Focus on your customers. Provide Exceptional customer service. What can you do to provide extra value? We make our cleaning clients jobs easier with our free reporting service. We notify them of any incidents of property damage, graffiti, illegally dumped items or burned-out exterior lighting. I offer free business support to those who buy my book.
In today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Winch.
Brian Winch is the creator and author of Cleanlots — America’s Simplest Business. (cleanlots.com). Brian grew a simple environmental service in 1981 from a side hustle into a six-figure business of 40+ years. He shares his experience and offers free support to those who join his movement to fight the litter battle.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a working-class family that had to hustle to make ends meet. My mom stayed home to raise me and my two brothers. She babysat other kids during the day and self-managed the renters we always had in our basement suite.
My dad was a janitor who supplemented his income in his spare time by cutting grass in the summer, shoveling snow during winter, and cleaning up litter material outside a shopping plaza that was located close to our home.
Despite their hectic schedules they always found time to spend with us. They were great role models. My dad would often take my brothers and me along to assist him with his various gigs, then treat us to a pop afterward. I don’t recall ever hearing either one of them complaining about what they had to do to provide for us.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old I set up a card table in front of our house to sell something to make some extra money of my own. I’d seen other kids sell lemonade but I wanted to be different, so I gathered some of my younger brother’s toys and began selling them to our friends in the neighborhood.
It wasn’t too long before my mom discovered what I was doing and came out to put a stop to it. My brothers weren’t too pleased with my first entrepreneurial venture. Rather than being scolded by my mom, I remember her calmly advising me to seek her assistance the next time I got such an idea.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, my dad asked me if I would like to assist him with his parking lot litter cleanup work. I was curious but also wanted to tag along to help him.
We walked the exterior property together and cleaned up the trash that people had discarded in the parking lot, sidewalks, and landscape from the day before. We used special hand tools that made our work almost as easy to do as going for a walk. I couldn’t believe he was being paid to do this simple work!
Years later after I finished high school I was working at a large sporting goods store. Ironically, it was located in the same strip plaza that my dad and I had cleaned. I was now 21 and wanted more from my life than a dead-end job. Could I turn my dad’s gig into a business of my own?
Just as I was about to start up, my dad passed away unexpectedly at the age of 61. Devastated, I pressed on with the determination to prove to myself and others that my dad’s simple litter pickup service could become a successful business.
Within two months of starting up, I quit my job when I began making more money from my side hustle. I later recruited an army of other cleaners to service my city and subsequently began generating high six figures in revenue.
It then dawned on me to share my passion and experience with others across the country. I wanted to make it affordable to people who like me have little money, skills, and business experience to start but plenty of passion and persistence to see things through.
Cleanlots — America’s Simplest Business was born. My book details how to start and operate a simple parking lot litter cleanup business. It’s more of an operation manual one would receive when buying into a franchise operation, but without the costly franchise and royalty fees that have to be paid upfront and indefinitely. I also offer free support as my way of giving back.
I want to be clear; my wealth is created from my cleaning business and not from my book sales. I enjoy helping people create something that benefits both themselves and their communities. Their testimonials and reviews are gladly accepted and acknowledged.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
People can be very careless with their personal belongings. We find wallets, phones, and money while cleaning up. We do our very best to return the item to the owner if possible.
One day several years ago I found over $600 beside a waste dumpster. The bills were rolled up tightly with an elastic band around them. The roll was dirty and must have been sitting under the waste bin for some time. What more can I say? It’s always a good day when you’re rewarded with a little bonus when cleaning up!
We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
One of our early clients asked us if we could provide a couple of other services such as some grass cutting and a little snow removal. Fearing that we would lose our cleaning contract I agreed. We grew to hate it and after a couple of years mustered the courage to serve notice that we weren’t interested in doing it any longer.
This extra work didn’t align with the same service hours for our litter pickup. We learned that it’s best to be honest with your clients as to what you’re willing to provide for them. It’s far better to be regarded as an expert in one field than to be seen as a jack of all trades but master of none.
As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?
In no particular order: Enthusiasm, Honesty, Quality, Simplicity, and Trust.
Enthusiasm — If you’re not looking forward to what you do then it’s time to find another line of work that better aligns with your values.
Honesty — You must be honest with people about what you provide them and how you deal with them. Your reputation stands by it.
Quality — Is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. It represents the wise choice of many alternatives.
Simplicity — Is a way of life.
Trust — You need to earn the trust of others that you’ll provide the results they seek.
What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?
Simplicity. I desired a way to make a difference while still being able to provide for myself. I’ve never been motivated by the “trappings” of great personal wealth.
I’ve received many testimonials from people as to how I’ve made a positive impact on their lives. This confirms my decision to share my business model with others has been the right one.
Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?
Differentiation from competitors — You develop a stronger brand when you focus on showing purpose.
Improved customer loyalty and satisfaction — Customers are more satisfied and loyal to a business when they feel they’re part of the bigger picture.
Creates more positive reviews — People like to help the people who help them. You’re more likely to earn positive reviews and referral business.
Creates trust — People are more likely to trust you when they feel a connection with you.
How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?
My business has become more successful. The business referrals and testimonials lay testimony to this.
We have plenty of loyal customers some dating back over 30- years. Many of our cleaners have been with us for 20–30 years.
Can you share a pivotal moment when you realized that leading your purpose-driven company was actually making a significant impact? Can you share a specific example or story that deeply resonated with you personally?
One of my students who bought my book 3–4 years ago called me for some advice on how to handle a rapid growth challenge. He had become so successful that he had recently quit his job and was expanding his business into nearby states.
He had never started and operated a business before. He’s passionate and persistent. If he can do it then so can most anyone with the same attributes. I coached him and he now operates in almost every state in the country.
Parking lot litter cleanup is a niche service. Most people have never heard of it. Property management companies understand the importance and value of the service.
Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability of your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or had to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on your finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?
Marketing the service as a business opportunity has come with some challenges. It’s not glamorous. Most people aren’t interested in cleaning up after others. I have invested a good sum of my personal capital over the years and have seen some payback in the past couple of years.
I made a financial decision to fund the business opportunity marketing budget solely from its profits. Creating and selling other business-building tools has also helped.
The market may be small but there are people who are interested in providing a simple environmental service, feel good about it, and love the income and lifestyle that it provides.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know in Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”
1 . Understand what motivates you. Why do you like to get up and out of bed in the morning? Do you have a special interest or knowledge that you would like to share? Knowing what motivates you will get you through tough times and help you live a purpose-driven business. I love working in the early morning hours while many people are still sleeping. I find it peaceful and far less hectic. I get my work done and then have the rest of the day to do as I please.
2 . Fill a void in the marketplace. How can you stand out from your competitors? Can you provide your service or product more economically? What sets you apart? My cleaning service is performed after hours when we can clearly see and clean all litter material without vehicle interference. We use special hand tools that enable us to clean up more litter material in less time, saving our clients money. We offer a very affordable entry point into this business for those who share our vision.
3 . Focus on your customers. Provide Exceptional customer service. What can you do to provide extra value? We make our cleaning clients' jobs easier with our free reporting service. We notify them of any incidents of property damage, graffiti, illegally dumped items, or burned-out exterior lighting. I offer free business support to those who buy my book.
4 . Hire well. Surround yourself with smarter people. I sincerely hope you don’t have a huge ego. No one knows everything. Everyone has a unique gift. Do your best to make use of them. It’s your purpose to provide the vision. You need the help of a team to make it happen. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’m not a technical person. I have great people to handle that area for me and with far better results!
5 . Relationships are capital. There’s a saying, it’s not who you know but what you know. I have news for you. It’s also who you know. You need to develop business relationships with suppliers, customers, and those who work for you. Treat people the way you wish to be treated. I’ve known many clients or workers for well over 30 years. I’ve earned their trust and respect. Their referrals and loyalty are as good as gold!
I’m interested in how you instill a strong sense of connection with your team. How do you nurture a culture where everyone feels connected to your mission? Could you share an example or story that showcases how your purpose has positively influenced or motivated people on your team to contribute?
We are all of like mind. I’ve surrounded myself with people who believe in what we do.
I encourage my people to always give our clients that little extra. The free reporting is an example of this. Our clients are always appreciative of how we make their jobs easier. I make a point of passing this on to my workers the favorable comments.
We recently reported a break-in at one of the businesses located in a shopping plaza we’re contracted to clean. Security had not yet patrolled the property. Police arrived to investigate. The business was secured. We received a message from our client later in the day passing on the gratitude of the store manager.
Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?
I would like to work with prominent influencers to help me share my story and environmental opportunities with their audiences. It would be a major coup for me to be a guest on Phil Pelucha’s podcast and TV shows. Phil is an internationally renowned celebrity entrepreneur who takes unknowns to unrivaled.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Everyone seems to be talking about the environment. We’ve been cleaning it up for over 40 years. Cleaning up litter debris may not seem like it makes much difference, but you’d be surprised to learn how harmful it is to wildlife and waterways. In no small measure, we make a significant contribution to the local cleanup effort, and so can others with their own “green” litter cleanup business.
How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?
This was great. Thanks for taking time for us to learn more about you and your business. We wish you continued success!
About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is a successful entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience as a successful founder and CEO. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc. a third-party collection agency, out of his apartment while going to The Ohio State University. He grew the business nationwide and represented more than 10,000 clients before he sold the company on his 25th anniversary. Chad’s second venture [re]start is a career development platform that helps people find new jobs, launched in 2013 as a division inside his agency. [re]start was a catalyst to Chad’s team becoming an industry outlier after connecting thousands of people sent to collections with new career opportunities so they could afford to pay their bills and get out of debt. His team was nationally recognized for their social impact, while twice being ranked the #1 business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023 and is now a writer and thought leader for Authority Magazine’s Entrepreneur and Sports Editorials. He also offers an exclusive executive leadership program inside his online community at Authentic Authority.