Interview with
Caleb Wininger

Caleb Wininger | Owner
Lake State Cleaning


Q: Why did you start your business?

A: It was kind of on accident, to be honest. I was in my early 20s, recently engaged, and basically just needed an income. I didn’t have any real prospects and had worked for a couple of window cleaning companies previously. I always felt like I could run a more successful company than the ones I had worked for, if I could just get enough customers to support myself. I thought to myself “I’m pretty good at window cleaning. I guess I’ll give this a shot!”

Q: What are some key factors or decisions that contributed to the success of your business?

A: I decided early on that focusing on taking care of the customer at all costs was the single most important factor in the success of my business. Right away I developed the mentality of always putting the customer’s needs first, even at the expense of profits. I believed that if I provided over-the-top customer service at all times, the profits and the growth would naturally follow. Although I’ve learned there’s more to it than that, I still strongly believe in that basic principle.

Q: What are some challenging aspects of your business?

A: Running an exterior cleaning business in southeast Michigan has some inherent challenges. The weather is always a factor. Bad weather can play havoc with our schedule so we always have to be prepared to communicate well with our clients when changes need to be made. There’s a built in seasonality to this industry in this region. That creates challenges in terms of cash flow, budget forecasting, and staff turnover. We are also in an industry that’s filled with low priced “guy in a truck” style businesses. We face the challenge of trying to sell our services at higher rates than many of our competitors. Communicating with our potential customers about the value of our premium customer service is a big part of our sales process.

Q: Do you feel you made any serious mistakes as you were starting or growing your business? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

A: I made several key mistakes early on. I didn’t put enough effort into learning about how to build and grow a business. Understanding the numbers, deciding what the architecture of the company would look like, budgeting, and forecasting- I didn’t understand any of that.

If I could do it over, I would have removed myself from field operations much sooner so that I could focus more on three main things: systematizing our operations, learning to be awesome at recruiting and hiring great people, and effective marketing. Those things are the keys to real growth.

In the early days I spent my time on a lot of the wrong things. I put too much emphasis on the technical side of the business- perfectionism in the field, micromanaging the work of my field technicians, etc. I had a technician’s mindset, not an entrepreneur's mindset. It wasn’t until I started to learn from others about what it takes to actually build a business that I began to realize significant growth. I also had to learn how to “let go”- to train my people and then get out of their way and trust them to do their jobs. I think a lot of small business owners get trapped here. You absolutely have to be able to let your team handle the duties you’ve assigned them and avoid the urge to constantly look over their shoulders.

Q: What other advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?

A: I would encourage anyone just starting out in business to place an emphasis on personal education. Not schooling necessarily, but on always learning from your peers. Associations, seminars, networking events and conventions, forums--all of these are great avenues where you can learn from others who have already done what you are trying to do. Invest heavily in yourself. Be prepared to spend money on your own education. It will always pay off. As you grow in business, you will be heavily influenced by those you spend the most time with. Find a mentor in your industry or a related one, join an accountability group, read constantly, listen to podcasts. Expose yourself to as much knowledge as you can. But just as important is ACTION. Too many small business people can’t get out of their own way because they want everything to be perfect before they pull the trigger. One principle that you can always live by is this: imperfect action beats inaction every time. So don’t wait until everything is “just right” before making a move. Often you just have to be decisive, make a call and roll with it. Trust yourself to make it work. And don’t be afraid to fail. That kind of fear will paralyze you if you let it.

About Lake State Cleaning

Lake State Cleaning offers window cleaning, power washing, gutter

cleaning and roof cleaning to the southeast Michigan area. We place heavy emphasis on

over-the-top customer service. Established in 1999, Lake State Cleaning has enjoyed steady

growth and maintains an excellent reputation in the community.

"I believed that if I provided over-the-top customer service at all times, the profits and the growth would naturally follow. Although I’ve learned there’s more to it than that, I still strongly believe in that basic principle."—Caleb Wininger