It's tourist season on Long Island -- the time of year when people head east to breathe the fresh sea breezes and reopen their summer homes in the Hamptons. Cindy Capalbo, president of C's Home and Office Management in Sag Harbor, which offers cleaning services and estate management in the Hamptons, is hiring staff and preparing for her busiest period, when her work usually doubles.
Capalbo, 45, began cleaning for her aunt when she was 13, then cleaned houses to put herself through school in her 20s. After earning a bachelor's degree in business management and a master's in herbology, she realized the work she had been using to fund her education was her most bankable business. She incorporated in 2000.
A few years ago, while cleaning a bathroom with bleach and other chemicals, Capalbo suffered a nosebleed. It was a wake-up call that transformed her business in time to catch the green business wave in 2008. She revamped to offer cleaning without harsh chemicals, using microfiber cloths and essential oils. "I wanted to see a change," she said. "I did not want staff and clients breathing the chemicals in."
How do you staff up for the high-demand season?
We offer a referral to our current staff. We give them a $100 finder's fee if they bring us somebody they feel is good and that will last at least six months. When we take on a new employee, we really do want them to be with us long term. So when we hire in the summer, we have the intention of being able to provide them work year-round, and offer them 401(k)s.
What services are in hottest demand?
I think it's just, 'Can you get it done today?' We get a lot of high-demand people. The week of Memorial Day we had so many calls, we were turning down work left and right. Not that I wanted to, but we just couldn't fit it in.
You also team up with larger companies?
Large companies provide us with very high-end homes for white-glove, construction cleanings. They can be 150 hours at one job. We'll actually give bonuses to people that work more than 50 hours over a period of time cleaning, because it can be repetitive. We want them to be inspired all the time.
What's the biggest house you've cleaned?
Twenty-two thousand square feet in Southampton. There were too many bedrooms to count. It was comparable to the White House.
What is the worst mess you've seen?
We were on the show "Hoarders," cleaning the home of a woman who loved to yard sale and collect things -- 15 of one item. Her stuff was beautiful, but there were just so many duplicates. A lot of it went to Sotheby's. That was probably the worst I've seen as far as clutter, because you just don't know where to start. Ten of us were there for two full days.
How do you maintain quality?
I have a quality-control manager, so she checks houses all day long. We just randomly show up at the end of the job or after they're completely gone. We have keys to every house. Every customer has a tailored work order to what they want done. I have a team leader at every job; they're heading the crew and responsible for every single thing that happens at that job.
Tell me about the charity cleanings you do.
I personally donate free cleanings to cancer patients through Cleaning for a Reason. It's four hours each person for four months. It started when [two of my close relatives] had cancer. It's one less thing they have to worry about.
What's an appropriate tip for a cleaning person?
That's the problem. This industry doesn't really get tipped. It's really heart-wrenching. People tip their delivery guy, their gas station attendant. You know, $5 for each person would be really worth their while. It would feel appreciative.
How are the Hamptons different from other places?
When people come from Manhattan, they think a cleaning staff is $15 an hour, and that's not what it is out here. It's between $40 and $45 an hour.
What's your advice on picking a cleaning service?
Make sure -- absolutely positive -- that the company is insured and bonded because we have had accidents happen. If you have a cleaning [person] fall down a flight of stairs and get hurt . . . she's going to sue. With us, you're protected. I've had people fall at houses, have to go to the hospital, and the homeowner may not ever know about it because we have workman's comp. It doesn't affect the homeowner or office at all. Also, I would go by their social media reviews and make sure that they have some type of quality control.