When Susan Mwenda came back to Kenya in 1999 from UK, she resigned from the Teachers Service Commission to focus her time and energy on a cleaning business.
Although her friends advised her to seek an alternative due to the industry’s cut-throat competition, 13 years on her counts her gains.
While living in UK, she noticed the high standards of cleanliness in public places especially the malls. Ms Mwenda describes the floors being so clean that one can eat out of and the washrooms smelt pleasant and fresh all the time.
“I started thinking ‘Why don’t I go back home and start cleaning and see whether I can improve standards in Kenya?,” she says.
Although she loved teaching, she was eager to start her own business. The cleaning business started as a sole proprietorship but in 2001 she incorporated it into a company and named it Spic N’ Span Cleaning Services.
“I remember talking to a friend that I wanted to start a cleaning company. She told me to try something else because they were so many companies in the cleaning industry, but I had already made up my mind,” says Ms Mwenda.
So how has she managed to remain in business all these years?
“When you are new you cannot afford to choose jobs,” she says. She began cleaning people’s home, carpets and seats with one or two workers to operate the machines.
Through hard work and commitment to run the business, she sourced for more clients.
“When you get your first client give them the best services, because it is from the first one that you are going to get the second one and so on,” says Mrs Mwenda.
Spic N’ Span now has 400 employees working in Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Meru, Embu and Kisumu who clean public and private institutions, banks, insurance companies, airports among others.
Manage cleaning crew
The organisation structure is simple; they are supervisors who manage cleaning crews and if its big there is a site manager.
Mrs Mwenda also visits the clients to spot check, find out whether they are happy with the services offered and solve any complaints. She does this regularly.
Every morning, Mrs Mwenda liaises with the managers and supervisors for a quick update of what is happening on the ground.
“The biggest achievement is the number of people I have employed or else these people would be jobless. I’m happy that my employees can educate their children and put something on the table for their families,” she says.
Among the challenges she has faced is stiff competition, but she says she never gives up, instead she exercises patience and persistence to realise her dream despite being in a highly competitive industry.
“Yes, there are many people who apply to offer cleaning services, but most clients these days physically go for a market survey to check your work,” she says.
To stay ahead of competition, she ensures that the company lives up to its name and its motto “spotless clean”.
She says her company uses tested, environmentally-friendly products that will not damage clients’ chairs, floors or carpets.
“You know how people make their own detergents and soaps then put in jerry cans. We never use such,” she says.
The industry also faces high staff turnovers. To minimise this challenge, Mrs Mwenda knows that employee welfare is a crucial in running any business. She strives to give her employees adequate compensation.
Spic N’ Span Cleaning services have diversified to other support services such as hiring out office assistants, garbage collection, landscaping and making tea for organisations.
The future plan, says Ms Mwenda, is to expand and work for big Kenyan institutions.
“Now we feel we have the capacity to do any job. We want to be felt in the whole region,” she says.