BUSINESS SUCCESS STORIES
AMK Cleaning Services
When Ashley Kosharek started AMK Cleaning Services in September of 2012, it was out of frustration. After years of working in customer service, retail and restaurants, she was tired of barely making end's meet. "After bouncing from all of these jobs and not really knowing what I wanted to do, I ended up a single mom and knew that I had to do something that made enough money that we could make a living and not be scraping by," she said.
Working as a waitress, she had more time at home with her son, but was not making enough money to get by. Kosharek knew she had a knack for problem solving and helping people. She also valued working independently. This, along with five years of experience housekeeping in hotels, resulted in her decision to start cleaning on the side. As word got out, she began to receive more referrals and added accounts. When she approached Western Dairyland Business Center, it was for advice on what to do with her business. "We were at the point where it was either get bigger or stay small, and I didn't really know which way to go at that point," she said. "It made me scared to get bigger because I knew controlling people was going to be hard, but I knew that if I wanted to make a retirement plan and have something to show, then I needed to get bigger, so I ended up meeting with Ken Pearson at Western Dairyland and we did the business plan." As her cleaning business grew in popularity, Kosharek eventually chose to leave the restaurant industry.
Kosharek heard about the Women's Business Conference as well as the services that Western Dairyland Business Center provides to local entrepreneurs. She attended the conference and made an appointment with a counselor. In addition, Kosharek attended the QuickBooks training and Business Plan Basics. But she says that the counseling was the most important for her. "It gave me the chance to talk to someone one-on-one and just go over different scenarios about how we wanted to approach the business," she said. With her counselor, she was able to add vehicles to commute to client's homes and businesses as well as arrange for competitive wages to reduce turnover.
Kosharek started in 2014 with one employee. Today, she employs a staff of 45 people, and her business is projected to earn up to one million dollars this year. AMK Cleaning Services now serves 150-200 regular rotation clients; when taking one-time deep cleans and spring/fall cleaning into account, Kosharek provides services for as many as 400 clients per year. She currently leases an office on Menomonie Street in Eau Claire.
Her success comes from her unique pricing. The industry standard is an hourly rate, but AMK Cleaning charges clients per job. The cleaners visit the home and quote the job for how long it will take and how much work is needed. This reduces conflict with the client, who knows exactly what he or she is paying. AMK operates on a system of integrity: even if the task takes longer than anticipated, the task is completed, so accurate quoting is imperative. Kosharek also stresses communication. "If there's a problem, I want the clients to feel very comfortable that they can let us know and we're going to fix it," she said. "We use everything as a lesson. That's been the key to our growth."
She maintains the same relationship with her employees. In an industry with a 300 percent turnover, Kosharek has managed to remain well below that. "It's been important to make sure that everybody is very happy and comfortable, and that they like their job and can take pride in it," she said. In addition, she offers pay differentials for weekend hours and pays well above minimum wage.
Kosharek controls her own marketing and sales and has invested in a computer system to make managing her clients easier. She has also gone paperless, providing employees with iPads so that they can quickly access important documents while out in the field. For the most part, she now runs her business independently, but she adds that knowing that a Western Dairyland counselor is only an email or phone call away is reassuring.
She recalled that in the beginning, owning her own business seemed impossible, but after her first year as an official business owner she is right on track. "It's crazy to look back and see how much we've done and how far we've come," she said. "I was a low-income single woman and because of this help and the funding that helped me get the tools that I needed that I probably wouldn't have gotten on my own, now we've created a livable career and created jobs for other people, so that's probably the biggest success." In the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship's piece "Tackling the Gender Gap: What Women Entrepreneurs Need to Thrive", Kosharek advises, "be a sponge. Learn from everyone you meet no matter their job, experience, age."
"We are going to work toward being the elite cleaning team in Eau Claire and deliver the best service possible," she concluded.