Mariah Johnson, who operates Small & Tall Cleaning in Meredith, disinfects a conference room table at The Laconia Daily Sun office. She said she hasn’t sought to expand, despite growing demand for cleaning services, because she doesn’t want to take on employees. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun)

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Frank Perkins was concerned about Great Northern Cleaning, the residential and commercial cleaning business he has owned and operated since 1981.

“In the spring of 2020, March and April, the residential side tanked,” he said. “Everybody was going to be working from home, so they canceled their cleaning services and we started to panic.”

But within a few weeks, things started to get better.

His commercial accounts began to buy extra services, such as sanitizing operations with electrostatic sprayers.

“Then, last fall, we noticed the residential side exploded because people found out they can work from home no matter where they are living,” Perkins said. “So we were cleaning a bunch of new houses people were buying, overpaying, to move up to New Hampshire, out of the cities.”

The upshot is that the business Perkins started just a couple years out of high school is having its best year ever. With offices in Laconia and Plymouth, the company has expanded from about 50 employees to more than 70 and expects to hit at least $2.1 million in business this year, up from $1.7 million last year.

“Previously, our summer months would run about $200,000 a month, now we’re running close to $300,000 a month,” he said.

And, unlike many businesses in the Lakes Region, and elsewhere, he has been able to maintain a sufficient workforce.

“We are one of the lucky ones – we are fully staffed,” he said. “We treat our help really well. We pay well.

He added that “most of our hiring is referrals from friends and families. We employ nine members of one family.”

A far cry

Perkins said his business has been successful because it adapted well to disinfection and sanitizing techniques in demand during the pandemic and because it has a strong online and advertising presence.

“We spend a lot of money on advertising,” he said. “We spend $50,000 a year on advertising, which is huge, even though we’re well-established. Our web presence is good. Our website people do an awesome job of going out and capturing reviews. If you look up cleaning services in this area, we have probably 200 to 300 reviews online. Other cleaning companies might have between one and 10.”

It’s a far cry from how he drummed up business when he started the business four decades ago.

“I would take a town and I’d spend a couple days there and just go to every business, knock on the door, walk in and say, ‘Hey, I’m here and offer window cleaning, carpet cleaning, janitorial services.’”

Back then, he’d also advertise in the phone book, which was relatively expensive.

While he relishes the challenges of operating a business that employs dozens of people, not everybody wants those kinds of responsibilities.

Mariah Johnson, who operates Small & Tall Cleaning in Meredith along with her husband, Joseph Johnson, doesn’t want to expand.

The business gets its name because she’s small at 4-foot-10, while her husband is tall at 6-foot-4, and because they’ll take on jobs both little and big.

They run and staff the business themselves. She explained why she wants to keep it that way.

“It would be hard to find employees, and I don’t like to have somebody else’s work to worry about,” she said. “I like to do it myself. I don’t want anybody angry that something wasn’t cleaned right, and I don’t want to have to go in and try to smooth it over.

“I’m content. I’m not a management person. I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

She started the business 10 years ago and liked that she could set her own hours and be available when needed for her children, who are now 17, 15 and 4.

Johnson also noticed her business drop off early during the pandemic and pick up again.

She and her husband both received the Covid-19 vaccination last month.

“We’ve had a couple clients ask if we’ve been vaccinated,” she said. “It’s a tough situation. They want to know, but it’s also our lives.”

They also wear face masks while working.

She said the pandemic hasn’t had much effect on her business. Some clients asked to supply their own cleaning equipment. Special attention was paid to sanitizing door knobs, light switches and other high-touch items.

Johnson tries to meet her clients’ requests, but she also has her own cleaning equipment that she likes to use, such as a Dyson DC14 bagless vacuum.

It is a relatively old machine but she likes its suction power and long hose – likes it so much, in fact, that she had her husband replace the motor, clutch and electrical cord when they failed rather than buy a new vacuum.

She uses Bona mops because she finds them more sanitary than the old-style cloth mop and wringer bucket.

One might wonder whether, as a cleaning expert, she keeps her own house spotless.

“Not always. I’m busy cleaning everybody else’s place and playing chauffeur for my kids.”

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