When anyone new to window cleaning (when I say new, I mean anyone who started their window cleaning business less than fifteen years ago) visits Ionic's website today, they'd be forgiven for thinking that Ionic is a faceless business that's perhaps a bit too polished to be of any relevance to them.
Gazette & Herald Newspaper clipping from December 1990:
Oil on troubled water
Window cleaner Craig Mawlam is used to being screamed at by irate water board officials but Craig, from Lickhill Road, Calne, is not dodging Themes Water's drought order when he cleans the firm's windows in Kembrey Park, Swindon.
For Craig, 28, takes his water with him from Calne, where Wessex Water has not imposed any restrictions. He keeps about 250 litres of water in copper tanks in his two vans. "staff at themes Water offices have come out and shouted at me to stop" he said. "It normally takes quite a lot to get them to calm down. "I don't fill buckets at places where I work because it's too much hassle."
Ionic's story is really a story about its founder Craig Mawlam who began his window cleaning business a little over twenty-five years ago. Before Craig left the RAF he and his new wife who worked at the local Bank, bought a 2 bed terraced house in a small town in Wiltshire. Craig was passionate about Mini Coopers and had planned to start his own motor repair business. For two years before leaving the Air Force Craig had spent every off duty hour he could in RAF Lyneham's motor club. Craig carried out motor repairs for others, building up his experience and buying garage equipment ready to start his own business when he left the RAF.
Having left the Air Force things didn't work out in the motor trade in the way Craig had hoped. His wife had fallen pregnant and so her income at the Bank had come to an end too. With no income, a baby boy and a mortgage to pay Craig needed to act fast. Craig sold off all off his treasured garage equipment and for the only time in his life drew unemployment benefit. After six weeks Craig qualified for Margret Thatcher's Enterprise Allowance Scheme that paid him £40 per week for two years. He took up a £300 small tools grant from the local council and together with the proceeds from the sale of garage equipment, bought a Ford Escort van and kitted it out with a roof rack, ladders and window cleaning tools.
This is the first advert Craig used for his Window Man business.
On day one Craig had no window cleaning experience and no customers, but as the motor trade paid only £4 per hour, Craig was sure he could do better by cleaning windows. Craig's first customer was his next-door neighbour, he charged £2.50 it was £2.50 well earned and he never looked back and never regretted becoming a window cleaner.
It was tough at the beginning, this was the late eighties and although the property boom was still in full swing, finding customers whilst also learning on the job was hard work. By use of leaflets but mostly though endless door-knocking Craig managed to build a customer base of over 2,000 for his business "The Window Man". Quickly Craig became an employer and promoted "The Window Man" by entering HTV West's "You're the Boss" competition. Craig's business made it to the finals but although the business had a great image and a rapidly growing customer base over four towns, it was making a loss. First prize went to a really nice guy who was a painter and decorator. TV exposure was great and new customers came Craig's way, but the reality was that Craig had become a busy fool.
After the wages and other bills Craig was struggling to make ends meet for his family. Constantly overdrawn with cheques bouncing all around him Craig had to make a decision. Selling part of his round seemed like the biggest decision of his life. Craig sold part of his customer base worth £24,000 per year to a new start window cleaner for the princely sum of £4,000. Craig wasn't comfortable about the idea of letting some of his customers go but the guy who bought the round did a great job and continued to service those customers for many years thereafter.
Craig had made a good decision. By right sizing his business he was able to start making a profit and in doing so learned a valuable lesson. Without profit a business has no future. So workers were lost, and a minimum charge of £5 was set. For a spell Craig worked on his own and freely admins that this was one of the happiest periods in his life. These were good times for Craig, he worked hard and earned well but occasionally a ladder would slip and these near misses eventually lead Craig to employ staff once more. "How lucky window cleaners are these days to be able to work from the safety of the ground" says Craig! It's possible that if Reach & Wash had been available back then, Craig may still have been actively cleaning windows today. There is no doubt that these early experiences played their part in Craig eventually developing the Reach & Wash Systems some ten years later.
Few people remember when Craig's business was called "The Window Man", however many more will recall the days when Craig traded as 'Over The Top Ltd". Craig was born in Bristol in 1963, his father Derek hailed from the North East and his Mother Beatrice the daughter of a Cammell Lairds ship builder from Merseyside. When Craig was nine the family moved to a beautiful place on the North Wales coast called Dwygyfylchi. Dwygyfylchi means the meeting of the two semi circles, referring to the two promentories of Penman Bach and Penmaen Mawr. Surrounded by mountains with a trout laden river, wild woodland, the sea and a sandy beach this was a wonderful place for a young lad to grow up. Craig's parents became keen mountaineers and every Sunday Snowdonia would beckon. As members of the Penmaenmawr Mountaineering club Craig learned rockclimbing skills that would prove invaluable later in his working life.
Sometime in 1988 Craig was asked to quote for a five story building in Swindon. The previous window cleaners used ladders up to the second floor and then reached out of opening windows to clean the rest. Apart from the obvious safety risk, cleaning to the upper floor windows was wholly unacceptable. Because it was impossible to reach, the top of every other window had a dirty V in the middle. There was no access system on the roof, an inspection revealed only a reinforced concrete parapet wall.
A defining moment in Craig's window cleaning career came with the spark of innovation. Drawing on his RAF engineering background and mountaineering experience Craig fabricated a simple steel frame to fit the parapet wall, to which abseiling ropes were fixed.
The Sunday Telegraph Newspaper clipping from April 1996:
Top of the Glass
Craig Mawlam of Lyneham, Wiltshire, demonstrates his skills as founder of Britain's first window cleaning school. Studies on offer, which include a course in controlled descent, can lead to a National Vocational Qualification.
Long before IRATA was formed Craig was if not the first then certainly amongst the first to adopt the abseiling technique for window cleaning. Whether Craig was the first or not, his engineering background meant that Craig went on to develop several portable anchorage devices that gave Over The Top a great advantage in Highrise window cleaning.
The logo for The Window Man featured the image of a slightly round but jolly window cleaning Chappy complete with ladder and bucket. The friendly Window Man character served Craig well during his residential window-cleaning period, but by 1991 a change in circumstances prompted a name change for Craig's business. Craig's team of fit abseiling window cleaners looked more like the SAS descending from the rooftops. A new image was needed and the sharp OTT logo fitted the bill, a subsequent marketing campaign proved once again that a willingness to make big decisions was good for business. Changing the name of an established business with a good reputation is a big decision. Competitors will claim its because you went bust and the name change will cause some confusion amongst customers, but when your identity no longer matches your activity then change is essential.
"Over The Top" was a truly inspired name for an abseiling window cleaning company. A name that was easy to recall, not least because of Chris Tarrant's TV show. In the early nineties OTT had links to eighties excess and high prices too. When commenting on a quotation it was not unusual for a client to make a quip about the price being a little OTT.
An early advert Craig
When Officers in the trenches blew their whistles and ordered brave young men to go "Over The Top" to almost certain death. Considering the courage of his own team of young men Craig could easily justify the prices he charged his blue chip customer base.
Craig's business specialised in cleaning windows that other window cleaners said were impossible to reach, and because Craig's team were window cleaners first and abseiler's second, their speed and quality of work meant that OTT's services were always in demand. Those abseiling years are also rated highly by Craig himself. Craig has always been the kind of boss who leads from the front and he worked alongside his team of elite window cleaners every day. Not only going Over The Top but also ascending ropes and aid climbing the underside of high atriums. Not surprisingly OTT was noticed in the media, due to newspaper coverage of charity abseil events that OTT organised and participated in such as installing 6ft Red Noses on High Rise buildings.
This lead to TV appearances including a You Bet! Challenge with Matthew Kelly, Channel4's Big Breakfast Show, and the James Whale Show, abseiling with Burt Kwok aka Kato from the Pink Panther movies. Unger approached Over The Top to promote Unger's range of window cleaning tools and adverts
You Bet - Craig Mawlam & Abseiling Team
In 1991 the Industrial Roped Access Trade Association was formed and offered abseiling training courses. Targeting the window cleaning industry, over time IRA TA trained an increasing number of window cleaners. By 1995 the market was becoming saturated with abseiling window cleaners, and prices that could once be charged for the abseiling service began to fall. The writing was on the wall for Craig who by this time had developed a total of seven different portable anchorage devices that allowed his team to access windows quickly and efficiently on all types of buildings. Craig decided that once again his business needed to adapt to change.
In 1995 Craig took his first step into manufacturing and also training. Tested by the National Engineering Laboratory to BS EN 795 standard, Craig launched his range of tried and tested anchorage equipment at that year's Cleaning Show at the NEC in Birmingham. Sales of the new and unique range of anchorage equipment grew steadily as did the training in abseiling, Boatswain's Chair and Suspended Cradles that went hand in hand with the equipment. Craig looked on as the Abseiling bubble went from boom to bust. In just a few short years window cleaners took the advantage that
abseiling gave them and then gave it away by slashing their prices. After 9/11 the insurance industry went into free fall and abseiling window cleaners saw the cost of insurance rise well above what they could afford. Soon after 2002 most of the window cleaners who learned to abseil in the nineties stopped abseiling altogether and so the abseiling boom had ended. Craig took notice; this was also an important lesson for the future.
1997 was a big year for Craig, this was the year that Craig launched The Reach & Wash System and of equal significance, established The British Window Cleaning Academy. The BWCA was an extension of the abseil training that Craig had been delivering for two years already. City & Guilds had developed an NVQ in window cleaning and Craig had spent a whole year preparing for it. Working closely with Wiltshire Training and Enterprise Council, Craig studied to become a qualified trainer and NVQ assessor. City & Guilds accepted Craig's submission for the BWCA to become the very first NVQ Centre for the window cleaning industry. However the use of the word "British" within a company name requires special permission from The Department of Trade and Industry and to obtain that permission a company has to prove that it is "preeminent in its field". Supported by Wiltshire TEC, City & Guilds and Ettore who agreed to sponsor the BWCA, the DTI gave its
This is an early advert for OTT's absailing anchor equipment.
consent and so The British Window Cleaning Academy was registered at Companies House.
Sixteen years later and although Craig is a busy man, he's still passionate about passing on his knowledge through training. Craig devotes four days a month to training at the BWCA and enjoys meeting and sharing experiences with long established window cleaners and newcomers alike. Out of the four courses he presents, Craig says that his favorites are the Window Cleaning Skills course when he teaches people how to use Squeegee's and the Marketing course. Craig has been fortunate to travel the World and admits to pinching himself sometimes to remind him that it was window cleaning that made those experiences possible for him. For the most part window cleaners are self-taught, but generally they stop learning when they reach a certain level. When Craig is abroad he enjoys nothing more than hooking up with a local window cleaning company for a days window cleaning after a trade show. "In window cleaning there is always something new to learn" says Craig and "its surprising how much more there is out there is just waiting to be learned". In Craig's 1-Day Skills Course he brings together all the tricks of the trade that he has learned from his travels
around the World. "It's a fun course," says Craig "I really enjoy it because everyone leaves with a new skill and helpful time saving tips, but most of all confidence that lets them hit the ground running".
Many people attribute Craig's success in business to his sales ability, but when people congratulate him for being a great salesman he is quick to correct them. ''I'm actually a rubbish salesman," says Craig, ''I'm hopeless at asking for the order". Instead Craig considers himself to be a marketing man, "good marketing is real key to success", and Craig believes that its marketing that he excels in. By selecting the right images, careful and considered use of words, and a sprinkling of well defined logos its possible to create a strong demand, especially when you have crafted unique selling features for your products and services. Craig has always created a strong brand identity that attracts sales for his business when in window cleaning and now in manufacturing. There is no better example of this than The Reach & Wash name itself and the corresponding logo. Few companies have created such a strong brand for their products that everyone refers even to similar products by the same name. Hoover and Coca-Cola are just two examples but in window cleaning, householders, commercial building owners, insurers, Ionic's competitors and their customers refer to lesser waterfed pole systems as Reach & Wash and the technique as Reach & Wash window cleaning.
When Craig developed his revolutionary window cleaning system he agonized for days about what to call it and how to create an image that captured the very essence of what it did. In the past Craig had worked with a graphic designer who helped him conjure both The Window Man and Over The Top logos. Alex was an interesting man whose company Craig enjoyed. Alex was a talented artist and graphic designer long before the days of computer graphics. Sitting for hours with Alex, Craig described the image in his head and Alex set it down on paper. Craig says that its incredibly rewarding to put an image that's in your mind into words and the see it come to life on a sheet of paper before your very eyes. Craig explained that his vision was of a strong abstract figure like a super hero made of water who cleans windows from the safety of the ground. The end result was so good that Craig registered both Reach & Wash name and the logo as worldwide trademarks. Still there are people who infringe Craig's trademarks, but as Craig says "imitation is the best form of flattery" and he considers that people who copy his brand serve only to make his brand even better known bringing more customers to his door.
The Marketing course at the BWCA is one of Craig's favorite courses. All window cleaners clean windows, so how does a customer choose? Getting the marketing right is the key to making your phone ring with enquiries. Most window cleaning businesses start up with limited funds and if you're not careful you could easily fail or become a busy fool. "Once you've built your own prison it's hard to move on, if you've hit a wall and your business has stopped growing, then market yourself into a better position". If Craig was going to start a window cleaning business tomorrow he'd know exactly how to market it for success. Craig's enthusiasm for marketing is infectious, all of the courses Craig teaches have a next-day benefit for those who attend, but the marketing course makes the biggest potential impact on success.
The Cleaning Show in 1997 was a landmark occasion for Craig. For it was at the NEC in Birmingham that Craig unveiled what he rightly proclaimed would become "The future of window cleaning" The Reach & Wash System. But the story of The Reach & Wash System began much earlier in1993. Craig had learned of the existence in the USA of a trade association called the IWCA. The International Window Cleaning Association holds an annual convention in a different city in the USA every year in February.
This was the first advert produced to advertise the Reach & Wash equipment.
In 1993 the IWCA convention was held in New Orleans. Craig joined the association and set foot in America for the first time especially to learn about the techniques that US window cleaners used to tackle their high-rise buildings. At that time the IWCA put on four-day convention events filled with educational seminars with one and a half days of trade show with as many as fifty to sixty exhibitors. This event was a feast for Craig who soaked it all up like a sponge, he entered and won the professional image contest and was highly placed in the squeegee speed and skills competitions. At that time Craig was a very focused abseiling window cleaner and proud of his skill with a squeegee. He took the time to visit every stand in the trade show. Amongst them was the Tucker Pole stand. Craig listened carefully to the words of Irvin Lee Tucker as he explained that these long golden aluminium waterfed poles could be used to clean windows that were inaccessible to other access methods. Years later Craig would come to know and respect Mr Tucker who is a gentle and considerate old man with an incredible zest for life. In New Orleans Craig had just one important question for Mr Tucker who had already explained that the Tucker pole used water from a convenient outside tap. The question was about watermarks that
would be visible on windows after the water dried. Mr Tucker dealt with Craig's question ably and clearly. He explained that many areas in the USA benefit from soft water and in those areas the results are more pleasing but agreed that hard water left spotting behind. He then went on to say words that were burned into Craig's memory "you shouldn't regard the Tucker pole as an all day, every day tool because its not. Use a Tucker pole to clean really dirty windows that can't be accessed any other way because some clean is better than no clean". Craig left the Tucker stand confident in his knowledge that by abseiling he could reach even the most inaccessible of windows and clean them to perfect condition with a squeegee.
Swindon Star Newspaper clipping from March 1996:
Window on initiative
A window cleaning firm has found a way of reaching parts of big buildings others cannot reach - -by abseiling down the side. And now Over The Top boss Craig Mawlam plans to teach other would be cleaners his craft by setting up a window cleaning school.
Craig started a window cleaning business soon after leaving the RAF ten years ago. In 1987 he developed a way of combining his seiling skill with cleaning so it was easier to reach office windows.
Now Craig who lives and runs his office from Lyneham, has 35 employees and takes on corporate cleaning contracts all over the country.
His latest ventures have included Sizewell B nuclear power station in Norfolk and the Docklands light Railway stations after the recent IRA bomb.
"When I first started cleaning windows of multistory buildings I found that due to access restrictions most cleaners did an unsatisfactory job. I devised a method where I abseil down the outside of a building to get to the window."
Craig has been working closely with Wiltshire TEC to set up his school, which he hopes to run from premises he owns in Lyenham. He and other window cleaning firms could send staff there for training.
- People who played a part in Craig's story :
- Reuben Reynolds
- John Craddock
- Alex Grenfell
- Gary Stroud
- Don Chute
- Bob Popenhagen
- John White
- Richard Storm
- Michael Wills