Hiring can be difficult, as can maintaining a healthy and encouraging culture for your cleaning business. In our conversation with Eva from RBG Janitorial, we broke down what makes her company’s work environment truly inclusive.
About This Guest:
Owner - RBG Janitorial
Eva Kretschmar is the owner of RBG Janitorial, a commercial cleaning company based out of Belvidere, Illinois. In the almost three years they’ve been in business, RBG Janitorial has become a place that is alluring to potential new hires as a welcoming and supportive environment that will enable them on the job and their bigger career goals, even if their goals are outside of the janitorial space.
With the mindset of listening to employees and utilizing the strengths of an inclusive workforce, RBG Janitorial has been recognized for hiring veterans and disabled persons indiscriminately. We sat down to talk with Eva about how she leads so well despite having only truly entered the industry when she established the company.
Halie Morris 0:31
Hello everyone. My name is Halie Morris. I’m your podcast coordinator and host here at The Business of Cleaning.
Today I have with me Eva Kretschmar from RBG Janitorial. So Eva, why don’t you go ahead, introduce yourself, and tell us more about what you do.
Eva Kretschmar 0:47
I own RBG Janitorial. I’m the owner and president and we are a woman-owned small business providing commercial cleaning services to government military contracts, anything non-residential.
Thank you. So with RBG, you guys are a little bit younger of a company, aren’t you?
Yes, we will be three years old this coming January.
Yay, congrats! We’re getting real close. 2021 is almost here.
Yeah, after 2020, it feels like 30 years.
Right? It’s been the most unique year, I think in my life, which is admittedly not super long yet, but definitely, this is the most memorable. I can’t believe it’s only been a year.
So, about the founding, how did you guys come to be? I realize you are only a couple of years old, so where was your starting point and how have you grown over the last couple of years, almost three?
I had a friend who was selling janitorial supplies and was retiring, but he had a few buildings that he cleaned. He had six buildings and eight janitors and asked if I would like to start a cleaning company.
It was not like anything I had done before and so after some back and forth, I said “Okay. Why not?” and we jumped in. It’s been a skyrocket, ever since.
We got together with the Small Business Development Center, who helped us establish a business form, a business concept, or to hone our business concept into something that could then be presented to:
- register us as a small business.
- register us as women on business.
- apply to banks for credit should we need it
Then also networking and through that, we became involved with the Workforce Connection (specific to Boone, Stephenson, and Winnebago Counties, Illinois), which is the Department of Employment Security (specific to Illinois), which is underneath the purview of the Department of Human Services (specific to Illinois, each state has their own version) which is a segment of the Department of Labor (federal level).
Traveling through those branches of our government, we somehow also became involved with the Veterans Administration (federal level). Oh, my goodness, Goodwill and the Salvation Army and the local rescue mission. And on and on.
I asked because I know we’ve been talking before, and you have such an interesting background. You didn’t typically come into this industry, from the usual starting point.
It was definitely a new venture for you, but you’ve done extremely well since then. You’ve taken something that was new and unknown and turned it into something extremely successful.
At heart, I’m a salesperson and so at the very core of this business, enterprise cleaning, and the various services associated with commercial janitorial maintenance, that’s the product we sell.
It could be milk. It could be bananas. It could be life insurance, but we sell cleaning services to other businesses.
Of course, we want our product to be the best on the market. So there is a lot of training and work in the background to hone that.
All of the other roles that are involved in running a company, that’s what I’m better at. This is just selling this product and digitally marketing it.
You’re leveraging the talents of those you work with and you’re really good at it.
That is the thing we noticed. Because I’m just a small business owner, a single person running this from my house, and my background is not in building maintenance, in the past, the way it’s been developed most is by listening to the employees.
It took a little getting to know each other before they realized that I am genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.
They have so much more experience than I do and in the past, they’ve been working with bosses who just buy the cheapest things they can find. They discovered I want to give them good strong tools because it makes their job easier.
We instill pride in them. We’re not humble, lowly, janitors. “Oh, I’m just a cleaning girl.” We’re very proud of our work and that in turn affects the quality of service we provide.
I think that all of our janitors think they’re the most important person in the building. We say the building is a baby, and we take care of it. The people who work there are toddlers, and we clean up after them.
Because sooner or later, you don’t mind cleaning, changing a baby’s diaper. It’s something that you do to take care of the baby and that’s that gives us the affection that we need to provide the services that we do.
In the COVID-19 pandemic that was more apparent than ever before. I asked everybody at the start, “Are you scared? Do you want to stay home? Do you want me to have somebody cover your shift for you?” and they rose up like warriors.
“It’s our job to keep these buildings safe. If we don’t clean them, who will?” They would not turn the work over to someone they didn’t trust to clean the buildings properly and it was pretty amazing. I was both proud and humbled by their dedication.
That mindset did a lot. I mean, just it’s cool because you’ve created and instilled that environment just by starting with a good example, starting from a humble place.
This is what has been the most educational thing to me is every single person who comes to our company brings value outside of the simple fact of labor, of cleaning a building.
The way that they find to communicate with each other, the way we work with people who have bodies shaped differently than most people’s, or so they have a different approach.
The end result is still the same. You have a building that’s clean, It’s sanitized. It’s a disinfected. It’s polished to a high gleam.
The customer is happy, but how we get to that point, everybody has a different approach to it. Listening; the biggest thing was to create an environment where everybody is comfortable talking to each other.
Because that helps me I can buy what we need. We took on a new client. It was 38 buildings statewide. So I sat here at my computer and ordered all of the supplies online and had it distributed to 38 buildings.
The brooms that I bought were three-foot-tall lobby brooms, little six-inch wide Barbie brooms. Because the picture online looked like a regular broom.
That’s the kind of thing that can happen if you don’t get feedback from your employees.
That’s really cool to hear. It makes me want to be part of your team, but that’s the point too. It’s an inviting team. It’s one that people want to be a part of and I think that’s a huge goal.
How many janitors, how many employees do you have now, compared to when you started?
I think last year we had 48. Right now we’re at about half that, because of the pandemic.
We’ve lost a lot of employees because they are homeschooling their children now and that task is extremely daunting and time-consuming. They simply don’t have the luxury of having a job on top of that.
But yeah, as you said, it’s being a place that people want to work that has had the definite advantage. In the beginning, we were like, “Find a warm body, pull my T-shirt over his head, and push him in the building,” to where we can pick and choose.
Well, I’m not sure, but it’s just as an employer, a very good position to be in.
No, I would agree. I asked because it leads us into our topic today, which is talking about how you’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to inclusivity with your employees.
You worked a lot with veterans and with persons with disabilities and that’s not something that you hear a lot in any work environment, in any type of business. But not only do you go above and beyond you’ve recently been recognized for it, too.
We actually received two awards in one month. I was surprised and my mom is very proud.
I love working with veterans! Absolutely, because they have made their sacrifice in their lives and their families to dedicate a portion of themselves and their life, to defend our country. That’s a huge benefit to everybody and that deserves to be repaid.
That notwithstanding, from a very practical point of view, they understand taking orders and giving orders, project ownership, and completion. They all know how to clean, all of them.
It makes them wonderful to work with. They put the military shine on things. So we love our vets indeed.
As far as working with people with disabilities, that is still a surprise to me. I didn’t think we were doing anything out of the ordinary, much less extraordinary.
We just look for people who want to come to work and take pride in their job. We’ve just had amazing success. It seems that what the company has decided it wants to be is to give people an opportunity in the workplace, people who may not be getting a first or second chance elsewhere.
So they come to us and they learn what it means to have a job. They learn to be conscientious, a lot of the soft skills: working with a team, reporting, if there are problems or concerns following directions, and taking responsibility for your own performance.
Then from there, we work on their goals. What do you want to be when you grow up? No 10-year-old says I want to be a janitor when I grow up.
That’s not true. Actually, we do meet some people who do actually want to be janitors for the rest of their lives. Then we help them be trainers to train other people.
We work with the local university and college to help them get into courses to place them into the jobs of their dream jobs and what they want to do.
Several of them want to start their own business and I lead them right back to the Small Business Development Center, which helped us develop our business so that they can start their own as well.
Being a janitor is ideal, because we work nights, weekends and holidays for doing something else during the normal business hours, like attending school or running a company of your own.
I love that you’re just very aware of the people aspect of it. Sometimes, no matter what kind of unit we are, we want it to be their permanent place. We want them to come in and not leave.
I think especially from a hiring recruitment standpoint, which is in my background, that is one of the perspectives. Who’s going to stick it out?
But you’re aware that, for many, it’s a stepping stone and you want to make it a really, really solid stepping stone for them.
Most definitely. That’s part of it. There are so many different roles in a company.
As I said, cleaning is the product we sell. But there’s logistics of scheduling, logistics of inventory. There’s social media, digital marketing, PR, customer service, the HR aspect of things, and training.
We have a lot of training. That’s another reason why we want them to stay with us so that they can be trained well enough to provide the level of service that we offer our customers.
Every single person in the company can clean a building. Everybody can clean. I clean buildings if necessary. If I can do it, anybody can.
But there are so many other roles and I’ll say I need to find a good scrub brush and three people will pick up their phones and start searching on their phone. Well, now they’ve just become procurement officers for the company.
With that sense of ownership comes a sense of responsibility. Everybody is part of the company. The success reflects on all of us. They help each other and they help me which is nice.
As far as longevity in a company, I read once that my generation, we stay at a job for 20 to 30 years and that’s just not a thing anymore. Nobody does that.
I read once that kids these days, that the modern workforce if they’re going to stay with the company for a very long time, they’re talking about three years.
That’s fine with me because again, nobody wants to be a janitor forever. It’s a step into a longer path.
I always think too, you can think about it logistically because a lot of people have to make sure their logistics are covered first.
If they’re there for a year, two years, three years, you’re still getting your money’s worth. It’s worth the training. It’s worth the investment if they do well at their job.
Yes, you’re going to have to recruit again, but if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re setting it up for success by making a team people want to be part of.
A lot of that recruitment effort, it’s going to happen naturally. It’s just going to be part of the draw of who you are.
Well, it definitely does. We had an employee and she was maxed out on hours and maxed out on wages. I could not give her any more money per hour. Still, she wanted more and she deserves it. I had to explain to her that this is how they pay works.
If I pay you $1, it costs me $1.30 to pay you that. Then we take that dollar an hour and on top of that, we add all of the equipment, your uniforms, the chemicals, and supplies. Then there are insurances, the vehicles, the licensing, and I have to wrap all of that up. At some point, I have to eat too.
When I put all of that together and present that as a cost to a potential client if I base that on $30 an hour or $40 an hour, which you absolutely deserve. Nobody’s going to hire us and so there won’t be any work. So then I said, “Why don’t you be a manager?” She said, “no, I just, I just want to clean buildings”.
I said, “Okay well when we start new people for the first two months, they make $1 less an hour. After the two months probationary period, they go up to $1 an hour. For those first two months why don’t you just teach them to clean the way you clean, fill out reports, do the timekeeping the way you do, and take two or three days.
Then after that go check on the new person every week to tell them they need to make sure they pay more attention to this, order that when it gets here. So you don’t run out before it’s delivered. Then for those two months, I will pay you that extra dollar”. She says “oh yeah, I could do that”. Well, that’s what a manager does. If I don’t call it a manager, she’s managing now she’s training at any given time, probably five recruits.
Then I thought she wouldn’t do it because she’s just good as gold. But there’s no real incentive there to teach that employee to stay because she only gets the bonus during the training period.
We weren’t doing it every paycheck. Then I thought, “No, it’s a nicer bonus if we wait that full two months and then give it to her then” So I said, “Okay well then we’ll give another one at the six months mark” we’ll just take that dollar an hour and pay it to the employee as a training bonus.
If somebody is with us for six months, they’ll stay with us forever. It’s that way of trying to accommodate and take care of our employees that have just turned into a very successful training model. It’s not me, I’m not the one out there doing the training, which gives me time to sit and do interviews and to do the things that I do best at my computer.
Part of being a team is maximizing everybody’s skill set not having one person that does it all. It’s a What can I do? What can you do in that type of situation?
A lot of my college professors would love to hear me say that! But how does that work? How do you tie that back into things? It sounds like a really cool model and it’s one of those things that my little previous HR heart sings for.
I did recruitment for two years, just kind of as a background. I did it at the end of my college career. Before I graduated with an HR degree and now I’m in marketing!
So how do you tie in the training with the veterans and everybody’s got like a little bit of a different skillset? When you’re being as inclusive as you are, you probably see this.
So with these additional training and things that you provide, how do you make sure that that’s hitting everybody right at their level?
It comes down to communication. There’s a CO in communication, there’s the concept that I wish to give you. Then there is your reception and comprehension of what I’m trying to impart.
Everybody has their way of communicating. I have the advantage because I used to be a translator for many years. So you simply lived in a country where initially I didn’t speak the language at all and you have to simplify your sentence structure so that it translates well.
Whether it’s Google or not, you have to pay attention to the listener to make sure that what they’re saying is being understood. I have an employee and she has this very bad habit of saying, “Okay, Okay, perfect. Okay, perfect.” I now know two and a half years later, when she says that she doesn’t understand a thing you’re saying.
But it took a while to figure that out. it’s an overused word accommodation. My theme last year was accommodation is a two-way street. When I’m hiring new people, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve started to work for the company or anybody. No matter their background, their current situation, their heritage, their language, anything.
If there is something that you know exists to make your job easier, please let me know because I may not know about it. I had a janitor in a wheelchair. And I said, “we’ve got backpack vacuums. Would that be easier for you than the upright?” Well, yeah it would. He also knows that there are other things that might help him more. He has a walker type device but it’s motorized.
So that he’s standing rather than sitting and he’s one of the best janitors we have. Nobody really knows how he does his work. But he does it and he does an outstanding job. If he’s a trainer, then that kind of takes away any excuse anybody might have if it’s too hard.
It’s interesting too because, from a recruitment side, I’ve hired people with various forms of disability, whether it’s mobility, sight, hearing, or all of those things combined. I know from the legal standpoint, you can’t assume- which is a good thing.
You have to kind of prompt them and invite them. That could be something very uncomfortable from their side because they’re never sure how people respond. Or sometimes they do assume that you’re going to notice automatically. Even if it’s not visual like something that you can see, like a wheelchair.
So it’s interesting because like you said, it’s a two-way street. You’re from your side doing what you need to do to be inviting and be open to that so they feel they can communicate it. But then they have to be actually willing to state it and ask for what they need.
A lot of it sometimes it’s just being upfront and teaching people. Hey if you actually say what you need or say you’re confused when you’re confused. It’ll make us go 10 times easier.
Well, and I know that I’ve noticed that. For example, a lot of people coming from the Department of Rehabilitation Services (specific to Illinois), DRS. Do they assume everybody knows your diagnosis? It’s absolutely illegal to ask that.
Now the government has added a new form of voluntary self-identification of disability. This has just happened in the past two or three months. Times a bit of a blur. Notwithstanding, they talk like Everybody knows everything that they know about themselves because they’re so used to speaking with case managers openly, I would assume. I don’t have that ability.
That’s been a learning curve for me too. I’m just a human after all. I had a lady emailing me and it turns out, she was coached in the background for having a job interview. They told her, “okay, you’re ready to go apply for a job” and she chose my company! She contacted me by email. On my end, I get an email from somebody looking for a job. We email back and forth. I said, “Okay, I will email you an application, you can fill it out, scan it, email it back to me”.
She asked at that point, “okay, what’s your email address”? I thought, Well- I’m not gonna put it into words what I thought. But it was not until a week later that it dawned on me to ask, “how did you hear about our company? What inspired you to contact us?”
Then maybe I can find out where she’s coming from. I’m working with Brittany over here and then maybe I can narrow it down a little bit. As you say, “not to make assumptions” that’s been a learning curve.
People genuinely think that the other person is just like them. That’s just natural. It’s not ever the case.
Yeah. I’ve done classes to get going in HR. It is more of an open discussion. I think my background is stronger than most because my dad is also in HR, he’s in a director position now, He was in a director position for nine years, he had a position before that.
So I also came from the foster care system, where you meet a diversity of people with all kinds of different physical and mental, wherever they are in their personal space right now and where they’ve been.
So for me, it was a little more natural but you can’t teach it. It’s a skill that’s hard to teach to be open towards the fact that somebody could have something that you can’t see which is limiting them or making things a bit different for how they perceive it. You also can’t assume and just start trying to work with it.
It’s like you said, they have to state it for you to know and for you to act on the knowledge. So our HR generalist, when I first did my internship for eight months, was great about being like, “you can’t just assume even if you can physically see that they need accommodation, you have to get them to ask for it”.
Then you add a lot of us just be inviting and open about it. Again, you can’t say anything that’s directly assuming no matter the circumstances. We had somebody that needed a bigger screen and a couple of software accommodations.
I didn’t hire her but I know throughout the process, it didn’t come up. We didn’t have it documented. The woman had taken her through the process and had no awareness of it whatsoever.
But she shows up to orientation with, I forget what group it was that they worked with a lot that we worked with a lot. And they’d worked with us before. So they come in with her monitor and everything. Which normally we set up in advance because they do their orientation on that monitor as well to make everything easier. When they’re doing all the paperwork, it’s easy to see.
So we are of course able to accommodate them. But we had no previous knowledge which made it a little difficult and gave us a little shortness on time. It was an interesting process but once there’s that awareness that you can do it.
I feel like you’re surprised by how working with these veterans, their skill set is perfect for what you’re doing. Working with people with disabilities, they all have various abilities all ranging.
A lot of times they’re appreciative of the work because somebody just said, “Hey, I work with you. If you work with me, I’ll work with you”. Right. Sometimes they’re the hardest working people you ever find.
Most definitely. I think really it’s just paying attention. For example, we had a janitor and he was not working nights. He was working days in an occupied building called a call center. So the rows and rows of cubicles with I think 900 people work there at a time and he’s trying to go and empty their trash cans while doing it as quietly and unobtrusively, which was wonderful.
He was perfect. He’s very quiet, very introverted. What I did not know was, and I don’t even know the term for it, but he’s sensitive to “input overload”. So he said with all of the people there, there’s a lot going on. He said it often enough that I could tell it was bothering him.
So then you just think, “how can you make that work?” Well, what about some earbuds that you could listen to music while you’re working? He said that would be nice and then you make it like a present like “Hey, we give you music while you work” and now he’s got earphones, he’s listening to music he’s talking, he’s focusing on what he’s doing.
The outside world is no longer there for him because he is so focused. It is just kind of an obstacle course. Communication is key. You want your employees to be happy, I want our employees to be happy, I would assume that applies to other companies as well.
We don’t see our employees as replaceable. We want them to stay with us long enough to be trained well enough to provide the services at the quality we offer. For them to stay, we need to keep them happy. We’ve kind of created a family environment. When we take on a new client, we say “Welcome to the family!” When we hire new people, we say “Welcome to the family!”.
That’s just what works for us.
And it sounds like it’s extremely effective. I think what I’m seeing throughout our conversation is that you’re just open! You don’t only make that effort to listen and be aware of what’s going on with your employees. But you want to do it too because you’ve seen just like a healthier, happier, and family environment that you’ve created around you, which is extraordinary.
So what advice would you give for another cleaning business owner right now that could be listening? Or somebody who works in a company and just wants to make a difference and say “yes, I actually know what you’re saying working with veterans in these other groups, but we’re not inclusive yet”.
What advice would you give when it comes to inclusivity? Not just with disabled people or with veterans, but with all of your employees?
In what direction do you want advice? Like how to find people, how to retain them, or how to accommodate them?
So my question is just changing that culture in that environment that you’ve set those initial steps to set you up for success so that you can do all the rest. So what advice would you say like when you started you came in and there were already people there. There was essentially already a company. I think you said you had eight janitors?
If somebody is coming into their company, they look around and they say, “I want to make this feel more inclusive, more inviting, and I want to make it a family atmosphere”. Like you have.
With that what advice would you give for those first steps you suggest they should take?
Open dialogue, that’s the best thing I can think of. Don’t order your people around or move them like pieces on a chessboard. Remember that these are people and they may not be talking to you but they’re definitely talking about you. I suppose it would be the best advice I could give would be to be part of that conversation.
All right, thank you.
So I’m gonna go ahead and wrap up our episode. It’s been a really great episode. I liked the conversation that we’ve had and I can’t wait to see the response from our listeners.
Thank you everyone for tuning into this week’s episode of the Business of Cleaning. Make sure to subscribe, like, and give us some feedback. We also transcribed this whole episode for you so make sure to go read it on our blog! We’ll see you next week and have a good rest of your day.