Jan 282011
Isaac Israels, "Maids from Amsterdam."  From the Wikimedia Commons.

Isaac Israels, “Maids from Amsterdam.” From the Wikimedia Commons.

This month at Ruly we discussed cleaning–the routine tidying and sanitizing tasks that everyone has to do every day to one extent or another. The focus of this month’s discussion was to consider cleaning from a variety of perspectives and find new insight to inspire our own cleaning strategies.

For me, the two posts this month that had the biggest impact were Don Aslett’s low maintenance home design ideas and the discussion of Hilton hotels cleaning strategies. Why? It seems an odd combination to me too but these two posts gave me the insight I finally needed to figure out our master bathroom remodeling plan. This is a project that has been in limbo for years now as we saved money and dreamed big. The two key insights these posts gave me were to think low maintenance first (I want to spend more time enjoying the master bathroom than cleaning it.) and to focus on a 10-year replacement timetable. Voila! The pieces fell into place. I zeroed in on the materials and came to the realization that we don’t need to save for the “perfect” solution, just the 10-year solution. Of course, if our design can last longer than 10 years, so much the better!  With these ideas in mind, some creative shopping and design, we came up with an extremely budget conscious bathroom remodeling plan. Over the next several months, we intend to start implementing it.

We reviewed cleaning tips  from the Queen of Clean and professionals in the hospitality industry.

We discussed social expectations about cleaning, both when entertaining guests at your home and at the office. Mary Randolph Carter offered the most relaxed perspective, indicating that you should take some minimal routine cleaning steps but focus most on creating an inviting ambience and living the most interesting life possible to entertain your guests with stories and experiences.

In the comments on the cleaning at the office post, Lou shared a particularly terrible anecdote:

My boss came in my office one morning and started running her hands over the wooden arms on the three chairs that were for guests. ‘Did you feel how smooth these arms are now? I had the custodian wash them. They’re not sticky and greasy to touch anymore.’ I also had an artificial ficus tree near the door—and she could not pass by it without dusting off a leaf or two. I simply thanked her, but I really wanted to chew food with my mouth open in front of her.

Ruly Ruth offered a perspective on minimum cleaning standards for your home to comfortably entertain guests.  The comments on this post were fascinating and also somewhat anxiety inducing. The message of the comments seemed to be. “Of course your house doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, just so long as your definition of clean includes _________.” By the time you satisfy everyone’s laundry list of irritations, you are back to the perfectly clean house. It can be very frustrating.

When I have seen similar posts about cleaning for guests on other blogs, it is always the case that many people are of the string opinion that they simply can’t stand to be in someone’s dirty home.

One of the most difficult times in life to keep your home up is when you are caring for small children. It was sad for me recently to read a comment on a mothering blog where a mother said that she just couldn’t cope with the cleaning pressures when her children were small (nor could she afford a cleaning service) so she and her husband basically isolated themselves from society until their children grew old enough to help. She was glad to finally get her life back. You would think that every young mother would sympathize and not be so judgmental but not every young mother struggles with this problem. From the comments on Ruth’s post you can see that some are cleaner than the Queen of Clean!

Ruth’s post and comments foreshadow next month’s topic. But that’s all the hint you are getting for now and will just have to come back Tuesday to discover what we are getting into next!

Finally, this month we also discussed New Year’s resolutions, posting a compilation of New Year’s goals from around the web.  If you have not yet finished your 2011 goals (or the goals you initially set have already been abandoned), this weekend would be a good time to sit down, reflect and finalize them.  Real Simple sent out a great tip recently that you might consider adding financial savings to your goal list, setting aside a small amount of money each month.  The money can be used either to help you achieve a goal, like remodeling, or as a reward for achieving your goals, like a vacation or shopping indulgence.

What posts were helpful to you this month? What cleaning topics would you like to see explored further in the future? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 28, 2011 Monthly Recap Tagged with:
Jan 262011

To give the contrarian perspective on this month’s cleaning theme,  I was intrigued by the title of Mary Randolph Carter’s latest book,  A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life. Unexpectedly,  this is one of my favorite organizing books of all time!

Who is Mary Randolph Carter?  Carter,  as she is known to friends,  grew up as one of nine children in the historic Monument Avenue neighborhood of Richmond,  Virginia.  Her childhood role in the family led ultimately to her future career:

“When I was growing up, I was in charge of ambience.  Possibly the task fell to me because, of the nine of us, I was most helpless in the kitchen and had a knack (along with others) for pulling a room together. To create a mood for rooms already burdened with the character of so many years of living was more of a supporting role for sure.  My task was to garnish each, in summer, with cut herbs from the garden, and in winter, pewter pitchers filled with holly, bayberry, and branches of magnolia; to light candles tipped into tin chandeliers dangling from the dining room ceiling and in the wobbly silver and pewter candlestick holders scattered everywhere; to see that fires were crackling; and to ensure that Frank Sinatra crooned out a welcome as the first guest walked through the door.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

She went on to become Vice President of Advertising for Ralph Lauren’s Polo brand and supervised all of the brand’s photoshoots. She has written several books on interior design and a series of books on “junk.”  She has a website at carterjunk.com chronicling her “junking” activities.

First of all, this book has one of the most beautiful layouts I have seen.  It feels like an art book as you page through it.  Carter takes us to visit eight of her close friends and family and lets us in on how they live interesting lives while surrounded by lots of stuff.  Many are professional artists whose homes serve a dual role as studio space.  Every single one of these people has a creative bend in some way.  Most are surrounded by lots of physical objects and some have lot of animals. One home housed 4 dogs and another 8 cats!

The biggest challenge to describe to you is the main point of this book.  I am not sure there is just one.  Based on the title alone, you might think it is entirely about how you can be as messy as you want to be and have the freedom to do whatever you want in  your own home.  It is,  but not entirely.  Even Carter and all her friends acknowledge there are limits on how you have to keep your house.  She wants you to make your bed every day and never leave dirty dishes or party debris sitting overnight.  She wants you to make extra effort to set out candles, put on music and whip up great food when guests come over.

There are a couple of key messages I took away from this book that make this a standout from most books on organizing and interior design:

1.  All mess is not equal.  There are those that know how to give their homes an “it” factor by displaying treasures in a beautifully cluttered way. This type of display is often more appealing to the eye than a sterile,  plain,  perfectly organized home.  Carter is queen of this style.

“There is mess and there is clutter.  If you grew up with the former . . . you probably make no distinction.  Clutter vigilantes contend that clutter is always a mess;  clutter connoisseurs contend that clutter is liberation from the rigidity of over-organization.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

2.  We all suffer from a continuing tension between wanting tidiness and wanting to surround ourselves with treasures we discover.  For Carter and her friends you tend to see a perfectionist all-or-nothing streak where they either want lots of artful clutter or a zen-like space with none at all.  The tension is ongoing and unresolved with some moments calling for clutter and others for zen.

“I have always worked in the comfort of personal clutter both at home and at work.  . . . When colleagues pass by my office door . . . I hear them whisper ‘Oh,  this is Carter’s office–she’s creative,’ as if that is the best excuse they can offer for what lies inside.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

Just how cluttered is her office?  If you want to see pictures of Carter’s office you can click here to view them at theselby.com.

Yet even Carter has her limits and you will be shocked to see the studio she creates for herself at the end of the book.

3.  The biggest lesson in this book though is that too much organization and tidiness is not human.  Rather than making us feel relaxed it makes us feel tense, inadequate, and nervous about messing things up.  When you aim to clean to welcome others into your home, give them a little artistic mess to relate to.  Let them see your human side.

As Italian photographer Oberto Gili shares:

“[T]hough he understands the hygienic case for cleaning,  he hates everything about it,  mostly the sound of the vacuum cleaner.  . . . He tries to do a little cleaning up when company is coming,  but if he can’t get to it,  well,  a little mess isn’t so terrible.  ‘If someone comes to my house it’s because he or she truly likes people,  and I try to make my home as friendly as possible.’ And that he does by allowing friends to share his life whether at work or at play, perfect or imperfect.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

Come visit Oberto and he will treat you to handmade pasta while you peruse his latest photography stills stacked in artful boxes around his home.  Sounds pretty heavenly,  eh?  I wouldn’t notice his lack of cleaning either.  If you can’t be tidy, be interesting!

This book has tips and ideas mixed in with stories, beautiful photography and charm.  It would be a delight to meet Carter and all of her friends. They have amazing and interesting lives which they reflect in their avant garde homekeeping.

Even if you disagree with the basic premise of this book and your own style leans toward a sterile zen-like space you can learn a lot from this book about creating warmth through picking the right combinations of beautiful objects.  Accessorizing a room is a complex art and this book has many inspiring photographs to show you how.   You don’t have to take it to the extremes of some of the homes profiled. Most of the homes you will encounter are not hoarders’ paradises but rather relatively tidy homes but with lots of visual interest.  I know my own home could benefit from these tips and I intend to return to this book again and again for inspiration.

Do you agree that a welcoming home needs a little artful clutter or does Carter’s style turn you off?  Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 26, 2011 Ruly Bookshelf Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jan 202011

Bar Harbor, Maine. Civil Air Patrol base headquarters of coastal patrol no. 20. Clean-up day just before inspection of the pilot's lounge by the base commander. (1943) Photo by John Collier. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

When most of us enter the workplace, we have little control over our circumstances and our daily activities, workload and space constraints are dictated to us by the boss. This lack of control combined with cost-cutting pressures in the economy in general force most employees (even naturally tidy ones) to spend little time on organization or cleaning in general. It is often all we can do to just get our work done.

Yet our natural dispositions toward cleanliness follow us into the workplace. People with a greater tolerance for mess and disorganization don’t care if there is a biohazard in the office microwave or fridge or when the supply room looks like the damage path of a tornado. People who are neat freaks might keep their own desk tidy but feel overwhelmed and stressed when others fail to keep the same standards. The office environment forces us all to work together and reconcile all these different views into a general office standard.

Disagreements about cleaning standards are not uncommon in today’s offices. While most often, these disputes are resolved quickly and without too much fuss, there have been situations where differences over cleaning standards escalates into severe disagreements, including lawsuits!

Today’s post looks at the pitfalls of imposing cleaning standards at the office with a few lessons on what not to do!

Disclaimer: The text below is for information only and is not legal advice. Please consult your lawyer for advice on your specific situation.

For the boss:

1. Don’t stereotype employee’s cleaning abilities.

It is easy to make quick assumptions about people’s cleaning capabilities but these assumptions are not always accurate or fair. A cleaning standard is a cleaning standard regardless of who is required to follow it and should be imposed with neutral language. Forgetting this neutrality is expensive as shown by the case below.

“First, Hernandez testified that he overheard Flores, the district manager who terminated Hernandez’s employment, state that a female would keep the store cleaner and better organized. . . . Sixth, the record contains a separation notice in which Flores writes that the failure to maintain ‘a clean and organized office and facility’ was a basis for termination. . . .

The jury found that gender was a ‘motivating factor’ in Coastal’s decision to terminate Hernandez and awarded $ 135,000.00 in compensatory damages. The trial court reduced this figure to $ 128,000.00 and awarded $ 41,088.64 in prejudgment interest, and $ 32,535.25 in attorney’s fees.

[Judgment affirmed]

Coastal Mart v. Hernandez, 76 S.W.3d 691 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2002)

2. Don’t assume you can include cleaning duties in a particular position, even if cleaning duties are necessary or common in the industry.

While most employers have the luxury to define job requirements in any way they desire, there are certain circumstances where the law forbids cleaning!

“Ralph explained that the Academy had a 1,250 hour cosmetology curriculum, and students were awarded credit hours within the 1,250 hours for cleaning the school’s restrooms. She stated that the students were required to periodically perform ‘duty work’ which included cleaning the school’s toilets, sweeping floors and removing the trash. She further stated that the ‘duty work’ assignments were split up among 15 students with each student spending about five to ten minutes per day performing ‘duty work,’ but toilet cleaning was only assigned approximately twice per month. Ralph added that cleaning restrooms was part of the curriculum because that is what the students would be expected to do once they became licensed cosmetologists. She explained that she had owned over 50 salons in the past 18 years, and that in each of those salons, it had been common practice to have the toilets cleaned by the licensed cosmetologists. Over the objection of opposing counsel, Ralph offered into evidence copies of pages from various cosmetology textbooks providing sanitation guidelines which included cleaning restrooms and toilets. . .

Restroom/toilet cleaning is an essential function in operating a salon or any business be it a physician, attorney or real estate office. Although it may be the practice of some salons to have cosmetologist employees clean the salon restrooms, the Board regulation at 49 Pa. Code § 7.123 specifically forbids schools from requiring students to perform janitorial work. Cosmetology students are not salon or school employees and should not be used to clean school restrooms. . .

Because cleaning toilets is a janitorial task, the Board did not err in imposing sanctions against Ralph and the Academy . . . .

Ralph v. State Board of Cosmetology, 822 A.2d 131 (Pa Cmwlth 2003)

3. Be careful making cleanliness judgments when it comes to employees with chronic, infectious diseases.

Probably one of the most difficult situations an employer faces with regard to cleanliness is handling the sensitive situation when an employee has a chronic and potentially contagious disease. In this situation, it is best for both the employee and the employer to get educated from an authoritative health source about the risks of infection and the steps needed to keep other employees and customers safe. Sadly, infected persons still face significant discrimination as shown in the case below.

“Edwards has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, a viral disease that is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. Edwards began regular medical treatment in 2000 and by January 2001 there was no detectable amount of the hepatitis C virus in her blood, although according to her physician she will always have chronic hepatitis. . . .

On August 13, 2001, Edwards applied for a job at York Manor Nursing Center, a nursing home in Muskogee, Oklahoma. . . . She was subsequently hired as a ‘dietary aide’ and eventually became a cook for the York Manor residents and employees.

York Manor first learned that Edwards had hepatitis on April 1, 2002. That day, Edwards accidentally cut her hand at work. . . Two days later, Raines called Edwards and informed her that she would not be allowed to return to work without a doctor’s permission. Edwards promptly asked her doctor for a letter clearing her to return to work; he mailed her such a letter . . . that evening, before Edwards had a chance to bring the letter to York Manor, Edwards’s kitchen supervisor called to tell her that she was fired. . . .

An EEOC investigator recorded that when he called Townsend to discuss Edwards’s complaint, Townsend responded by asking: ‘How would you like to eat food containing her blood, if she ever cut her finger?’ The investigator also reported that Townsend ‘stated that if this got out to their clients they[] would have a mass exodus from their nursing home.’ . . .

The case was then submitted to the jury, which found ‘by a preponderance of the evidence that Heartway discriminated against Janet Edwards due to perceived disability.’ The jury awarded Edwards $ 20,000 in compensatory damages and recommended an award of back pay, which the district court awarded in the amount of $ 1,240.”

Interestingly, however, the appeals court seems a bit sympathetic to the employer in this case, noting:

“[I]t is not a violation of the [Americans with Disabilities Act] to terminate someone simply because they have been diagnosed with hepatitis. The hepatitis must also limit a major life activity (or be perceived as limiting a major life activity) . . .

Therefore, we conclude that the district court erred in granted Heartway judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. . . . Our above conclusion requires that we remand for a new trial, solely on the issue of punitive damages.”

EEOC v. Heartway, 466 F.3d 1156 (10th Cir. 2006).

For the employee:

1. Remember the bigger picture and don’t assume your boss’s cleaning demands will be perceived as unreasonable.

If cleaning is anywhere in your job description, you may have a boss with an insatiable need for cleaning. And, unfortunately, you are likely to face the cleaning bias in that few people are willing to stand up for uncleanliness while most people will readily agree that more cleaning is better. Your best bet in this situation is to ask your supervisor to articulate exactly what the cleaning requirements are and make it your mission to figure out how to achieve them. If you are in an impossible situation where you don’t have the time or resources to achieve the expectations and your boss is unsympathetic, it may be time to look for another job.

“On 29 December 1997, respondent notified petitioner of his demotion to the position of correctional officer. The notice set forth several grounds for the disciplinary action, including (1) petitioner’s failure to maintain a properly balanced serving line; (2) tardy delivery of food; (3) unsanitary conditions in the kitchen; (4) substitution of menu items without approval; and (5) failure to ensure that dishware was properly cleaned before distribution to the inmates. . . .

Petitioner acknowledged at the hearing that he did not think he could ever clean the kitchen to the satisfaction of Mr. Creecy. Petitioner had received a written warning on May 1, 1997, for among other things, unsanitary conditions in the kitchen. . . .

Pasquotank Correctional Institution is a high security prison housing many of North Carolina’s most dangerous felons. At any given time, up to 250 inmates can be in the dining hall at once. It is therefore essential that all kitchen functions perform in an orderly fashion. Even seemingly innocuous incidents such as switching items on the menu and having an imbalanced serving line can cause a security risk. . . .

After conducting our de novo review, we conclude that respondent had just cause to demote petitioner for unsatisfactory job performance.”

Skinner v. North Carolina Dept of Corrections, 572 S.E.2d 184 (N.C. Ct. App. 2002).

2. Discriminatory or inappropriate comments or actions from your employer don’t always excuse you from your cleaning duties.

There are a surprising number of cases where employees experienced highly offensive comments and hostile work situations yet the court did not find that this alone excused the employees from performing their regular job duties. Sometimes the courts seem more focused on the failure of the employee rather than the liability of the employer for inappropriate managers.

“Windfelder claims Kaufmann’s began to discriminate against him on the basis of his age in May 1997, after Rick Bennet became President of Kaufmann’s. During an unannounced walk-through of the Pittsburgh store on May 23, 1997, Bennet remarked to Windfelder, ‘it’s good to see someone around here with less hair than me.’ Bennet then saw a sock display that was in disarray, learned that Windfelder had 25 years of service, and allegedly remarked, ’25 years and you let a table of socks look like that.’ . . .

This review was based on the following performance issues, many of which Windfelder does not dispute: sock and towel displays table not up to visual and presentation standards; failure to mark shoes down to sale prices in a timely manner; messy ‘wrap and pack’ area near the crystal area; failure to hold his staff accountable for maintaining the store; Ruby Selling Star Board in disrepair; and lack of effective communication with employees. . . .

In October 1998, McGowan performed a walk-through of the downtown store. As Windfelder accompanied him and limped due to a leg injury, McGowan allegedly said to him, ‘Hey, you’re getting too old for this.’

The record provides ample testimonial and documentary evidence of Windfelder’s marginal or dissatisfactory job performance. . . . Windfelder did not establish a prima facie case for retaliation, and the District Court properly granted Kaufmann’s motion for summary judgment.

Windfelder v. May Department Stores, 93 Fed. Appx. 351 (3d Cir. 2004).

3. Sometimes form is more important than substance.

This last point is the hardest for employees to swallow. When you devote so much of your time to your job that it becomes a part of your identity, the last thing you want to hear is that your employer really doesn’t care about the substance of what you are doing and instead is focused on minutiae like cleaning tasks. We all want to feel valued beyond our actual job description. Below is an interesting case where even being a top seller for a company did not overshadow other concerns, including cleaning concerns, about two employees.

“Wright worked for Sears for 25 years, starting in 1973 until his termination in November 1998. He was promoted to store general manager in 1989 and held that position until his termination. Prior to the arrival of Ron Ford as the district general manager in mid-1997, Wright had never received a ‘performance plan for improvement.’ Ford issued the plan to Wright in February 1998, based on visits to Wright’s store, comments from store staff and communications with district and regional staff that had visited the store. The “performance plan” cited concerns about poor housekeeping and inadequate merchandise displays. In May 1998, Wright received his annual performance review, which concluded that Wright was either not meeting or only partially meeting expectations in the rated areas. Ford particularly stressed to Wright that Wright’s leadership skills were lacking and were a primary cause of the low ratings. Wright disputed these ratings because he was meeting expected numeric goals as to growth and profits for his store and therefore, based on these figures alone, believed he warranted higher ratings under Sears’ rating system. It is undisputed that Wright’s store profits were among the highest in the district. . . .

At the end of October 1998, Ford issued a second ‘performance plan’ to Wright, stating that Wright had not improved upon those areas identified in the first plan and he would be terminated in 30 days if he failed to improve. The performance plan stated that Wright still was not keeping the store neat enough and merchandise presentation was below standard. . . .

Shields explained that Sears has been undergoing a ‘culture change’ for at least a decade and store managers are now taught to work on their leadership skills and not worry about the ‘numbers’ because Sears believes that the numbers will fall into place if the leadership skills are present. . .

Martin began working for Sears in 1970 and became a store general manager in Columbia, Tennessee, in 1989, where he remained until his termination in 1999. Prior to 1997, Martin had never received any written warnings about his performance at Sears. Martin received his first performance plan from Ford in February 1998. The performance plan cited lack of leadership, housekeeping problems and lack of communication with store and district staff. . . .

The record amply demonstrates Sears’ defense that it had a legitimate, nondiscrirninatory reason for terminating Martin as well. For example, Teresa Byrd, the regional vice-president, visited the Columbia store in November 1997 and stated that she was distressed with the overall look of the store, regarded it as below Sears’ standards and told Martin that ‘she didn’t want to see the store like that again.’ . . .

Plaintiffs claim that this disparity in their ‘subjective v. objective’ ratings creates conflicting ‘facts’ about their performance that put Sears’ credibility at issue, requiring a jury trial. However, meeting or even exceeding certain minimum requirements or baseline standards set by the company will not guarantee that an employee, especially a manager, is achieving the overall goals of the company. This is the prerogative of the company. The federal courts do not sit to assess the general fairness of an employer’s treatment of long-time employees, but only to apply statutory standards.

Wright v. Sears, 81 Fed. Appx. 37 (6th Cir. 2003)

Have you experienced cleaning conflicts in the workplace? What lessons have you learned? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 20, 2011 General Tagged with: ,
Jan 182011

How clean does your house need to be for entertaining guests? That is the million-dollar question. I’d like to present general conventions. On a daily basis, your house should be as clean as you need to normally function. I would like to think that the bathrooms and kitchen are cleaned weekly, and the house is vacuumed at least weekly if you own a cat or dog, but for some that isn’t nearly enough and for others that may be over-the-top. Dusting for a lot of us is every other week or possibly even longer, unfortunately—but true!

Now for those of us with little ones, we meet an impromptu friend at the park. And we say “How about popping over for a playdate?” How clean should your house be? Around my friend-circle, the above conventions seem to apply—but don’t stress if the beds aren’t made or the floors aren’t picked up of all toys—you are, after all, there to entertain the kiddos. Make a cup of coffee, grab a piece of couch and sit back and enjoy mommy time! Never feel your house needs to be perfect to have someone over! They say those with the richest lives have great friends and food and good music in their lives….they didn’t mention an immaculate house.

However, for a formal party, be it dinner or cocktail—the house must be clean and presentable—as in the whole house! Especially if people have not been there before. Most of us are curious to see housing layouts, bedroom decor, home decorating styles…the beds must be made. The rooms are picked up, and the bathrooms and kitchen cleaned. The house should be dusted, and the carpets vacuumed. All wood floors and other flooring surfaces should also be cleaned. Even the laundry room should be presentable! If it’s close friends, then the main areas need to be perfect and the others can slide. But in general, yes—the house should be ready to show!

With little children this can be a huge challenge. I asked my girlfriend when she went back to work if she’d hire a maid, and she replied, “No, my shoe budget comes first!” It made me smile (yes, she’s serious!) And put life into perspective. Some, like my girlfriends Angie and Catherine, are addicted to cleaning! They love it! They have it down to a science. Then there are those like me who don’t mind it, but are not necessarily passionate about doing the cleaning. It’s absolutely necessary, but not my favorite activity. I don’t mind it, per se, but given cleaning or something else to do—I’d probably pick something else.

So what do I feel that I have to clean? The bathrooms, for me, are a must! So many germs and different bacteria can reside in there, and they must be kept away as much as possible. And the kitchen must be on the cleaner side—absolutely! That’s where your family’s food is prepared. And to me, that says it all—even my microwave must be cleaned almost daily. That’s a pet peeve of mine, and dishes are done daily. They used to be done the minute they were dirty—now I have a 20-month old and priorities have shifted. (In the time it takes me to do the dishes she could crash the computer and call 911 AGAIN!)

So clean your house, make a plan and try to stick to it. The cleaner it is, the more you’ll enjoy it. But don’t stress it. It’s just not THAT important!

Do you agree with Ruly Ruth’s entertaining house cleaning guidelines? What entertaining “rules” do you abide by? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 18, 2011 General, Ruly Ruth Tagged with: , ,
Jan 132011

Our room at The Skirvin Hilton Oklahoma City.

When our family road-tripped across the country last summer, we stayed in numerous hotels.  Since our family travel budget does not afford for luxury accommodations we, like most families, look for clean, safe, affordable hotels with perhaps a few amenities like a swimming pool. Nothing fancy. It is always a nice surprise, however, to get a little more for your travel dollar–something wonderful you weren’t expecting. There were two hotels in our travels that delivered that surprise and spoiled us for the rest of the trip!

What made these hotels so special? The first one wasn’t really much to get excited about at first. It was located in a southern suburban strip mall next to a Spanish-language grocery store. The exterior was relatively plain but there were many cars in the parking lot. The other was an elegant, old-fashioned building in the downtown district of a large western city. What did these hotels have in common that so impressed us?

The rooms were stunningly clean! In fact, “clean” doesn’t really describe these rooms. There was no evidence that anyone had ever inhabited these rooms since they were built! The paint and carpeting were pristine, the linens smelled fresh and looked new, the furniture was dust-free and had not a scuff or scratch on it, the bathroom tile gleamed. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that someone just finished renovating the rooms one week before.

I looked and looked for any signs of imperfection in these rooms and I found none. None! I have never been in any hotel (or home for that matter) that rose to this level of fastidiousness.

So, naturally, it piqued my curiosity. What did these hotels (The Hampton Inn & Suites Knoxville, North I-75 and The Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma City, in case you are wondering) have in common? It turned out they have the same parent owner: Hilton!

Hilton Worldwide is the parent company of 10 different brands of hotels:

  • The Waldorf Astoria Hotels
  • The Conrad Hotels and Resorts (named after Hilton founder Conrad Hilton)
  • Hilton Hotels
  • DoubleTree
  • Embassy Suites
  • Hilton Garden Inn
  • Hampton Inn & Suites
  • Homewood Suites
  • Home2 Suites by Hilton
  • Hilton Grand Vacations

It turns out that the entire Hilton hotel chain is franchised and therefore most of the Hilton hotels are owned by different investors. Hilton does offer a management services company, Hilton Management Services, that hotel franchisors can choose to use but they are not required to.

"The Hilton Hotel Madrid Airport - 2008." Photo by By UggBoy♥UggGirl. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

When you think of all the variables involved in managing the Hilton hotel brand it is almost astounding that Hilton can maintain the same high standards of quality from Tennessee to Oklahoma (and worldwide for that matter), particularly when it is likely the management of each hotel differs. Then, factor in additional complicating variables like the fact that most housekeeping employees are unionized and that cleaning and maintenance costs are expensive and have to be paid for by each hotel owner. You have to be pretty ambitious (and optimistic) to believe you can pull this off.

Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza Hotel, Room 508. Photo by vxla. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Yet, Hilton does it!

How? We can guess a few management secrets from the Hilton websites.

1. Set the standards sky high.

“Hilton’s vision is simple, yet filled with promise and expectation. In a wide range of venues around the globe we strive to create a consistently superior lodging experience – one that earns the loyalty of our guests by surpassing their expectations every day in every way.”

Hilton Development

2. Innovate.

“For each of its hotel products, Hilton strives to be the ‘best in class’. We rigorously analyze each market segment to determine which attributes the traveling public expects and desires, then incorporate those attributes into the standards we set for each type of hotel. Such standards are continually reviewed and updated to ensure that we maintain our competitive edge across all categories as well as maintain the integrity of the brand.”

Hilton Franchise Development Brochure

“Hilton remains synonymous with hotel because of its innovative approach to products, amenities and service. Whether becoming the first hotel to install televisions in guest rooms or the first hotel in the world to earn both LEED and Green Seal environmental certifications, individual Hilton hotels always lead the way. Among its industry firsts, Hilton developed the concept of franchising hotels, launched the first airport hotel, introduced the first multi-hotel reservation system and became the first U.S. coast-to-coast hotel chain. After more than 90 years, Hilton’s expertise and insight of global travel remains unmatched.”

About Hilton

Current innovations:

“The HILSTAR reservations system is one of the most technologically advanced reservations systems in the hotel industry.”

Hilton Development

“Our new Hilton Breakfast is a breakfast offering that will meet each and every guest’s request for the taste and service-style they prefer. This includes breakfast on-demand that offers both à la carte and menu selections. It is a comprehensive buffet featuring a descriptive ‘Follow Your Color’ guide providing an easy way for health- conscious guests to choose their individual breakfast based on basic nutritional labeling (e.g., low fat, low sodium or high fiber selections).”

“New Hilton Fitness by Precor presents the latest equipment for a more personalized workout. Every Precor elliptical, treadmill and bike comes with its own TV screen and headphones.”

Becoming a Hilton

3. Rigorously inspect and monitor your progress.

“We will protect the value of our brands. . . . We will not compromise on the quality of our brands and hotels. . . .

“[E]very Hilton hotel is required to meet brand standards for quality and service as outlined in our comprehensive Hilton Brand Standards manual. To ensure that those standards are met, our quality assurance specialists regularly inspect each Hilton property, evaluating the hotel not only from a brand management point of view, but also from the guest’s perspective.”

Hilton Development

4. Be a demanding but fair business partner.

“Our core business principles are based upon such timeless values as teamwork, fair play, mutual respect and open communications. Franchising is a two-way street, and we understand that our franchise owners have expectations of us, just as we have expectations of them. . . .

The long-term health of our brands depends on [a commitment to product and service quality]. In the guest’s mind, a brand is only as strong as its weakest property. Rigorous enforcement of standards helps both of us.”

Hilton Development

5. Spend money to make money.

What are those brand standards exactly? How do they get the bathrooms so spotlessly clean? We have a few clues from the Embassy Suites operating standards that specify simple things like how often to wash duvet covers and pillows and rotate mattresses.  But the real meat of these operating standards appears to be in the investment in maintenance and décor that a franchisee is required to make, including updating the room furnishings at least every 10 years and making substantial improvements every year.

Revamping the hotel every 10 years and making incremental maintenance every single year is a huge financial responsibility for the owner. This is probably the secret as to why Hilton hotels look so good. If you adopted this approach in your own home or business, you would be doing the equivalent of a whole-house remodeling project every 10 years. While most people probably upgrade a room or two every 10 years, the whole house is beyond most people’s budgets.

Why would anyone incur such an expense, particularly a cash-strapped hotel owner facing lower occupancy during hard economic times? Hilton’s strategy appears to be that their standards never compromise, no matter how difficult or expensive it may be to meet them. It is a gamble that appears to be paying off. Because Hilton hotels are known to have such high standards, they can easily charge a price premium over other hotels. Even in heated competition, Hilton doesn’t have to be the lowest priced hotel. Their investments in cleaning and maintenance continue to set them apart.

For our own family’s travel, I now do book with a Hilton bias. While I always check the hotel’s reviews on a site like tripadvisor.com.  Hilton hotels tend to have consistently strong reviews and usually include a comment about how clean they are.

What is your experience with Hilton hotels? Were you as impressed as we were? Could you stand up to the scrutiny of a Hilton franchisee? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 13, 2011 Industry Lessons Tagged with: , ,