Cleaning service gains traction the second time around

The newest issue of Family Circle magazine showcases Kelly Jones as a cleaning expert in a feature headlined “Meet The Grime Fighters.”

“I don’t want to say it was by accident, but it kind of was,” said Jones, a mom of three and founder of The Cleaning Girl Inc. in Wilmington.

“Expert” is no misnomer. Jones, who has owned two successful cleaning businesses, is a sought-after speaker on all things organizational.

The “accident” was how Jones came to the magazine editors’ attention. Family Circle’s email somehow landed on Cleaning Girl’s press list. Unbeknownst to Jones, her email blasts were hitting the magazine’s editorial office every four weeks.

“They’d been getting them for over a year, and we didn’t know,” she said. “Then they reached out to us I think it was the first week in December. We were like: ‘What?’ It was so funny.”

The editors said they loved Jones’ branding — all-pink, all-girly, complete with a bright fuscia logo of a ponytailed woman squeezing a spray bottle of bubbles.

“I think the pink sells,” Jones said. “We thought about blue because bubbles are blue, but I said, ‘No. I’m not a blue girl. I’m a pink girl.’”

The editors overnighted “this humongous box of supplies” to Jones. Some products that were new to the market and some she grew up using.

“I was raised by a single mom, and my sister and brother and I were responsible for all the domestic duties in the house. My mom was a nurse who worked the graveyard shift,” Jones said. “I was responsible for the laundry room. To this day, you could eat off my laundry room floor.”

Her verdict on the product mix: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent Packs turned a load of heavily soiled white rags spotless. She liked Swiffer Wet Jets well enough to gift new long-range clients with them.

Jones started her first cleaning business when she was a 22-year-old single mom with two toddlers, first taking out a $60 business-card-sized ad in The News Journal and later using her tax refund for a down payment on another woman’s business. She was successful thanks to word-of-mouth. But, for all her good ideas, the business didn’t survive.

“I didn’t have any experience of running a business other than just get up and go clean,” she said. “We didn’t have an employee training manual, none of that. I had a paper calendar on the wall.”

She instinctively built her business around busy moms like herself who couldn’t keep up with all the demands
of schools and sports with 9-to-5 jobs. She structured schedules so contractors, who might have two kids or two jobs, could pick the hours they could work each week.

“I believe in today’s family there has to be that one person who can just drop and go,” Jones said. “Kids are involved in too many activities, and you want all those things, because you want good kids. To do that, you really need a parent who has flexibility.”

With good instincts but little operations savvy, Jones wound up handing her clients to a trusted competitor when no-shows and other unpredictable business glitches threatened her health.

The Cleaning Girl was her do-over. This time around, she was married mother of three who realized she needed training to grow her business. She spent weeks on her front porch researching every cleaning service in the state.

She went after all the free advice she could get — at We Work, at the Women’s Business Center and the Emerging Enterprise Center at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce.

“I knew and had to find my learning gaps and experience gaps and learn what I needed to do to seal them up,” she said.

Nowadays, Jones calls the enterprise center director Frank DeSantis her adopted godfather. “I go to Frank for everything,” she said.

The paper wall calendars and appointment books of old are gone this time around. Jones posted an online reservation system and offered a novel product — cleaning whenever customers need it. You can order weekly cleanings or just one spring cleaning. Or a cleaning just prior to your big occasion.

At The Cleaning Girl, most of the dozen workers are independent licensed contractors. “My SEO girl is in India. My Mail Chimp guy is in Bangladesh. My developer is around the corner,” Jones said.

Many of her cleaners are new immigrant moms, and Jones asks them to carry their I-9s in the cleaning car to prove they are authorized to work in the U.S. “I’m scared for my girls, because they are legal, but, if they’re
in a cleaning car, they’re a prime target. I have them carry their I-9s with them in the car, because you just don’t know. They made stops last Monday in North Wilmington.”

Annual sales are now at $250,000. Jones has a new-construction cleanup division and a residential division.
All Jones’ residential cleaners are vetted and bonded. Recognizing her turn to give back, she serves on the boards of several nonprofits. Jones helps recovering addicts and former prisoners organize their lives. She has partnered with Helen F. Graham Center to offer discounted cleaning programs for cancer patients.

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