Tysons Cleaning LLC weighs COVID-19 challenges.
Virginia Business virtually sat down with Charlene Johnson, owner of Tysons Cleaning LLC, which provides commercial and residential cleaning services in Northern Virginia. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with Virginians about how their work lives and businesses have changed during the pandemic.
Virginia Business: What has business looked like since the crisis started?
Johnson: I have seen a gradual decline in clients. The first impact that we saw was when Fairfax and Loudoun County schools closed and the children were home, which impacted a lot of the residential cleaning. Gradually things kept winding down from there. We have been assessing it and reassessing it each day. When schools were closed, [residential clients] were the first we heard from. But they still wanted to pay, which surprised me. But also we were very grateful for that.
We had [another] handful who wanted to [continue to pay us], but their circumstances had changed because they were laid off from their own jobs. [Clients] apologized and said that they would have to put us on an indefinite hold. I think we’re hit hardest now.
VB: Are commercial and residential cleanings considered essential business by the state?
Johnson: When Gov. Northam put out his temporary stay-at-home [order], I questioned whether I, as a small business owner, was affected because his “who could work and who could not” statement included restaurants, contractors, builders, heating and air, plumbing, [etc.], but it didn’t say anything specific about small business owners of any industry. I questioned: Am I involved? Do I have to stay home? Am I risking myself or my employees by going out? If I get pulled over, am I going to be fined or jailed?
I did hear a response back from the Virginia Trade Commission. I explained my business, told them what we did, and they responded that we could continue to work. Even though I was allowed to work, things are really serious now.
VB: How has your clientele responded?
Johnson: We clean for a lot of the elderly. When you are in people’s homes on a weekly basis, week after week, month after month, year after year — long term — we kind of become part of their extended family. Some of the elderly clients we clean for can’t move around. They don’t have the energy, and they like that one-on-one [time]. They look forward to having company in their house on a weekly basis.
I’ve had different requests from different clients. One elderly person wanted to know when we came that week, if we could bring a loaf of bread. Other clients were asking if I could bring disinfecting cleaning products that they wanted for their own household to use in between cleanings. I had one customer who actually gave one of the crews [unopened P100 masks]. [The client] was able to work from home, and she was not going to need [the masks], so she gave them to the girls. Another client asked if we could bring paper towels. She was running low, and she didn’t have any.
VB: What precautions are you taking?
Johnson: I am out on the job as well. I don’t just send my employees out. We are all wearing masks [and] gloves, and are stocked with hand sanitizer. We’re all doing what we need to do like hand-washing and checking our temperatures every morning — that’s mandatory. Our masks and gloves are taken off at the end of each cleaning job, put into a sealed bag and disposed of. When we enter new property, whether it’s commercial or residential, we start with a new set of gloves and masks.
We also Lysol our shoes and the outside of our clothing. But this is nothing new. We always take our shoes off before we enter any property to eliminate any possible exposure. We [also] changed our products. Anything we use has to be a disinfectant.
Way back when [the outbreak] started, we had some homeowners who had recently traveled internationally. That’s when I put my foot down. I would not let any of the girls go out when I knew they had just returned from international travel. So it’s not just clients stopping [cleanings].
VB: Have you run low on supplies since cleaning products are in high demand?
Johnson: Not so far. I don’t know if we’ll get to a point where I’m not going to be able to find [supplies]. But I do buy in bulk. I think we’ll be out of this long before I run out of products.
VB: How are you staying in touch with clients to be sure it’s safe to go for a cleaning?
Johnson: Most of my clients I’ve had for many, many, many years. They know me personally, so [they’ll] text [or call me]. I usually reach out to clients to see if anything has changed about five days in advance — just to see how they feel about the cleaning. I’m not pushing them at all. I’m trying to get an idea of what they’re [thinking] and then take it from there.
VB: How many employees do you have, and what does a typical day look like?
Johnson: We have just under 10 employees. With residential cleanings, typically we would be doing roughly eight [jobs] each day. We do a lot of real estate cleaning as well, working with a lot of real estate agents in Northern Virginia. This is [typically] their booming season right now. Although their work has been affected, they still have houses on the market. Thankfully these houses have been vacant because they’ve had renovation done, and nobody is living in them.
VB: How are your cleaners practicing social distancing?
Johnson: [The cleanings] are all scheduled, so [clients] pretty much know when to expect us. [Clients] either go outside in their yards, or go run errands. If they are in the home, we are staying at least 12 feet away. They will go [upstairs] while the [cleaner is] on the main level. There is no interaction there.