Phebe and Sarah Van Der Meer
This edition we interview a cool couple in Dallas, Texas. They own a business called Dutch Shine Maintenance Services and we introduce to you Phebe and Sarah Van Der Meer.
Where are you located?
Sarah: We are in Dallas Tx and Serve the Dallas Fort Worth Metro Area.
AWC: When did you guys start your window cleaning business?
Sarah: Back in the beginning of 2015, to support the family, Phebe was an environmental specialist by day, and worked waiting tables at night. I was a stay at home mom with three young kids. Phebe had grown up around window cleaning. His dad continues to work in the industry and has been a window cleaner for decades.
That April he bought himself his first Ettore window cleaning kit and decided to moonlight as a window cleaner. He loved it. He enjoyed working with clients and putting a smile on their faces. There is nothing like having a client cry because they had no idea their windows could be so clean! The sense of satisfaction, completing a job and working with his hands, all gave him the window cleaning bug.
Then in August our world felt like it gave way from under us. The company he worked for, downsized and let him go. With three kids, we had no idea what we were going to do. We talked about it, prayed about it. Phebe had not been happy with his day job for a while. Juggling multiple jobs meant less time with the kids, with me, and for himself.
He had always wanted to start his own business. I thought window-cleaning? How are we going to be able support ourselves cleaning windows?! He looked at me and said, " I grew up with this. I KNOW we can be successful at it. Do you trust me?" I said, I do, and we jumped in feet first.
Our youngest had just started full time school so we were both belting up every day. My parents were convinced we were going to end up moving in with them but were supportive, nonetheless. Our friends and community though, are what really got the ball rolling. We had volunteered a ton in the kid’s schools and community. As soon as we announced we were starting a window cleaning company we had 5 people take a chance on us and sign up.
They loved what we did, wrote reviews, and then we got more. Before we knew it, Phebe and I were working full time and making more than we had with both his careers combined. We were careful to make sure that the community that got us started, knew we cared and valued their support, they were directly supporting our family. We donated to school auctions, volunteered whenever possible, and tried our best to be good neighbors.
Since we started this adventure, our business has grown tremendously every year in the last 4 years, and we are looking forward to what the future holds for us.
AWC: How many employees do you have?
Sarah: We generally have 4 to 5 employees and we recently hired our first office manager. We have two full time employees and a couple part-time helpers.
AWC: Phebe your second generation? Right?
Phebe: Yes, my dad has always been an entrepreneur. He has done everything from owning a successful cafe, to building massage chairs. He's always worked with his hands. The one business though that stuck was window cleaning. He has owned successful window cleaning businesses in Montana, Florida, and Colorado, selling old businesses and starting new ones.
The biggest take away for me has been that you can be successful in window cleaning most anywhere you go whether it be a rural state or high population city. Window cleaning is a skilled trade you take with you anywhere you go. The other takeaway is that you don't have to go the traditional route. You can step off the corporate ladder and take direct control of your financial success, instead of waiting and hoping for someone to give you a 3% pay-raise every year.
AWC: Sarah what’s your role in the business?
Sarah: In the beginning we did everything together. I cleaned windows, answered the phone, handled customer relations, and any PR efforts. I usually had a headset on, chatting with clients with a squeegee in one hand and typing in details with my other hand into my phone. I also helped us make a name for ourselves by jumping on the Nextdoor bandwagon. Whenever someone was looking for service provider recommendations, or just needed help, I would form connections and point neighbors in the right direction, all while casually mentioning that we clean windows, gutters, and power wash. In the last year I have worked from the office more and more but during our busy days I am still slinging squeegees or helping to train our employees.
Keep Reading Below...
AWC: What are the challenges of working as a Husband and Wife team?
Sarah: This December will be our 14th wedding anniversary and we are still going strong. We work well together. Everyone always tells us they can't imagine working with their spouse, but we keep each other balanced and have complementary strengths.
Running a business is of course very stressful which impacts how we work together. We joke around that it's ok for us to have freak-out moments, but never at the same time.
There is always lots of challenges and potential strain on the relationship. We both care deeply about the business and often have conflicting approaches on how we move forward. Phebe is the big idea guy and I am the details and logistics person. He is the dreamer and I am the bubble buster. I look at the numbers and determine whether they make sense. Do we have the resources, manpower, and time to make something happen? Will it yield more than say a different idea? Which ideas should be made priority etc.? He will push to buy the next and newest shiny window cleaning tool, and I'm the one asking do we need it? How much more will it yield us?
Sometimes we push ourselves to accommodate more on the schedule than we can handle, and while I'm pushing to accommodate everyone who calls so we don't disappoint, he will remind me that we are more likely to disappoint when we over-scheduled.
He pushes me to take risks and I help him follow his ideas through to the end. I feel we make the best decisions as a result. I honestly could not imagine doing this business without him. When we are working in the field together, I feel my stress levels drop and it really seems like anything is possible. We make each other laugh, we have fun, and I know no matter what we do we'll be successful if we do it together.
Phebe: In general, we complement each other in the field. Sarah handles most of the phone calls and the office-related stuff while helping me in the field. I run the operations, make sure the vehicles are supplied and ready for work, etc. Our biggest challenge is separating business from family time. Customers call, email, and message us during and outside of business hours. Requests for estimates keep coming in at all hours so enforcing our hours of operation can be tricky, especially when some customers are calling last minute. Sarah and I both tend to be people-pleasers, oftentimes to the detriment of our own well-being. We are trying to learn better ways to balance customer needs and expectations, with our own.
The most important thing for us at this time is to design and set our systems in such a way, that it will allow us to work more on our business, rather than in our business. Time is passing quickly, our kids are growing fast, and it is important to give them the most of ourselves as we can. It is really one of the main reasons we started the business. I used to go from a day job to a part-time evening job almost every day. Now we have dinner together every day, we have our weekends, and holidays together, and we enjoy activities with our kids like family movie nights or taking walks to the park.
AWC: What business problem are you hoping to solve this year?
Sarah: So many things! We are not even sure where to begin.
- Hiring and finding the right people is always a challenge. We expect a lot from our employees and in an industry where we are inside people's homes all the time, the wrong hire can really hurt the business. Our employees tend to be family people and the average age of our employees is 40. Sarah is the youngest person in the company at 34. As you grow, it is also hard to not lose the level of detail and quality you started with. Ultimately, we would like to grow to 3 or 4 self-sustaining crews, but right now, we are at 2, which includes us.
- Finding the time to do it all. We know what we need to do to get to the next level but finding the time to accomplish both short term and long-term goals is a challenge while balancing children, marriage, household duties, etc. We are often going to bed late working after the kids go to bed working on schedules, tax filings, and estimates and then getting up before dawn to prepare equipment and vehicles, make lunches and breakfast, and get laundry done. It feels like our daily progress is slow but when we step back and look at the big picture, we have accomplished so much in the short 4 years.
AWC: What’s the largest problem in your eyes facing the industry?
Phebe: Safety / health / wellness and automation. Window cleaners tend to have a very nonchalant attitude about safety. While high-rise is more regulated, residential is not and it just takes one fall to take you out. It is exciting to see new and improved safety tools in the market like Tuckers' new Isotech pole base, or ladder gutter clamps so ladders don't blow over with a strong gust of wind.
There is not a whole lot in place to encourage preventative healthcare or help when cleaners get hurt. Many small business owners cannot afford health insurance. In an industry that is so physically demanding, it is even more important to make sure you are healthy. We know cleaners that have had massive heart attacks, have experienced serious falls and even had their home destroyed by a recent tornado. Without adequate health insurance or care, many lose their businesses.
We are also concerned about automation. There are so many new devices coming out that are doing a better and better job. They are going to make some of what we do easier, but in some cases, they could replace us. We read an article the other day about this company that makes cleaning drones because they wanted high-rise window cleaners to be safer. Little did these college kids know that not only is it safe, but high risers love what they do and if you take that away from them it would be devastating. But innovation is coming whether we like it or not.