Best Ski Country Jobs, Vol. 1: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater’s Housekeeper
The challenges of launching a business in the Vail Valley are many. There’s the high cost of commercial real estate, the ebb and flow of a seasonal economy, fighting established companies for employees, and of course, how to help those employees find affordable housing in a valley where most locals are priced out of the market. With so many cards stacked against would-be entrepreneurs, there seems to be fewer opportunities than ever to jump-start a career here, it’s a wonder anyone would leave a well-paying job to start a business in Vail. However that’s exactly what Elisse Kelley did when she finally hit a wall in her corporate life in the human resources field for some of the Vail Valley’s best known hotels and decided to strike out on her own in high country. After first considering a wedding shop (an idea quickly abandoned once she looked at the costs of securing a retail storefront) she hit on a concept that ended up changing her life. She started a cleaning service.
The company, Sweeping Change, is now thriving (with 17 employees) thanks to a business model borrowed from Honeywagon founder John Donovan, a Vail entrepreneur who was so successful in the garbage and recycling business that you now see his name on parks and covered bridges, all because he was doing the dirty work that no one else wanted to do. While Donovan picks up trash, Kelley cleans anything that needs polish: from homes to construction sites to concert halls and yes, toilets. The fact is that everything ends up getting dirty and everything needs a good cleaning. In other words, cleaning, like trash collecting, is a basic necessity. Here, Kelley come clean on the secrets of her success, in her words.
I had been working for 22 years in human resources but I was over it. I wanted to do something for myself. A needed a change of pace and I needed flexibility because I have two kids, a 10- and a 13-year old. That was a big motivation, to spend more time with them.
On Finding Help
Most of my employees I knew from my HR days. I have 17 employees now, not all of them are full-time, though. They work really hard. I have some of them refer friends or family to me, and it’s tough, because I can’t hire everyone.
Her Secret Weapon
If there’s a magic potion for cleaning it is OxiClean, that’s what you use if you really want to clean linens and get good results, but we have an array of products and services. If someone only wants to have their home cleaned with eco-friendly cleaners, then we only use those. Other people want non-scented cleaners, so we have a line of those products, too.
On Worker Perks
When I worked in HR, I didn’t see the bills for workman’s comp or for insurance. There are a lot of costs involved. I’m getting a 16-person van to help my staff commute to work and I’m looking at providing health insurance. It’s important to take care of your people.
My big break was getting the job cleaning the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. It’s a great job and everyone there is really good to work with. People who volunteered or worked there saw what I was doing and they happened to be in property management or knew people and they started referring me. I still clean there. This summer I was there with my kids and some of their friends and one of the little girls at the end of the night was like, “Weeeee! The show is over! And then she threw all her popcorn up in the air. I was thinking to myself, “Kid! I have to clean that up!” But it’s a fun job and my son helps me out at times.
Worst Case Scenarios
I really don’t have any horrible messes to report, but the worst jobs usually involve tourists who come up to the mountains and have too much fun at the bars, without realizing that the altitude will kill you. In one case we had a guy who ruined everything. But we can wash anything and disinfect sheets and mattresses. And those jobs don’t happen that often. As far as toilets or other jobs, if it needs doing, I’ll do it. I’m not afraid to pitch in. But now that we’re up and running with a good crew, I don’t have to do that so much any more.
I get to spend so much more time with my kids. It's been amazing. They tell me, "it's so great to have you around all the time."