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Mullins: More homemakers hire services to do dirty work

Published:   |   Updated: October 20, 2013 at 10:07 AM

In our nation of proudly independent and Swiffer-wielding, multi-tasking homemakers, the very existence of professional home cleaning services seems to partition people into one of three different mindsets.

One, people who can hardly imagine surviving modern life without a professional maid service. Two, people who consider such expenditures a rank example of affluence run amok and classist superiority. And three, people who most days feel like they’re in category two while they long for the resources to be in category one.

If you really want to dig into the American class system that is oh-so-very real, I always recommend the seminal work on the topic, “Class,” by Paul Fussell, who explains the societal difference between the guy who owns a chain of a dozen muffler shops and a corporate lawyer who owns a McMansion and several BMWs. Both make the same amount of money, while they would hardly co-mingle.

For me, all this came to mind after talking with the CEO of Molly Maids, because Meg Roberts is absolutely rocketing through a growth phase. Leaving aside the anxiety of the government shutdown for a moment, Roberts found that the hordes of people who canceled their cleaning service during the economic downturn are rushing back into the fold and scheduling service ASAP.

“People left us because of financial concerns before, not the service itself,” Roberts said. Now, business for some Molly Maid franchisees in the Florida market is up 20 percent from last year. Much of that growth comes from people re-opening their checkbooks because they are feeling better about the economy overall.

The prototypical family with 2.5 kids, two dogs and four bedrooms remains the bedrock of her client base. But like many smart companies, Molly Maids elevated Roberts to the CEO post from a previous position in charge of digital marketing and social media because, duh, that’s where the growth is. She has full-time staffers to promote Molly Maids on social media, monitor reviews on Angie’s List, Yelp and Facebook and contact people who post negative reviews to figure out a way to make things right.

She’s pushing hard with new smartphone and tablet projects, because first-time millennial customers are her future. “They are used to buying a pizza on their phones with two taps on the screen,” she said. “We have some technology in development where you never have to talk to anyone to make a service call happen.”

To reality-check all this, I called owners of some other maid services in town, including Tom Berry, who owns the local franchise of The Maids. He launched his operation just before the four hurricanes came through Florida in 2004 and saw business hit a brick wall. Now, The Maids has grown back to 23 employees. They take a SWAT team approach: a crew of four people attack a house, with one person in each room for about an hour — furiously going after the bathrooms, kitchen, bedrooms and living rooms. “We divide and conquer,” Berry said.

His business is up 40 percent from last year, and he’s looking to hire and expand into places like Carrollwood.

If you’re reading this and questioning the usefulness of a maid service, Berry offers this example: You might vacuum and clean the living room, but his crews hand-scrub thebaseboards, switch plates, walls and crown molding. When’s the last time you scrubbed a baseboard?

Maid service prices, meanwhile, are starting to come up a bit, though both Roberts and Berry say their business runs on repeat customers, not a few extra dollars here and there. Depending on the size of a house, a thorough cleaning can run anywhere from $150 to $300 or more — though that’s highly variable based on factors like the number of rooms and the level of dog slobber on the kitchen cabinets.

There’s one culturally hilarious anecdote from my reporting that I can’t resist sharing. Berry confided that more than a few of his customers pay in cash. Why? Because they don’t want their spouses to know that the house is so clean because they hired a maid service. Whew. I hope the neighbors don’t fink them out after the bright yellow maid service car drives away.

Meanwhile, here’s other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:

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For any company looking to prosper in mobile, look no further than the closest Latina. U.S. Latinas are by far the heaviest users of mobile devices to make decisions about their spending, according to a recent study by Nielsen. Eight in 10 Latinas are using mobile online info to make their decisions, and a full two-thirds (TWO-THIRDS) are using their cellphones to steer their purchases while in the store. Let me repeat that: In The Store. Meanwhile, Latinas are more likely than their “non-Hispanic white counterparts,” as Nielsen categorizes them, to own smartphones (77 percent vs. 55 percent), 35 percent more likely to use their phones for price comparison and a full 76 percent more likely to use their phones for online banking. So, heads up Bank of America, Chase, Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy: Get to know your Latina customer ASAP, because she has her wallet in one hand and her smartphone in the other.

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Among the ultra-large retailers, Target was one of the first chains to start widely stocking eco-minded products like Method and Seventh Generation. So I’m especially curious to watch how Target rolls out a new program called the Target Sustainable Product Standard. It’s a new grading system whereby Target will partner with the eco-oriented consumer product grader GoodGuide to assign scores of zero to 100 to 7,500-plus products for household cleaning, personal care and baby care. Criteria include 50 points for ingredients, 20 for transparency about those ingredients on the package, 20 points for packaging and five points each for whether the product was tested using animals and whether it can affect water quality down the line. Next year, Target will include items in the cosmetic category.

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While strolling the aisles of Petco this week, I discovered this fact: Petco sells bride and groom costumes for your guinea pig. That is all.

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Who doesn’t love a good Zombie? Am I right? I mean, the undead have never been more hip, with their own massively popular show on AMC and cameo appearances in TV ads for everything from Sprint cellphone plans to Doritos. There’s even the Zombie Survival store in Orlando to gear yourself up right. Personally, I believe all zombie-related projects fall into two categories: Those with slow-walking zombies that are essentially comedies (“Dawn of the Dead,” etc.) and those with fast-running zombies in the action/horror genre (“World War Z,” “28 Days,” etc.) “Walking Dead” blends the two — slow-walking + grim. In any event, zombie lovers can now watch marketers struggle to wrench some revenue out of the undead, i.e. the new Hyundai Walking Dead Chop Shop app. With it, you can “Build. Defend. Survive.” by customizing your own Hyundai with apocalyptic gear to defend yourself from brain-eaters until you can hardly keep yourself from walking into a dealership to buy a new Elantra, right?

 

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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