Prior to September 1981 Craig Johnson was happily employed by one of the largest national corporate cleaning company’s in NZ. Craig’s initial position with this company was Site Manager for cleaning operations at the NZ Steel Mill at Glenbrook. He was responsible for about 40 staff then employed at the site to provide the daily cleaning requirements. He was promoted early in 1981 to take on the Operations Manager’s position at the Auckland Head Office.
In September 1981 Craig saw an opportunity to improve the way cleaning services could be delivered. His position working for the National Corporate cleaning company had become compromised and he needed to terminate his employment. After considering his options for future employment it was decided that he & Linda would start their own cleaning business. Plans were put in place for an early start the following day. They had no business cards so on the Sunday night Linda took to their cardboard shoe boxes with the scissors and Craig wrote the new company name (Cleanaway Services) and their phone number of the flat they rented plus Craig’s name.
On Monday morning Linda went to her job as an Accounting Assistant while Craig packed up a plastic bucket, old towels, a domestic broom, a window squeegee,& some sunlight soap. He headed for his nearest shopping centre in Panmure and started at the far end of the township. He bludged some warm water from shop owners he knew and commenced cleaning each of the shop front windows. He knew that most shops and retail outlets had their front glass cleaned once a week.
The reaction from the shop keepers was varied. Some were quite irate that they already had an arrangement in place with existing window cleaners; others were not impressed by the cheek of this young fellow to clean their windows without having been requested; and then there were those that were curious and asked how often would he come and what the costs might be. The answers had been rehearsed – the cost would be $2 for the entire shop front windows and he would be there every Monday morning. With that he would hand them one of his custom made business cards.
On that first Monday he picked up a staggering 6 shops who agreed to the $2 and a once weekly service. Thus – Cleanaway had commenced business with the modest turnover of $12 per week!
They owned no proper cleaning gear. They used their old household vacuum cleaner. A second hand bucket was procured and slowly they began to accumulate other pieces of equipment. The first 6 shops grew to be about 20 in total. Gradually these customers asked Craig to provide various other tasks. One of these clients offered him the job of painting the exterior of their two storied building. This was no mean feat with Craig hanging off a ladder that was hung off the roof to give him access to the upper level. The building owner didn’t have a decent extending ladder to use so an old wooden one was modified. (Crazy when you consider the owner ran the local hardware business!!!)
Craig had developed a lot of great working relationships during his time at Crothall’s and he wasted no time contacting these folk to explain his situation and plans for his newly formed business. It took nearly 6 month’s for him to get a significant breakthrough with the National giant company – UEB Industries. It started with a few smaller “tester” jobs but grew into a significant contract for the Head Office building of UEB in Anzac Ave in the CBD.
At this time Linda had to resign her accounting position to assist with the nightly demands associated with cleaning a site of this size. Equipment was purchased on credit to meet the demands. Both Craig & Linda knew they could not afford to employ staff until they were fully employed at Cleanaway and all the equipment and other gear had been paid for.
There were many long nights and days ahead. No Doze tablet sales soared in Auckland for several months. By now they had purchased a carpet cleaning machine and after a full nights work Craig would often be booked out for a day’s carpet cleaning. Weekends were spent polishing the UEB site. Every desk got polished over the weekend and every nook and cranny got attended to. It was a huge job each weekend and this is when family stepped in. It was more a case of if we’re going to get to spend any time with Craig or Linda we’d better go and work with them.
The first staff member was Tania who was employed mid 1982. She was employed for 4 hours per night at $4.60 per hour which was slightly above the going rates at that time. Several other staff were employed that year. Friday nights at UEB became the cleaners party night and all the staff employed (probably about 6) would meet in the UEB cafeteria and share cake and coffee.
Interestingly, in looking back at the original staff it is noted that a young lady named Jacque Lemon joined the company in December 1983. What started as a part time job for Jacque grew into a full time position. Today (2010) Jacque still works for Cleanaway. Her surname has changed after she married one of the other staff. Both her & her husband left the company and moved to Australia. They started a family and when they returned to NZ Jacque enquired if Cleanaway had a job for her. She was back working in no time!!!
[N.B. It is with tremendous sadness that we need to add this footnote as Jacque passed away in her sleep early October 2010. She is survived by her 3 children. She may be gone from our site but she will never be forgotten.]
Another outstanding staff member was Vivienna – a lovely Tongan woman who is still “on the books” today. Vivi started in February 1985. She is now retired from working but still calls in for a social visit and a chat. Interestingly, two of Vivi’s nieces, Lupe & Ana (& husband, David) are still working with us today – about 25 years service!!!!
We should also mention a young man by the name of Simon who joined the company in February 1983. Simon was a good friend of a family member and was a student. His initial job was to look after the gardens and carparks at UEB. He would often find himself on a vacuum after he had completed his outdoor duties. Simon left to attend Tertiary education but he returned several years later and was the first person to take over the Operations Managers job from Craig. He held this position for many years and only left to experience some extended travel with his new wife. Simon is a very special and close friend even today for Craig & Linda.
Craig & Linda purchased a property to run the business from in 1987. This was in Marua Rd, Ellerslie. The renovation to the old house was a drawn out exercise done on a ridiculous shoe string budget. Their daughter, Amy, arrived in May 1986. It was not uncommon for Amy to be cuddled by any of the staff if they called in to collect their wages and Linda was still working on them. Even sales reps that called in knew that they may be called on for short term babysitting duties. (We should try this today to get rid of some of the pesky reps!!!)
It is interesting to look back now and while you may think $4.60 an hour for the staff wages seems low keep in mind our first charge out rates were $9 per hour. That’s why $2 a shop front window was not bad money back then – especially when they were all next door to each other!!!
So our staff are like family to us. We have been most fortunate to have met so many fantastic people over the past 30 odd years. Even clients have become close friends. The original Property Manager from UEB is a great mate and we still see him regularly. We have experienced the good and the bad plus the joy and the sad.
Staff that have married and now have children. Then there are the sad stories too. There are 5 staff that have passed away. All those funerals were attended by Craig & Linda even though none of them were working for us
at the time of their passing apart from Jacque. It's a peoples business and it is imperative we take an interest in the staff and their families. We have assisted with all sorts of financial requests over the many years.
There is always the “short on the rent this week Boss” stories and other such cases where the staff get themselves into a financial bind. But the most rewarding cases of helping out financially is the staff’s kids who needed some help with getting an education. There are about 5 or 6 that have gone on to get degrees and will play a pivotal role in the future of their family and this great country.
It’s no big secret how we keep our crew together – we just treat them like family and we all aim for the same goals. Treat people the way you wish to be treated and the rest will follow.
Today we have great offices and warehousing in Otahuhu. We employ 30 staff and have a great structure with our middle management team. The future , as always, looks bright – just like our buildings.