The world’s finest window cleaner: part 1

Before today’s post, I want to ask you all to do me a favor and always email me (sharkmanbell@gmail.com) any cool animal pictures you run across so that I  can share them with everyone else. Thanks.

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You’ll find the introduction to this post here.

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Sometimes people ask me how I got into window cleaning.

Some are genuinely curious.

Some are cautiously admiring (especially those stuck in boring, high-paying corporate desk jobs) in the same way a serious family man holding down a serious job harbors a secret admiration for his 35 year old wild bachelor friend who waits tables at night and surfs all day. He could never bring himself to actually do it, but that doesn’t mean a stray daydream doesn’t catch him unawares from time to time.

Some are unabashedly condescending. Like the older gentleman whose door I knocked on one day in the prettiest neighborhood in Albuquerque (think of Vernal in Utah. Jk, jk. It’s actually a gorgeous, verdant part of town). When he discovered during the course of our conversation that I had a college degree he couldn’t stop asking me why I was wasting my education doing THIS!?” I was thinking “what part of Chief Executive Officer does this joker not understand?” I got the job and when I was in his den I saw a framed Time magazine with his face on the cover and discovered he was a world famous scientist, so I forgave his snobbery.

Some are envious (chimney sweeps all want to become window cleaners. Don’t even get me started on those soot-lipped losers.)

So here’s the story of how a no-name kid from Farmington Utah ascended the heady heights of southwestern professional window cleaning to become Albuquerque’s most loved and most despised.

In high school I had a couple friends who had little window cleaning businesses, but the thought never occurred to me to start one of my own.  However, a few years later in college as I was facing the prospect of either spending my summer selling pest control in Kansas or finding some other way to make my way, I had an epiphany; I could have my high school buddy Jeff teach me how to clean windows. He kindly agreed. After all, his business was in Davis County, and I gravely promised him I would never allow my empire to stretch north of Point of the Mountain.

My handsomest friend Layne—who was in the same position—agreed to be my partner, at which point another friend, Dan, expressed interest to me being the second man. I shrugged and told him someone else had already signed on. Not sure why it didn’t occur to me that three could do it as easily as two. This excluded friend went on to co-found the famous Ragnar Relay Race series, so I’m definitely glad I didn’t form any sort of business partnership with him back then. No regrets on that one.

(As a fun aside, I actually lived with both Ragnar founders, the other one being my good friend and cousin. I remember many conversations in which they were dreaming about starting this Hood-to-Coast-inspired race in Utah. Not knowing the first thing about races or business, I still felt qualified to declare that such a thing would never work in Utah. Again, I don’t know the meaning of the word “regret”. Never heard of it. Some people’s version of fun is becoming rich and famous in a sexy leisure business and some people’s idea of fun is scrubbing windows with soapy water in New Mexico with their beautiful, long, curly hair cropped tragically short because they are in a stupid service business. To each his own.

Back to the story. So Jeff showed Layne and me what basic equipment to buy and trained us for 20 or 30 minutes on my parents’ windows. And with that, we stretched our eager wings and Clarity Window Cleaning willed itself into existence. We started knocking doors, having no idea what we were doing. I remember our first job was the outside of a small home for $40. The owner wouldn’t be home on the day we came to do the work, so he paid me right there at the estimate. Only in Provo.

My favorite memory of that summer is this:

Layne agreed to my idea of both partners doing every window job together, with the partner who procured the job getting 60% of the profits, and the other partner getting 40%. However, this arrangement quickly became a sore subject as I had more luck procuring the first few jobs. Then we went to do a big two-story house I had found. The price was $105, which seemed like a king’s ransom to me at the time, even though I would charge around $260 for that job nowadays (and do it 3 times faster). It was drastically underbid. All our jobs were underbid, which explains why people entrusted their glass to two college kids with a 24 foot ladder tied down to the roof of a two-door Sentra. Keep in mind that Jeff told us he grossed about $25-30 per hour. We knew he was faster, but we still had dollar signs in our eyes. Anyway, we worked our buns off at this house in 90+ degree weather. After the job, we sat in the work truck (Sentra) and divided the spoils. I nervously watched Layne’s sweaty face grow darker and darker as he did the quick arithmetic, realizing his share amounted to $8.75/hour, not including expenses or driving and selling time. I still can’t recall this episode without busting up. Whenever I watch Napolean Dynamite count the change earned from the dirty chicken coop work, realizing the tally to be around one dollar per hour, I think of a hot, angry Layne.

But we learned as we went and went as we learned. We did ok that summer and I continued to clean windows off and on (mostly off. You try being a young self-employed cat in Provo during the summer!) throughout school. Then I married and graduated, took an office job in Southern California, then transferred to Albuquerque, land of a hundred browns.

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14 Responses to The world’s finest window cleaner: part 1

  1. Braden says:

    Great post, Kook. Rather poignant, actually. I enjoyed hearing about that. I’m a little sad because I don’t think your new job will have quite the same fodder for blog posts.

  2. Layne says:

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I left the window business. Thanks for that walk down memory lane Christian.

  3. Ryan says:

    That Layne sounds like a conniving, good for nothing scoundrel. Wait, which one of you ended up with more money?

    These are great stories, Kook. Every superhero needs an origin story, and now you have one.

    I loved remembering the huge ladder strapped to the roof of the little Sentra. That was so great. Very skutchy of you.

  4. Tanner Bell says:

    It seems appropriate to mention Ragnar today since Davis and Melissa are running their first Ragnar in NY on this very day. Good luck Davis and Melissa. Thanks for the shout out Kook.

    As for Layne, didn’t he live in the crawl space in our college house for two months? I’m surprised he expected you to pay him at all considering the lavish accomodations you provided him those few months before he got married.

  5. Layne says:

    Ryan, I’m glad that I made such a good impression.

    Did you hear about what’s happened with your former cohorts iin the alarm sales business? It sounds like some conniving, good for nothing scoundrels were being a little too pushy with their approach to selling Top Cop.

    http://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/pressrelease/100511homesalemedsafety.asp

  6. Ben Pratt says:

    I”m with Ryan; I’ve been waiting for this origin story issue to come out. It’s definitely a collector’s item.

  7. Christian says:

    Comment from Jeff, who trained me:

    “Great story Chris. I will never forget the first job I did. Jon bid $45 and we were there for 6 hours. We actually never finished. I walked off the job and told Jon the bidding was up to me from then on. It later turned out to be a great partnership and we had a lot of fun together. We separated a few years later and that’s when the real money started coming in.”

    That would be $3.75 per hour per person, had they finished it in 6 hours. See Layne, it could have been worse.

    Tanner, thanks for reminding me that layne lived in the 4 foot high, dark, concrete crawl space for the 2 months before he got married. lol

  8. Skewism says:

    Good story Chris,
    Funny thing about that window washing business is its pedigree chart. The first ones to get into the act were the Earls. Jon Earls’ little brother, can’t remember his name, we called him Wedge Head, and Cody. They were the first to get into the business with encouragement of the Earl mom. She went to a supply store, bought all the stuff and gave to her son and his best friend (Cody) and said get to work at you new business. Jon Earl got back from his mission, took over for Cody and the brotherly team formed “Honor Window Washing.” After a while Jon Earl’s little bro left the scene and Jeff “Booster Rhymes” entered in as the new partner. Boosters tenacious work ethic and insatiable appetite to make it big was incompatible with the more easy going Earl way of doing things. Jeff and Jon broke it off and the more profitable “JR Window Cleaning” (JR for Jeffery Rex) was formed with Booster flying solo. Honor Window Washing struggled for a few more months until it slowly withered out. JR Window Cleaning was in its hey day when Jeff shared his teachings with Chris under a strict non-compete contract.

    So when you think about it Chris you should be thanking Jon Earls mom for putting food on your family’s table for the last few years.

  9. Jami says:

    HAHA. That’s funny. I do remember working 50+ hours a week that summer and Layne working 15- hours. I was really annoyed that he was making more money than me. 🙂

  10. Serene says:

    A cliff hanger? Ah dang, now I gotta wait to see how it ends.

    Too funny, I’m loving the story!

  11. Tauna says:

    I wish you were in the window cleaning business in Idaho…..”hi Serene”….
    Your site is sorta funny all the time.
    Tauna

  12. Christian says:

    Thanks for dropping in, Tauna. I would be happy to clean your windows in Idaho, I just have to add on a trip fee of $1300. But my quality can’t be beat!!!

  13. @Tanner Yay for Ragnarists! I’m gearing up for next year!

  14. DYING. Seriously, the idea of catching up on all these posts is the biggest treat to me after a long month. This is one of my favorite posts ever, Kook. Remember when I can call you that since we’re such good blog friends and all? The beautiful long curly hair followed by 2-door Sentra followed by concrete crawl space about did me in.

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