Chris and Ritchie have put off making this episode for a long time, as it doesn’t seem like the most exciting topic! However, they have had a few issues and stories come up in the last couple of weeks that made them see there is some real value in covering these topics.
Chris & Ritchie talk about self cleaning, hiring self employed cleaners, companies, linen services and many other ways to keep your serviced accommodation laundry and linen looking best for the best savings of cost and time.
The Serviced Accommodation Podcast is a show brought to you by Chris Poulter and Ritchie Mazivanhanga aimed at new and experienced property investors alike. With each show we help you Start, Systemise and Scale your Serviced Accommodation Business.
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Hi I’m Chris. Hi I’m Ritchie. Welcome to the serviced accommodation podcast.
Today we’re going to be talking about cleaning, laundry and linen.
We’re going to be talking today about cleaning, laundry and linen and in all honesty this has been an episode we’ve been putting off a little while hasn’t it Ritchie?
Yeah it has been in the making for a while but it wasn’t an episode we were very enthusiastic to make
I mean like all stuff in SA we kind of enjoy the detail and we enjoyed the options around it but we were worried people would find it boring.
We thought it might be a boring subject up until we had some interesting stuff happening around the cleaning, laundry and linen!
As we outlined in the last episode and so we thought actually this is real high value stuff. It is important. So you know if you don’t get this right then you basically don’t have a business. So it’s really so fundamental that we thought we’ve put this off long enough. Let’s bore them to death!
That is one of the main things your business depends on, not boring people to death!
So today we are going to talk about cleaning to start off with and the real four
options in and around that are doing it yourself, using self-employed cleaners, using
employed cleaners and using a cleaning company.
So Ritchie do you want to kick us off by talking about doing it yourself? You look good like with your marigolds.
Anyway doing it yourself first and foremost we advise people not to. We do have clients who used to do that in the past. We’ve come across people in the industry who do it themselves and it’s just another job as in yeah do you want to be a glorified cleaner? Is that what you want to be known for? It’s it’s not very cost effective so to speak. It’s, okay even though you’re saving money it’s costing you money as you go. It’s your time, do you not value your time as a person?
I mean the argument that people tend to have is well you know I do it, I get to
know it, I understand it and then I learn how to do it then I can get someone.
Okay we’ve got cleaners. Have we ever done cleaning ourselves. No but we know exactly how long it’s going to take to do a two bedroom apartment .
We know what it looks like when it’s clean and when it’s not.
Exactly yes so you don’t need to actually learn how to eat need to learn how to clean your
Apartments in order to then pass it on someone else to do it properly.
So for instance I don’t need to know all the steps of conveyancing to go to exactly how everything works to be able to go out and an employ a conveyancing solicitor to take me through a house purchase right now. You know I think with stuff like that it’s kind of immediately obvious well why do you need to do that.
You know just because everyone can in theory clean and I say in theory because if you ever saw my cleaning I think you would probably disagree with that statement. But just because everyone can theoretically do it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to understand you know exactly how it works and how long it takes really.
You might save a little bit of money, you won’t save any of your time and it’s not
scalable at all.
No no definitely not. So basically our conclusion is a lot of people say you know do the cleaning first so that you know how long it takes and that you understand the apartments. We say no.
Chris would you like to tell us more about self-employed cleaners?
So with self-employed cleaners it’s more flexible kind of arrangements that you have with them. Some of the other options as you kind of dip in dip out if that makes sense you know and kind of use them as much or as little as you like which with serviced accommodation is quite an advantage really because you can quite often have for instance what we often have is particular days where you have changeovers. So Fridays and Sundays. . You know you get the Monday to Friday bookings who check out on the Friday. There’s a bunch of cleans and then you get the weekenders who check out on Sunday and then you’re generally empty on Sunday nights .
You get the odd clean during the week sometimes .
Maybe 75 percent of the cleans come on those two changeover days something like that. And so you know having some flexibility around is you know quite important really. It also makes it relatively affordable and that’s because essentially you agree a price, they send you an invoice, you pay it and then you’re done you know. Unlike employing cleaners which we’re talking about shortly you don’t have any of those kind of legal obligations which you would have otherwise. I guess the downside then really is that they don’t have necessarily the same level of commitment to your business as an employed member of staff would do.
Unless you employ the right cleaners and you educate them on your vision and your visions are a kind of parallel and they want to achieve X amount and X amount of years like we’ve done with our cleaners. And so they’re self-employed but then they have cleaners within their self-employed teams and we’ve had meetings with them and explained to them that as we grow they grow and they’re well on board with that and as we grow they gain more people on so they’re seeing the longevity side of things so they’re very committed to our business. I do understand what you’re saying about commitment because they do have other jobs as well but they work.
Yes. I mean let’s be honest we’ve had other cleaners before who’ve done exactly the same thing with us and it hasn’t worked out. So you know but at the same time there is no guarantees if you have a company, they might turn around and go no you know this doesn’t suit what we’re doing anymore or you might have a member of staff who quits.
So you’ve got to take it into perspective haven’t you. Yeah I think you know and whatever method of cleaner that you employ there’s no guarantee, you work towards securing your future together.
And as Ritchie says the more you can make sure that what they’re trying to achieve is
in line with what you’re trying to achieve the more likely they are to kind of stick around
whether that’s self-employed, employed or a company.
So I guess the other thing with self-employed cleaners is you know that means that you might need cover. I mean we quite often work with self-employed cleaners who have access to kind of teams of their own so they’re able to kind of bring in extra manpower when you need it but if you’re talking about individual self-employed cleaners then yes generally you’re going to need some kind of cover because while we say there is nice flexibility in it for you at the same time that means that they’ve got no commitment to necessarily be there for them. They are not available on these particular days or I can’t do these times that type of thing really.
Or they can send a message first thing in the morning saying I quit.
So the other thing I guess around self-employed cleaners is it can be slightly harder to scale than some of the other options. Now you know that’s not to say that you can’t do it but for instance you might need to have a number of different separate teams you know who are all independent from one another which is certainly doable but like I say it might be a little bit harder than if you just kind of growing one specific team you know either with an employed workforce or just by using a company and leveraging that.
And the other thing as well if you’re using different self-employed teams and you got different cleaners coming in. What we’ve found is the other people tend to slate the other people off like than a good job or this isn’t being done right and then to try and win your business.
Which becomes problematic. So you then you then have them operate in different properties and then you don’t have the same benefit of capacity because you know one is not available for one and they go off and do the other one and that type of thing. So yeah it is doable but there are complications around that you know but they’re not insurmountable.
Other types of cleaners we have are employed cleaners. So when you employ them on, you can employ them full time, part time or zero hour contracts and with employed staff you’ve got the most control so they are your staff members they’re not the bosses you are. So you’ve got the most control so to speak you know.
And when you’re employing you probably have choice of quite a lot of people, you can go through the interview process that you want, ask the questions.
So you’ve got no filtering processes to hopefully get the right cleaners in place so you’ve got to go there and it can be the cheapest. However you’ve also got other costs like National Insurance and you’ve also got things like holiday. Even someone on a zero hours contracts is eligible for holiday pay.
Yeah yeah absolutely. And of course those auto-enrolment as well. Basically pension contributions and it really means that even if you’re paying someone minimum wage in reality it works out closer to 10 pounds an hour by the time you kind of made all these extra payments. So it can be cheaper but don’t be fooled.
The good thing is with your own staff members it’s very scalable you can scale the business and yeah like I said filtering processes, employment, revenues, getting people in and it’s easy to scale the business and get more people in.
Yeah you know because you can build a system around around your employees can’t you and you can build a good system and then just plug them in.
Yeah we have quite good software as well for staff management on that you know for time tracking, job assignment all those kind of things. It becomes very very scalable, it most certainly does.
So you’ve got legal obligations because as we know employees are very heavily protected, you’ve got employment laws but I won’t bore you with that. You can have a look at HMRC website and yeah look at just google employers obligations.
Yeah there’s a lot, far too much for us to talk about today otherwise that would be a very boring episode.
But yeah the bottom line is if you are employing staff that is a very big legal responsibility that you’re taking on and you probably want to you know think twice about it to make sure it’s 100 percent the right solution for you.
So the other option is to go with a cleaning company and for obvious reasons it’s kind of the easiest to scale because if you want to get bigger you just make sure you’re choosing a cleaning company who have the capacity to deal with the workload which you want to throw at it and to some degree I think as well it requires the least amount of management because you’re essentially leveraging the other company’s systems. You’re leveraging their employment and their recruitment processes. you’re leveraging their quality control and everything like that.
Let’s face it, we don’t have years of experience managing cleaners, well actually we do now but we didn’t at first.
So you know there’s a lot that you can actually leverage from using a kind of cleaning company. And of course it’s also the most resilient because whenever you have employed staff or self-employed staff if you have a small number of them then there’s always an issue is one or two of them being off sick or disappearing or quitting at the last minute which can lead to real capacity issues and generally if you’re dealing with a larger company you shouldn’t run into those same problems because you know if you work with a larger company like I say they should have enough staff that that shouldn’t really be an issue.
And if they don’t, they take responsibility and they deal with it and they sort problems out.
I mean again we with all of these types of cleaners we’re all aware of issues which have happened you know for instance our cleaners walking out, they were self-employed. We’ve also had previous issues with employed cleaners. We also know lots of people have an issue with cleaning companies who you know just aren’t able to provide the quality or again who kind of walk out of a job that type of thing. So regardless of what type you’re using you can still run into problems like we said before.
But I think the overall thing with cleaning companies is that because you’re kind of leveraging a lot of their IP and all of their systems and employees it is always the most expensive option isn’t it. Yes it is because not only have you got that base cost in there but you know this being capitalism you’ve also got to include a margin for them. Otherwise they wouldn’t be a very good company. Yes.
So it depends where you are along the way as to which kind of option you want to go with. I mean what we generally say is try and avoid employed staff as much as possible as we’re saying before it’s just the legislation around it is quite large and you have a lot of legal responsibilities. You‘re going to have to set up all auto enrolment of employing people which can be a bit of a faff and you know there’s probably a lot of hoops to jump through and you know potential liabilities attached to employing staff right.
We also say that work tends to be in clumps as Chris mentioned earlier, we’ve got Fridays and Sundays. So you need loads of personnel, you need loads of staff on over those days you need access to loads of personnel as you scale..
So you’re not going to be able to say oh let’s take one person on full time and they’ll do all my cleaning for me which is something I heard a few times I have to say and you know it’s a nice idea but it doesn’t really work.
No, especially when you’ve got a check out and check in window and you know that things have to be done within x amount hours it does not work.
I mean we have a six hour window don’t we between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. We always advise, as a little aside on here, that you have a six hour window. The reason being that that gives you the maximum amount of time from a logistical point of view to perform your changeovers. However we are aware of people who have five or even four hour changeover periods you know for instance if you’re going check out 11 check in from three but that can be a major issue because if we’re talking about scaling and the number of personnel that you need.
You’re going to need a lot!
Because I mean if you’re mainly doing two beds for instance you’re probably talking about two
hours a clean. Now if you’ve got 11 till 3 window then that’s only two cleans which a cleaner can do in that time. In actual fact they probably can’t even do that because they’ve got to travel between apartments if they’re not in the same block anyway and even if they are you’ve kind of got to leave a little bit of allowance because you can’t walk in the door at 11 o’clock straight away because you’ve got to give the guests a little bit of leeway on check out time, at least 10 minutes or so and on top of that how do they know if they go in there and the apartment is in a really bad condition and maybe today it takes two and a half or three hours to do it. It just shows that you can have rather limited capacity but you should also maximise your changeover window as much as possible.
Our preferred option.
Well we do use self-employed cleaners with access to other self-employed cleaners within their team and have a cleaning company as backup.
Yeah I think that cleaning company as backup is really important because as we’ve discovered you know a month or so ago that can be a complete lifesaver. You might be paying more money but nothing is more expensive than having to turn guests away from a property and maybe to rehouse them and miss out on the income etc etc..
So once you’ve kind of chosen your cleaners and how exactly are you going to be working with them and managing the quality of the cleaning is obviously fundamental as well because you want consistency with cleaning and you want to make sure that it’s always done to the level which you expect and I think the funny thing is that if you took 10 good cleaners and ask them to clean an apartment I genuinely think every cleaner would do something different.
Yes they would. So the way we overcome that is that we talk about building a system and then plugging people into that system so whatever happens whatever cleaner you’ve got in there they adhere to those standards, your standards and standards that you set.
Yeah yeah. And the best way that you can do that cleaning is through having a specification. So when you take on a property go through and and say so every time there’s a changeover we want this to be done, we want that to be done, we want that to be done. You probably end up with the second list as well which says every time there’s a deep clean we want this to be done, that to be done, that to be done and you end up with this whole specification which clearly sets out the expectation of what we want to be done every time the apartment is cleaned or every time the apartment is deep cleaned and then it’s quite a simple matter to take that specification and actually turn it into a checklist.
Yes it is. Yeah. So cleaning checklist is a tick box exercise should make it simple and straightforward so that they can just tick boxes as well to make sure things are done and make it easy, don’t make it a very complex system.
And the reason we have these checklists like Chris said earlier is to make sure that we maintain the same standards they know what they are doing each time and when we build the checklist we go in with the cleaners and we see what they do first and what they do at the end. The whole process so that they feel part of building this cleaning checklist and it’s not like it’s just something being given to them and they have to do it. They actually feel part of building this whole cleaning checklist and we know the process that it doesn’t make any sense saying check the bathroom walls or check this in the bathroom or if the toilets are working no doesn’t make any sense at all if they start cleaning in the hallway or if they start cleaning in the kitchen or in the living room.
Yeah and I think that’s probably a fundamental of the checklist because we speak to a lot people who say oh yeah well I tried the checklist and the cleaner doesn’t use them. Well actually we’ve had that problem as well. Part of it is finding the right people but part of it is like bringing them into that. And if it’s not something which fits in with the way in their workflow of cleaning, then they are going to come back at the end and they’re just going to tick all the boxes. Yes. You don’t get the benefit from doing it that way they know because they’re not actually going through it. You need to make sure it’s designed in a way which naturally fits the way they work so that as they go through doing it as they normally would they are able to tick stuff off.
So it doesn’t really disrupt their workflow at all.
It’s yes it’s kind of a natural part of it and that for me is probably where most people struggle with checklists and they just hand over a list and expect people to do it. And you know you think about if we were told go and do stuff this way then there’d be a very natural resistance to it right whereas if you’re working with someone and you have a discussion together about what the best way to do something is and you agree on it then it’s a lot easier to go forward and kind of use that.
Yeah you feel part of the solution.
The other thing you can get people to do on top of cleaning checklists is whilst they go around doing the checks they can also check for things like damage you know, make a note of it, they can even take pictures of that and then explain where the damage is and which property it’s in. If they notice things like people have been smoking, if any cigarettes left in the property take pictures let’s call someone out straightaways, alert the property manager straightaway and that property manager will be able to deal with the guests. If there are any signs of parties, we’ve heard things of these little canisters of laughing gas. We haven’t had it in our property but I’ve heard a few people talking about it, some of our clients mentioned it haven’t they. This laughing gas is a thing now isn’t it?
Yeah. Well if you go to a music festival it’s like you can barely move because of the damn things.
So yeah it’s one of those. And is there any missing items they’ll be on the checklist, if things disappear. They can take pictures. They can’t take a picture of an item missing but take a picture of where it was and make a note of where it was when they discovered that and the exact time.
Yeah exactly. So it is not just about the cleaning it’s building on that and obviously checking for those things but you can also then get them to check more stuff like you know can log on to the WiFi, is the WiFi connection working. That’s a really good one because you want to get a call from the guest. Get them to switch on the TV, now again you know if we go does a TV work they’ll be like yeah the TV works but if you say switch it on to BBC One and turn the volume up just to check everything fine. Suddenly you know because again another thing which can happen is you have issues with the aerials or reception or something like that. And if they’ve stuck it on for 30 seconds a picture and audio are absolutely fine then there’s no problem. But how long otherwise would it take you to find out for instance where there’s an issue with the aerial and the TV picture is cutting in and out.
Yeah and whilst on the TV we also ask them to check if the Smart TV side of things works so that the Internet and if is still connected sorry if the TV is connected to the WiFi and you just have to go into the Smart TV element then go to BBC Iplayer and try and play an episode.
It kind of speeds things up a lot and it’s better than getting a phone call from my guest.
So in terms of our number one item and maintenance in apartments then Ritchie what would you say it is?
Fairly predictable I guess. You know again it’s one of those things if you’re not in the property how do you know when light bulbs go.
Yeah true. We’ve started using LED light bulbs because of longevity. Yeah we used to get, our property manager Sean you get calls about light bulbs going off or blowing up on a regular basis and LED bulbs well they are more expensive to start off with but they do save money over time obviously on the cost saving side of things, on energy saving and also on their longevity. They last a very long time.
Yeah. And of course you know we can get the cleaners to check the light bulbs are okay and then we have a stock of light bulbs at the property where if there’s any issues then they can just go and replace them. Which is taking out a whole load of the kind of maintenance cycle because it’s hard to know if a light bulb has gone if you’re not there yourself.
Yes and what our property manager Sean does is make sure that the cleaners replace the lightbulbs safely. Yeah you know you don’t want a cleaner breaking their back or falling over, you don’t want this happening while she is on duty on your property.
So we give training on changing light bulbs.
It’s not really training it’s just guidelines on changing light bulbs, they know what they’re doing but it’s just gotta make sure that not just cover your backs but their backs too.
So when we’ve got the checklists in place and theory then means that we should be getting this consistent quality and of course these additional checks which we want on top of that. But what of course we need to do human nature being human nature is just check in regularly to make sure that this is all actually being done. So we do regular audits where we do random spot checks on properties and what we essentially do with an audit is we kind of run through the checklist ourselves and we go okay you know the front hall was meant to be mopped, can we see that it’s clearly done, is it nice and clean? The cupboard was meant to be checked to make sure there’s nothing in there, is that all clean etcetera etcetera. And so you are then able to run through the entire checklist and come up with the score out of you know obviously 100 percent in terms of how well they did on their audit and of course if there are any issues found then you can start feeding that back to the cleaners and just you know little reminders, don’t forget to do this, don’t forget to do that. Or of course equally we’re doing really well it’s just important to make sure that they realise that that is actually being noticed and is being appreciated. Because it’s human nature isn’t it you know if you’re doing a good job and you feel like no one actually notices then it’s very unrewarding.
Now when it comes to laundry you’ve got the option of doing yourself.
Yeah I think we know our opinion on that one.
We’ve learnt, we’ve never done that ourselves and now you are right you did have the one.
And you’ve got the option of the cleaner taking it home and doing the laundry, we’ve also learnt on that front.
Yeah I mean it can be a good option. It’s a leveraged way to get it done but you kind of run into some quality control issues I guess you know in terms of if the cleaner is doing the laundry themselves and then bringing it on site and fitting then it’s only really audits where you get an opportunity to kind of you know check out the quality of what’s going on.
Whereas if there is a problem with the linen and it’s completely separate the cleaner would normally say this isn’t up to scratch kind of thing.
Yeah and it’s a massive risk, she’s got your linens or he’s got your linen, they’ve got everything on there you’ve got guests checking in it’s just yeah. It becomes a mess when it goes wrong. So it works worked well for us for a long period of time. However when it went wrong it did.
So with cleaners the risk is there in terms of you know them doing a bad job then walking out of the business or in terms of some kind of legal liability obviously which is much higher when you’re actually talking about you know having employed cleaners.
Now when it comes to the risk on the laundry then obviously the risk of it chewing up your expensive linen or not arriving on time which you know even when using launderettes that can happen as well but also not having access to it. And of course as we discovered when you kind of give cleaners a lot more responsibility around the laundry there is a lot more risk around not having access.
Especially when they leave, they decide to quit work and then leave work with your linen.
Other options offer cleaning on sites where you’ve got the cleaners and they do the laundry onsite and this works with bigger sites so yeah with blocks or hotels like we used to run they used to work really well as the cleaner would just do laundry on site quality control was on point and everything was all right, they had the presser.
I mean the crossover point on this is probably four or five properties I would have said you know maybe it works if you’ve got less but with one apartment it would be very hard to kind of to get all the stuff off, get it in the washer, get it dried, get it ironed. But you know certainly within the time which you normally perform a clean in the property. So yeah it’s probably better when you’ve got multi person teams and you’re working on bigger sites because you can have different roles within the teams. Or for instance what we used to do was have all the cleaners doing the cleaning up to the check in time and then once all the rooms are done then they come downstairs and basically work in the launderette you know they’re working making sure the laundry gets finished and everything’s ironed etc. etc. So that could work quite well as well.
So our favorite, the one we use now is commercial laundry companies and they do a sterling job because they’ve got amazing quality control. They’ve got industrial equipment for the laundry they’ve got the pressers, they fold them up amazingly, they can deliver and they can collect as well. So the flexibility in that as you can do a lot more easy to scale your business working with these companies.
Yeah. I think it’s a very scalable solution with a lot of logistical advantages like you say around the kind of collection and delivery and quality control is quite good as well.
Also storage because you could have lots and lots and lots of linen, they are really good for that.
Yeah yeah. When we start thinking about linen I think it’s probably one of the biggest hidden costs when it comes to serviced accommodation because actually the current massive amount that you have to buy, certainly a hell of a lot more than you’d ever have to do at home. You know these extra things again which you probably wouldn’t have at home like mattress protectors, pillow protectors. You know it is quite important when you’ve got lots of people coming and going and you certainly don’t want you know something about bed bugs infesting your apartment that’s a whole other story for another time. And of course you don’t want someone having an accident. No those are quite important.
People are going to have accidents but if they do you you don’t want that damaging your equipment.
So on top of that the kind of protectors you also need three sets for obviously the linen in terms of generally it’s kind of one in use, one spare and one being washed. So that’s actually suddenly three times as much that you need to spend on.
That’s what you realize yeah when you are doing your budget and you only do pricing in there, people usually calculate on to two sets you know let’s go and buy two sets or so but three sets.
And actually a lot of the launderettes recommend three and a half. Yep they do yeah but it depends on the number changeovers which you have per week on average as to what kind of works for you. But certainly three is the minimum we’d recommend and you know there is quite a volume of stuff you know you forget about it with sheets, duvets, duvet covers, pillows, pillowcases, pillow protectors, you got mattress protectors, bath towels, bath sheets, hand towels, bath mats the list goes on it is a lot of stuff that you need and what we found is that typically you’re looking at maybe £400-500 per apartment. So it does add up very much. And again one area that we’ve we’ve looked at recently which tend to work quite well is the hiring of the linen because you know rather spending £400 or so on everything except for the duvets and the pillows instead you can just hire them from a commercial laundrette and actually we’re finding it’s about £20 a month for a two bedroom apartment which compared to a £400 upfront capital requirement for purchasing it makes a helluva lot more sense than that.
Especially in the serviced accommodation in industry where we pride ourselves on cash flow, that’s a cashflow business and so that makes it definitely makes a big difference.
You know the less cash you need to do each deal then at least in theory the more deals you can do and and again you know if you think hotel grade linen then generally I think that’s going to make a difference you know and people are going to kind of notice that it’s going to have an impact on their impression and review rating to your apartment and their sleep.
So if you do purchase your linen then I mean what are the main places we’ve bought stuff from Ritchie?
We tend to use our bedding direct and when it’s things like towels and that you use Mellcrest those are the main two that we use.
And we do still get all of our duvets.and mattress toppers etc from bedding direct because they are actually very good price aren’t they.They’re all in bulk so you kind of buy packs of like five or 10 pillows that are good quality as well as good quality stuff.
And like I said for the towels that we used to use MEllcrest. But yeah obviously we hire the towels now so we don’t use Mellcrest for towels but we do get this here and there from Mellcrest but if you’re looking to purchase, they are a good place to buy commercial grade towels.
Other places that other people or some of our clients or people we’ve come across in the industry tend to buy from other places like the Range, we do use the Range here and there but that’s mainly for dressing and not often linen colour.
This like Argos we wouldn’t really use for like bedding or anything but it’s quite good for more of the furnishings, electrical side.
You’ve got Dunelm, places like Ikea if you’ve got one near you. You’ve also got companies like Homescapes online and you’ve like companies like Matalan, quality might not be as great.
Beddings direct is the main one we use.
Like I said we kind of put off this episode for a little while, we hope we haven’t bored you to death and that you have found it interesting and we’re very proud we actually managed two weeks in a row.
Yes we’re back in action.
We’ll see you next week.
See you next week. Take care.
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