Whenever Steve Warner sees a new high-rise condo going up in Toronto, he doesn’t just see a new addition to the city’s skyline.
“Basically, you see growth potential for your company,” says Warner, the owner of Sky-Pro, a Toronto-based business specializing in high-rise window-cleaning.
Warner got his start in the field 30 years ago. Back then, he was working for a cleaning-supply company. But when a customer who ran a window-washing business offered to show him the ropes, he took the chance.
“I started with window cleaning with him on ground floors,” recalls Warner, who says the tallest building Sky-Pro has cleaned to date is a 68-storey condo.
Like the skyline that forms the basis of his operation, the business Warner founded several years after that first gig has grown considerably.
Currently, he employs a staff of eight, though at one time he counted more than 18 on his roster.
Rather than finding Warner hanging off the side of a skyscraper with a squeegee in hand, these days you’re more likely to find him driving around the GTA in his canary-yellow Hummer, checking up on jobs and fielding calls from clients.
BuzzBuzzHome News recently spent some time on the road with Warner to learn the ins and outs of his business.
BuzzBuzzHome News: What made you focus on high-rise buildings? Was it because you noticed more of them going up?
Steve Warner: I thought it was an interesting business to work in. Hanging from a building is always interesting. You kind of stick in a job you’ve done every day. It’s not like you just say, “I feel like going into roofing today,” or “I want to work in a bar.” I realized I was good at what I did. I was 23 years old and I had my own condo on the waterfront. When something’s working, you stick at it, and that’s what I did.
BBH: What’s the hardest part of the job?
SW: All these buildings that they’re making, they’re making them more complicated. It’s almost like they don’t think about the window cleaner. You look up at a building — let’s look at the Marilyn Monroe building in Mississauga — I mean, for God’s sake, it’s an hour-glass figure. I’m pretty sure they have to go through the units in order to access that glass, but I don’t know. Maybe they haven’t cleaned them yet.
BBH: What’s your favourite part of working on a building?
SW: One of the best parts is the view. You know, you got the best view in the condo. You got a panoramic view. Just being outside is nice.”
BBH: What kind of money do window cleaners make?
SW: I can’t speak for all companies, but I know what my men make, you know, the high performers. I had a man, I think he made $2,300 last year in one week… I’d say my men make anywhere between a thousand to $2,000 a week.
BBH: Have you ever had any close calls up there?
SW: We’ve got a very good record. I know companies that have had fatalities. Three right off the bat that I know of over the past 30 years up to a couple of years ago. But we’re in good shape. I’m very careful about safety. Sometimes [employees] tell me I repeat myself, but repeating myself doesn’t cost anything. I’d rather repeat myself and make sure everybody’s safe.
BBH: Was insurance difficult to get? Is it very expensive for a window-cleaning business?
SW: I spend a lot of money on insurance every year. Your liability insurance is one thing, but I pay insurance on every man that works for me. So let’s say for every $100 I pay out to a man, I pay $18 just in insurance for WSIB (The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board), that’s the rate. If you were a janitor, you’re paying $3 on the hundred. High-rise, I think it’s the highest rate that you pay.
BBH: Is there a certain kind of person you find attracted to high-rise window washing?
SW: Risk takers.