Anna Tsantir has applied a lot of creativity and diligence to get through the pandemic-induced downturn that shuttered the home-cleaning trade.
Tsantir, a onetime art teacher who 15 years ago founded Two Bettys Green Cleaning, has recalled 58 of 73 permanent cleaners and office workers who chose to return from a spring layoff to jobs that start at $17 per hour plus benefits.
About half of Two Bettys’ 1,700 largely residential clients are welcoming cleaners back into their homes. And the company could hire another three dozen cleaners by the end of the year, according to Sha’mira Sampler, Two Bettys’ hiring and recruiting manager.
“Our people served us so well,” Tsantir said. “The grace of the people we furloughed. We kept them on benefits and communicated with them. They inspired us. And now they’re coming back to work.”
Two Bettys qualified for a roughly $200,000 payroll-protection loan last spring from the U.S. Small Business Administration. It’s forgivable under certain conditions. And another low-interest SBA loan, also through Sunrise Bank, for about $150,000, is helping the company survive this disastrous year.
All this followed a record 2019, when revenue hit $4.7 million with a profit margin. Business has swooned this year amid the pandemic. But Tsantir and team have proved resilient.
Moreover, 280 of 1,700 customers, who learned of Two Bettys’ jeopardy last spring, kept paying monthly, despite the fact that they weren’t getting their houses cleaned.
That created a cash buffer for Tsantir and Sampler and the skeleton team. They designed ultrasafe protocols and products that would allow them to provide the safest possible ways to return to work this summer in the homes of more than half their clients. They also communicated electronically and otherwise with clients and employees to let them know they were working on a future.
“Some cleaners didn’t want to come back [for safety reasons],” Sampler said. “It’s really important that we have a preparedness plan. And it’s evolving. We find out what’s working best and we listen to our cleaning teams. And they respect the clients, who understand our cleaning procedures.”
A key ingredient in the successful rebound so far was Two Bettys adapting hydrogen peroxide as the base of its green-cleaning solutions.
Research has shown that hydrogen peroxide, used to clean hospitals as well as equipment, is effective against the coronavirus. And it is often preferred to bleach since it safely degrades into water and oxygen when exposed to light. That’s a sweet spot for an outfit that doesn’t like dumping chemicals down the drain.
The rebound of Two Bettys is encouraging but not widespread in businesses such as hospitality, including restaurants, hotels and others involving human contact. The owners of many surviving small businesses, like Tsantir, have been forced into making hard choices they didn’t see coming only 10 months ago.
Two Bettys, a past SBA Minnesota Women-Owned Business of the Year, had to lay off more than 120 valued employees and contractors in total last spring.
The commercial side of the business, about 5% of revenue, helped get through the lean times.
Martin Ludden, who uses Two Bettys to clean his home and his business in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, said he was glad to welcome his residential cleaner back in July.
“Two Bettys communicated, and they communicated throughout, and we kept paying for the service to keep some money flowing and folks employed, and then they said they were ready to come back,” he said. “They do a very thorough cleaning of our home, a four-hour cleaning every four weeks. It’s a worthwhile investment. And a small luxury that we’ve grown to enjoy.”
Preliminary studies are showing that the pandemic has hurt small female-and-minority owned businesses disproportionately because they tend to be more thinly capitalized and were less able to access and tap federal and state aid.
Regardless, it’s appropriate to take a moment in thanks for the hard-earned resurrection of Two Bettys.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Tsantir said last week. “But we have a plan and the people.”
By Neal St Anthony in the Star Tribune 9/28/2020