Chucks Away is an expanding commercial cleaning and de-cluttering company based at Squab Storage in Evesham – but its founder Claire Gregory started down a very different career path….
While you now run a successful cleaning company – this was not your first career, was it?
No, I worked in the legal profession before I founded Chucks Away. Having completed my Law degree and my Legal Practice Course, I was commuting from Sussex, (where I was living at the time), to London every day and I started to consider a new career. I have always wanted to run my own business and I love cleaning and de-cluttering and so, I thought, why not try to combine my business aspiration with this. After lots of careful planning and thought, I took the step to create Chucks Away nine years ago.
Although on the face of it, it is a different path from my legal career, I still use my legal background most days in the business.
That’s quite a big jump, so how did you start?
I started from scratch, with no infrastructure, no clients, no contacts and no business network. It was about building all of those things from the beginning and learning as I went. I designed the brand, including the website and social media channels and networked, in order to build the foundations and grow the business.
I also had a great mentor and business advisor who has been with me from day one, who has helped me immensely.
Whilst our work is now predominately commercial, our very first client was a domestic clean and we have steadily grown the commercial side of the business.
Our website and social media channels, particularly Twitter, also helped us to reach our client base and make connections, but I would say that around 90 per cent of our work did (and still does) come through networking, reputation and word of mouth.
How did the move to the Midlands happen?
We are originally from London, but my parents moved us to Worcester when I was 10 years old. After growing up in the Midlands, I moved back down South to the University of Reading, where I gained my LLB. I then went back to London to study for my Legal Practice Course and then work subsequently took me to Sussex.
Chucks Away was established in Sussex, but due to my Dad becoming unwell, it was necessary for me to return back to the Midlands. Whilst we had our experience, our brand and our way of operating, from a client perspective, it was a case of starting again. We made the move five years ago when the business was established but not too large for us to relocate. I am really pleased with how everything has gone since we made the move to the Midlands. We have made some wonderful connections and the support from the business community has been incredible.
How has the Covid-19 Pandemic Impacted the business?
We, like every business, was impacted by Covid. It has been a tough time for businesses. We had a period during the first lockdown where we had to pause our cleaning, as many of our clients were not in their work places and so did not require a clean and we were not permitted to go in to houses. During this time, I made sure that I kept active on social media and participated in our Zoom networking meetings, in order to keep our brand out there. I also ensured that we were stocked up with our cleaning supplies and PPE, so that when the lockdown was lifted, we were ready to go straight back to work. I think that the fact we had built strong relationships with clients prior to the pandemic and that we kept our lines of communication open, really stood us in good stead.
How do you operate on a day-to-day basis?
Once potential clients have contacted us, I will go and meet with them at their workplace, or home. Whilst they show me around their premises, we will discuss their detailed cleaning requirements.
Everything we do is completely bespoke to meet our clients’ needs and all quotations are tailored to reflect this. Our clients are at the heart of everything that we do and the relationships that we build and the communication that we have, is something that we pride ourselves on.
Normally with commercial clients, the cleaning is carried out out of hours, evenings and weekends, but, there are some clients that require us to be there during working hours, due to the nature of their premises.
We currently have 16 team members but we are recruiting. The team is all employed directly by Chucks Away and once they are fully trained by our supervisor, they are allocated set clients. This ensures consistency, which in turn builds efficiency in our work. This approach also allows us to forge the strong relationships that we have with our clients.
At the same time, we also cross-train our team across our client base, meaning that periods of holiday and/or sickness are covered, so there is no break in the continuity of service for our clients.
We endeavour to always go the extra mile for our clients and to provide the best service that we possibly can. We look after a client’s premises as if it was our own. We always inform clients if for example, we notice anything broken, or anything they need to know of in general.
What other services do you offer?
We also offer de-cluttering, which is predominantly a domestic service. There are two ends of the scale to this work. At one end, our clients may know what they want to be removed and how they would like things to be re-organised, but they may not be physically able to make those changes themselves or have the time. This is where we can help.
At the other end of the scale, we work with clients who unfortunately suffer from issues around hoarding, OCD and other mental health issues, which have led them to be in the situation they are in. In this situation, we tend to work with our clients over a longer period of time. As with our cleaning, the de-cluttering is a completely bespoke service and can involve storage, shredding, skips and tip runs. Due to the nature of this work, sometimes it is a third party that contacts us, rather than the client directly. For example, we get referrals from charities such as MIND and SAFA, and have worked with the mental health service in the NHS.
This service is extremely sensitive and we work with the upmost empathy and discretion. We find it very rewarding as we can genuinely change someone’s life.
How did you come to be based at Squab and what do you use your base there for?
We met Emma, one of the Squab managers at their site in Evesham, through networking. At that stage we just needed a unit to store equipment and supplies. We do keep supplies at our sites, but there is a limit to that and we need to have a back-up.
Whilst we had our storage unit at Squab, I was still operating the business side of Chucks Away from home, but was out-growing that. After enquiring with Emma about the possibility of turning a storage unit in to an office, (Squab is known for thinking outside the box with regards to unit usage), Emma suggested that I move my office in to the business suite. We have been there a few months now and I really happy with the space.
They have amazing service levels at Squab and nothing is too much trouble, which just makes things so much easier. They really want all their customers to succeed and to help create the conditions for that to happen.
It has been a great move for us. I can now hold interviews there, have one-to-ones, and probably most importantly, when I leave, I can close the door on work which was not possible at home!
The facilities are ideal for our needs, but it is so much more than that. For example, sometimes we have had deliveries when myself or our supervisor have not been able to get there and they have put the supplies away for us in the unit.
Often the small things are the big things and they get that just right.
What does the future hold for Chucks Away?
We are aiming to continue to grow our commercial client base across the Three Counties in which we operate, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. We are developing our management structure and that will continue as we grow.
We are also acutely aware of the environmental impact that are industry can have on the environment. Whilst we have always committed to using Eco Friendly products and reducing waste, (for example by using re-washable cloths and mop heads, instead of disposable ones), we are always looking for other ways that we can reduce our impact and cut down on waste further.