By Alexander Vuocolo
Special to Delaware Business Times
Rosemary Everton was waiting in the hallway of the Sussex County Courthouse for jury selection when she couldn’t help but notice a spot of dust on the windowsill. She slowly moved towards the window, put her hands behind her back, and wiped the dust away with her shirt, all while talking to the other jurors.
“The hazard of this job is anywhere you go you start looking at dust,” she said.
Everton is the founder and CEO of Mid-Atlantic Services, a commercial cleaning company that operates in 178 buildings across the state. Her biggest client also happens to be the State of Delaware. More than 80 percent of the buildings cleaned by Mid-Atlantic are government-owned.
“They are a pleasure to work with. They are easy to work with. They are always responsive,” said Doug Minner, chief of maintenance operations in the state’s Division of Facilities Management.
Everton and her husband Michael started a house-cleaning business in the early 1980s with just a van and their own cleaning supplies. Within five years, they had over 500 residential clients in Sussex County alone and had hired more than a dozen employees. They incorporated the company in 1985 and began to move toward commercial clients. Their big break, Everton says, was getting contract to clean the offices at DuPont’s Seaford plant.
“I think we accidentally got it, to be honest about it,” Everton said. “I’m not sure they really wanted to go with us because we were unknown. But since we were the lowest bidder they said ‘OK, we’ll give you a chance.’ ”
The company started picking up government contracts soon after, and that changed the course of how it would grow over the next three decades. Hiring practices, for example, changed. The company now has to make sure all employees have their thumbprints taken and are cleared by the police before they can work on state property. And over the last 10 years, at least, the company has also been forced to consider security issues like terrorism.
“It was touch and go. We would lose contracts, gain contracts. But we’ve stayed steady and we have a pretty good reputation,” Everton said. “It’s still competitive. We have to bid.”
Today Mid-Atlantic Services grosses about $2 million per year and has more than 160 employees, about 90 percent part time. The company started relying on part-time workers in the 1990s, Everton says, and has stuck with the model because it provides flexibility. “We always say, ‘Get a job with us in the evening to help pay your car payment or car insurance.’ It’s just a way to supplement your income,” she said.
Everton says that she feels a deep civic pride in being able keep state-owned buildings clean.
“There’s a lot of things that we do that people don’t notice behind the scenes,” Everton said. “When Beau Biden was lying in wake, they got us to go in and make sure all the floors were looking good and to make sure everything was ready.”
Everton also touts the fact Mid-Atlantic is woman-owned. While it began as a husband-and-wife operation, Michael Everton was more than happy to hand over the reins to his wife of nearly 50 years. “My husband said ‘you can handle it all, hon,’ ” she said. “We call him Pop-Pop Daycare. He handles the grandchildren.”
Everton says the trick to working with your spouse is treating it almost like a third date. “You’re close, but you have that respect,” she said.