In their seven years of running ServiceMaster Restoration by Simons in Chicago, husband and wife owners Sam Simon and Nasutsa Mabwa know the severe damage that fires and floods can cause to property and to their clients’ peace of mind.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chicagoland, they didn’t realize how potentially deadly the virus would be and how it would affect their professional and personal lives. In March, many small businesses temporarily shut their doors due to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s emergency shelter in place order. It was at that time, Simon recalled, that calls for any services stopped.
“We attributed it to the public shock and confusion and the fear that the people had about coming into contact with others,” said Simon, managing director of ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons. “People were scared to let us in their homes. As business owners, we were sad to see our business declining after all the hard work we put in for the past seven years.”
The couple learned that other ServiceMaster franchises were offering COVID-19 cleaning services around the country, but safety—for their staff and family—was a major concern.
Things began to turn around in April when the couple’s clientele contacted their business for COVID-19 cleaning and disinfecting services. Additionally, Simon said ServiceMaster Corporate started releasing information to franchisees about COVID-19 Cleaning and Safety Standards—a big help to owners to help them pivot to offering these new services. This combination of events led Simon to create a COVID-19 Cleaning Service page on their business’ website and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
Reflecting on Simon and Mabwa’s prior work as Illinois-state based social workers, Simon realized the need to help people in dire circumstances was first and foremost.
“With Nasutsa's and my background in social work and child-welfare we knew we had to help people,” Simon said. “We wanted to get involved. We already had the infrastructure in place since we had the disaster and catastrophe training, OSHA and Safety Training, biohazard training, and the fogging and spraying equipment necessary to begin decontamination services. Since the web page was put in place, we've fielded hundreds of calls, and the calls are still coming in daily.”
Their experience as social workers has also been invaluable while implementing request screening procedures with staff and being an empathetic line of communication with their clientele.
“That aspect of our experience kicked in as I found myself counseling people amidst the fear and confusion while trying to schedule services,” Mabwa said. “I found myself assuring and reassuring people who were scared, people who had lost loved ones, and companies who had employees affected by COVID-19. People need a clear and calm direction, and as first responders, I felt it was our responsibility to help as many people as we could.
On the frontlines are Simon and his crews who survey the damage and create solutions for the crises they encounter.
“In one case, we were called out to a distribution center that was so large, that Sam had to sit down with the property owners and go over the blueprints of the location in order to understand its sprawling layout and the customers’ priorities for cleaning and disinfection,” Mabwa said. “Sam thrives in crises.”
Daily schedules for both husband and wife are chaotic as they manage their business and raising their young family. The COVID-19 pandemic may have caught small business owners off guard early, but being flexible and creative has given this couple the opening they need to plan for positive outcomes.
“As business owners, we need to be fluid in times of crisis,” Mabwa said. “We were early to respond to the new demand for COVID-19 cleaning & disinfection in the marketplace and we were able to pivot and deliver a new service offering immediately. There may be more pivots in the future and, as a business, you need to be able to adapt to the conditions.”