When I think back to my childhood most memories include all things window cleaning, no matter what was happening the reminder that we were a window cleaning family was always present. I grew up playing on wooden stacks, the garages filled with ladders, wooden extensions, ladder jacks and scaffold planks, wooden poles of all sizes, some made from dowel to get a longer reach. It was almost like having a life-size “Lincoln Log” set designed by the young window cleaner about to enter the world of family business.
I grew up learning from the past generations, absorbing their knowledge, wisdom, skills, along the way I was able to continue to learn and grow. Harnessing new technologies never before seen by those window cleaners from my family’s past, technologies my grandfather never would have dreamed of. Tools and methods my uncle and my father always looked at funny when it first came out, oh how they held on tight to their old ways! Those older window cleaners never did get the idea of the water-fed/filtration technology, even just one generation ago, my fathers time at this, they knew it was possible, knew it would work, but they did not venture into the world of window cleaning much past where they found their comfort and flow in all of this.
Now I got to look forward to our next generation, our 4th in the family business, a proud moment, I never was sure this would ever be a moment, the choice was and is not mine, but our oldest daughter made that choice on her own and joined me on this adventure, taking us further into our future as a family window cleaning company.
Since Grace and I have been working and learning together in all of this, since we have grown so much just from each other, well, we figured it might be nice for us to ask a few other generational window cleaners a few questions we had in mind, get an insight into a few folks who have been on this journey with us for the long haul!
We spoke with Noa Pedersen of Window Cleaning History
“Noa, when did your family business start?”
“Officially our family business was started by my Grandfather Arthur Pedersen in 1943. Though my family history in the industry started earlier with my Great Grandfather Carl Johan Pedersen. My Great Grandfather was a Norwegian sailor who shipwrecked in Mobile Bay, Alabama around 1906. By 1909 he had made his way up to Chicago, and because he was comfortable working on tall ships, he started window cleaning at Munson Window Cleaning. After several years in the business he bought out the owner and continued growing the company. In 1936 my Grandfather started cleaning windows, and in 1943 he started General Window Cleaning with his cousin. Over the years we acquired several companies, including World Window Cleaning, which was established in 1890.”.
“How many generations have worked for the family business?”
“I am the 4th generation, my Great Grandfather started in 1909, my Grandfather in 1936, my father Carl Pedersen in 1963. I started working full time in 2004. Over the years many family members contributed to the success of the company.” “Where are you located?” “My family company was based in Chicago, Illinois. After my father passed away, we closed our shop in 2018. I was fortunate enough to continue in the industry and currently work for Valcourt Building Services where I have been since 2018.” “ What type of window cleaning do you primarily do?” “We were a very well-rounded company, performing just about any window cleaning services for any type of building. High and low-rise commercial, route/residential, industrial, institutional…if it had windows, we would clean it.”
“What prompted you to start Window Cleaning History?”
“I always loved history, and since my company had such a rich history it was a passion project. My company saved so many things over the years, with job files dating back to the 1930’s. It started with my own social media accounts for the business, and because my collection kept growing outside of my own company, I decided I needed to start a standalone account.” “ What is your fondest childhood window cleaning memory?” “It’s hard to pinpoint one specific memory but looking back on it now I would say any of the times I was able to clean windows with my dad. You take moments in time for granted, and I cherish the time I spent with him.”
We also spoke with Steve Pelsinger of Window Cleaning Service. Steve’s family business started in 1923 and has had 5 generations of family members work for the business in Southside, Virginia. The business primarily does Residential and Commercial work.
“What is the future direction of the business?”
“Residential , Industrial Low Rise WFP , is where the bigger money may be, however commercial route work … restaurants, auto dealerships is where the base is out month after month, year after year. If you have say 2, or 3, 2-man crews bringing in 25K a month, that’s not a bad base. Say your route crews are bringing in 25K a month and then you add in Residential & low rise buildings and so on for another 40- 50 K month you can easily do 1+M year with 3 or 4 (2 men crews)“’’How many family members have worked for your family business?” “Grandfather, Uncles, Aunt, Dad , Mom, Cousins, Brothers, Myself, My Wife, Son, Daughter, Daughter-in-law, Grandsons, Total over the years 21 family members but the only ones left are Myself, My Wife, 2 Grandsons and our Son part time.”
“What are some of the tools and brands your family has passed down over time?”
“Unfortunately not much. We have a couple Unger Poles , some Ettore Squeegees , my cousin still has a Tucker Pole that I had given to them 35 years ago and he has a set of Alad ladders we actually have a couple wooden poles from about 40 years ago but we have always been a traditional window cleaning service and we are always buying new tools but I must say that our major tools have been Ettore , & Unger” “Given how long your family business has been in business, how do you feel about the resurgence of the female window cleaner?” “As for women in this business I believe 100% in having them in our company. I believe they are more detail oriented and in many cases take their time. They are also in many cases more organized so in answer to your question if they have no problem working with the guys and the guys have no problem working with the girls I think it’s great and as for our company today my wife not only owns the company but she runs 90% of it . Today all I basically do is estimate jobs and speak to the customers if need be.”
We also were able to talk with Bryan Brown of Brite-Way Window Service in Keokuk, Iowa.
“Bryan, when did your family business start?”
“My family business began in 1973 when my dad purchased it.” “How many generations have worked for the family business?” “I am the 2nd generation in our business.” “What type of window cleaning do you primarily do?” “We are about 90% commercial and 10% residential.” “What is the future direction of the business?” “Each year my goal is to increase revenue. We have been adding more residential work. Our route work has remained consistent and steady over the years. Recently residential has been on the rise.”
“What are some of the new tools and technologies that inspire you in your generation?”
“I am kind of old school when it comes to tools. I still use many of the tools handed down to me from my dad. I am looking to upgrade to carbon fiber poles soon and may even look into wfp eventually”. “We all know that window cleaning is one of the most dangerous industries, can you reflect on how that has affected your business model and safety practices?” “Safety has been on the front of my mind since my wife and I took over my dad’s business in 2005. He lost his life in a fall from a second story window. We had to learn his business from the ground up. I became very good at pole work and try to avoid ladders if at all possible. When they must be used my wife is always there to help.”
It was such a pleasure to get to talk with these amazing window cleaners and hear their amazing journeys with their family business through the generations. Thank you to Noa Pederson, Steve Pelsinger, and Bryan Brown for sharing your generational family business experiences with us.
Craig Hendzel & Grace Gerengher Special thanks to Noa Pedersen, Steve Pelsinger, & Bryan Brown