Student Maid expands classy cleaning model to Pensacola
Published: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.
When Kristen Hadeed asked her parents four years ago for a $100 pair of Lucky brand jeans, they told her to get a job.
Hadeed, then a 20-year-old UF junior, took their advice. She posted ads on Craigslist offering to clean houses and started an enterprise that now employs more than 300 college students during peak season.
Hadeed's company, Student Maid, has signed numerous commercial and residential contracts in Gainesville since 2009. She took another major step on May 1 when she expanded into Pensacola.
Hadeed's business model is to hire only students, and only those who have GPAs of at least 3.5. Her assumption is that those with good grades are conscientious and will be responsible self-starters.
"You don't have anyone looking over your shoulder all day," said Rachel Rowan, a former Student Maid office manager who took over the new branch as the general manager.
"That's kind of an interesting relationship — an interesting dynamic — as far as how much we rely on them to represent us out in the city when we can't keep an eye on them," she said.
The student-friendly dynamic — illustrated by the company's slogan, Cleaning with Class — is what attracts some customers to the company.
Nicole Irving, the 36-year-old founder of Gainesville-based Giggle Magazine, said she was drawn to Student Maid in April 2009 after meeting Hadeed through an intern at her magazine.
"I really took a liking to her concept of having students work (and) maintain GPA," Irving said. "Being a former admissions officer at UF, I was really inspired."
Irving has hired Student Maid for four years to clean her home. She said that even the one minor hiccup she has had — a bathroom scale that was dropped and broken — demonstrated the students' professionalism. It was replaced within 48 hours.
A typical cleaning job costs $65 per hour and includes two students providing whatever services the clients choose from a checklist. That can include cleaning bathrooms, inside the refrigerator, baseboards and ceiling fans. It can extend to party prep and cleanup, laundry and pet sitting.
Hadeed said she didn't start out to create a business. After advertising online during her junior year, she began picking up more jobs than she could handle alone, and she hired a few friends to keep up with the workload.
The turning point came in May 2009 when Paradigm Properties (now Collier Properties) approached her about a commercial contract for the summer move-in/move-out period. Thousands of students vacate apartments between the end of July and the middle of August, and property managers must clean and prepare the units quickly for new tenants.
To accommodate the workload the contract would require, Hadeed took out a loan and hired about 60 students for three weeks.
"We cleaned tons of apartments that summer, and things just took off," she said.
Coming into her senior year at UF, Hadeed was swimming in responsibilities. Along with keeping up with classes and maintaining the GPA requirement she set for all of the employees in her company, she also was managing the business affairs of a growing corporation.
One time, as she was submitting payroll online, she clicked the wrong button and mistakenly overpaid 27 employees a total of $40,000. Employees who were expecting a $100 or $200 paycheck woke up to find a couple thousand dollars in their accounts.
"Because it was my mistake, there was … nothing the payroll company could do," she said. "They just had to hope the employees would give the money back."
Within five days, Hadeed had received every penny back.
At that moment, she said, she knew her standards were not set too high.
"The lesson I learned from that is that I'm hiring the right people," she said. "A lot of things in my life I had to learn the hard way because I was so young and inexperienced."
When Hadeed received her diploma from UF in May 2010, she wasn't ready to move on.
"I was offered a dream job at graduation in finance, and I turned it down because I was so passionate about this cleaning business," she said. "A lot of people couldn't understand why. But I just loved what I was doing."
As she continued pursuing her business, Hadeed said the biggest obstacle she encountered was her age.
"When I was younger, people didn't take me seriously," she said. "And sometimes they still don't. I mean, I'm 25 now."
In the beginning stages of the company, Hadeed said, she was turned down several times for a loan because of her age.
"That's proved to be the largest obstacle," she said. "It really takes a lot of confidence. You've got to walk into a room and just be able to hold a conversation with people sometimes triple your age. Confidence is definitely the thing that has gotten us to where we are now."
Her confidence has come through a series of setbacks and learning experiences.
One such event happened right after she used money from a $10,000 loan to buy merchandise with her company's brand on it.
She received a call from an Atlanta attorney who told her she had 24 hours to throw away everything. She had to change her company's name.
"It turned out another company had trademarked that name," she said. "I was so young and inexperienced. I didn't even really know what that meant. It was devastating."
So Hadeed threw away $10,000 worth of items — T-shirts, business cards, cleaning spray bottles — and prayed for inspiration.
"I was hoping that a name would just come to me — the new name — and it didn't," she said. "One day, I was walking to class, and I remember thinking ‘Oh, we're students, and we're cleaning. We'll call it Student Maid.'?"
When she got home that day, a handyman was working on her air conditioner. She bounced the idea for the company name off of him, and he suggested the tag line "cleaning with class." It stuck.
"While it was so devastating, it was the best thing that could have ever happened because it gave me the opportunity to rebrand my company completely," Hadeed said. "I don't think we would be where we are today had that not happened."
At the new branch of Student Maid, Rowan, 23, is beginning a new adventure in a familiar location.
The UF journalism graduate grew up in Pensacola before moving to Gainesville. She started working for Hadeed as a cleaner because the job was flexible and fit her class schedule. She was promoted internally and stayed in town after graduation to continue with Student Maid.
Through a friend-of-a-friend type connection, a rental management company in Pensacola reached out to Student Maid to see about cleaning beach condos.
Rowan was elected to spearhead the new post, and she said she's looking forward to returning to her hometown with a new mission.
"I'd always kind of assumed I'd go back there eventually because I'd always wanted to go back to my hometown and see what it's like to live there as an adult," she said.
The new branch will start small — about 10 employees and 30 condos. But given Pensacola's dynamics, Rowan said, she thinks Student Maid will thrive in the area.
And the new branch will follow the same Student Maid curriculum: hiring students with solid grades.
Hadeed and Rowan hope to draw from the two schools in the area — Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida.
"It's a growing, changing place," Rowan said. "We were hit really hard by the hurricanes of 2004. But businesses are coming back. I think it's a good place to start a business, to have something new."