For most people, a gift card to Walmart doesn’t lead to entrepreneurial success. It did for Steven and Kristina Pajevic.
The couple started their Sarasota-based company, Crystal Clean Green Cleaning, by using a gift card to buy a batch of cleaning supplies.
That was in 2012. Since then, they’ve grown their company by differentiating themselves in several ways, including cleaning with green cleaning products, focusing on customer service and staying true to a core underlying principle of the industry — trust. As Steven Pajevic puts it, “We’re in the trust business, and it just so happens that we’re into cleaning.”
When they started the company eight years ago, Pajevic was a business analyst. He and his wife decided they needed some extra income, so they discussed different options before settling on cleaning. “Both Kristina and I are OCD,” he says. “Once you have little ones, we took it a step further. Everything was clean, disinfected and tidy. We took something we do at home and do very well and said, ‘Maybe we can turn a profit with this.’”
Early on, the firm, which serves clients in Sarasota and Manatee counties, decided to clean homes using green cleaning products. The company also emphasized hiring quality employees. One of the ways the Pajevics guard against people who might not be a good fit is by putting a clear notice on job applications: “If you change jobs more than you change underwear, it’s not a good fit.”
Employees also have to buy in to the company’s values. Steven Pajevic says even though some companies have their mission statement printed on their walls, sometimes employees can’t recite a single word of it. For his business, he decided to simplify it. Instead of a lengthy mission statement, Crystal Clean has four core, easy-to-remember values — be real, help out, create value and have fun.
By sticking to its values, Crystal Clean has seen steady growth with some spikes in growth since its founding. The firm’s growth has come organically, with referrals being a top source of new business. The first year, Crystal Clean had five or seven clients. Now it cleans about 100 homes. It’s also grown to eight employees.
In another marker of success, the company, which at one point was run out of the Pajevics’ garage, now has a 1,700-square-foot office. They use the office for practical purposes, including doing laundry and storing supplies, but having a home base also helps build camaraderie. “Having a dedicated place to incubate the culture means the world,” Pajevic says.
Crystal Clean’s employees generally work in teams of two, and the same team is sent to houses, so clients don’t see new faces all the time. That’s part of the trust factor, Pajevic says. “I wouldn’t want a stranger in my home,” he says. “It would be hard for me to ask somebody to do that.”
To continue growing, the firm wants to expand the area it serves, possibly into Charlotte and Hillsborough counties. It also started a new service — home watching. Because some clients are seasonal, the Pajevics want to retain business during the summer when seasonal residents head north. In the wake of the coronavirus, Crystal Clean is starting a specific disinfecting service as well.
‘We’re in the trust business, and it just so happens that we’re into cleaning.’ — Steven Pajevic, Crystal Clean Green Cleaning
The company’s growth plan includes doing more work for existing customers, too. It’s encouraging clients to add on services, such as a refrigerator cleaning or pressure washing. “We’ll try to cross-promote and grow from within that relationship,” he says.
To stay true to its core business, Crystal Clean departs from one industry norm by turning some clients down. Potential clients who find the company through online search results are vetted. They have to align with the company’s core values because the firm wants long-term relationships. “We have to be as picky as the customers are — that’s how we find that mutual fit,” Pajevic says. “One hundred percent of business is recurring customers only. We don’t take one-offs for deep cleans. We’re looking to be in someone’s home for the long run.”
Sometimes, he admits, those one-time clients look good. “It’s tempting to grow revenue from sources that don’t align with us,” he says. But then he reminds himself to stick to the company’s niche. “The value of the business is because of the long-term relationships,” Pajevic says. “Our biggest challenge was to hone it in, target who we are and do it really well, not just to take everything and everybody. Then we’re nothing.”