peers that went to college out of high school and they don't have it as good. So I am proud to be called a window cleaner.

AWC-How do you deal with the ups and downs of business?
Mike- Lots of prayer and just taking things day by day.

AWC- If you could go back in time, anything you would do different yourself or business wise?
Mike- I graduated high school and went into the Army. After the Army I started working with my Dad. I wish I would have gone to college and studied business. I may not have made as many mistakes if I had of been a little more educated.

AWC- Do you have a favorite tool?
Mike- Yeah it's a combination actually. I like a Sorbo Channel with an Unger Ninja handle.

AWC- What's your favorite Rubber?
Mike- I give them all a chance and honestly I buy rubber based on what's on sale

AWC- Are you a subscriber to AWC?
Mike- I am

AWC- How Long?
Mike- I just re-subscribed. I had been a subscriber for years and it went by the way side. Then I seen online and thought I need to get my subscription back. Now that there are new owners I can't wait to see where the Draper's are going to take it.

AWC- Mike and Kelly, I sure appreciate you both taking time to tell your story. I am glad we get the opportunity to tell it. Your great people!
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