(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the window cleaning sector
Demand for window cleaning services has generally grown over the last twenty years or so for several reasons:
- modern building styles use large areas of glass and other specialist cladding and finishes which has boosted demand for window cleaners, particularly those able to work at height
- the appearance of business premises of all types has become increasingly important, so regular window cleaning is essential
- domestic householders have less and less time to devote to window cleaning
- there are more elderly people in the population, who need help with window and other cleaning tasks
- there has been a big increase in the number of buy to let properties, with landlords buying in cleaning and maintenance services. You could try contacting your local residential landlords associations to ask about being included in their trade directory
Some firms have introduced a range of other services for customers such as general cleaning and gardening services.
A huge increase in the number of solar panels on buildings and the appearance of large solar 'farms' in recent years has given rise to a new niche industry, solar panel cleaning.
However the industry has remained very fragmented, with many small businesses, often operating from home. Competition has kept rates low and, as this is a very labour-intensive industry, staff wages also have remained low. This has led to problems finding and keeping good employees.
Recent years have seen the industry attempting to improve standards and raise the status of the window cleaning industry through education and training for employees. Because much of the window cleaner's work is potentially dangerous there have been several initiatives in recent years aimed at reducing falls and raising the industry's awareness of the need to carry out risk assessments under work at height safety regulations. For example, the Federation of Window Cleaners has launched the Safety Accredited Member (SAM) scheme. Technology such as telescopic pole systems has reduced the need to work at height.
Not all technological developments have been good for the industry - the recent invention of self-cleaning glass may pose a threat to window cleaners if its use ever becomes widespread.
The economy experienced a sharp downturn during the late 2000s, hitting the window cleaning industry hard. Some people cut back their spending on things like regular window cleaning - either by reducing the frequency of cleans or by doing it themselves - while businesses also looked to make economies. Large numbers of business failures led to many empty premises on Britain's high streets, once again affecting demand for window cleaning services. Worse still, widespread redundancies meant that many people needed to look elsewhere to earn a living - and some were attracted to the window cleaning trade because it's fairly easy to enter. This made the industry even more competitive. Things did start to pick up during 2013 though, and 2014 and 2015 were much better years. Unfortunately the recovery slowed towards the end of 2015 and into 2016, with added economic uncertainty arising out of the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU.
As a result of the increased economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote, consumer confidence in the economy fell and economic performance was poor throughout 2017 and into 2018 as household budgets came under strain due to inflation and limited real growth in wages putting pressure on consumers' disposable income. Consumers have tightened their belts and window cleaning firms have suffered as they have cut back on spending and done their own cleaning. Little change is expected in 2018 and 2019.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. The interests of the window cleaning sector are represented by the Federation of Window Cleaners (FWC). Window Talk, the journal of the FWC, is published quarterly. You can find out more about the FWC and get contact details on their website.
The British Cleaning Council (BCC) represents the UK cleaning industry as a whole, and is involved in raising the profile of the industry and organising national exhibitions and awards.
The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) is not a trade association, but an independent body with members from all areas of the cleaning industry. Visit the BICSc website for more information.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of keeping up to date with the latest industry developments. Cleaning Hygiene Today includes regular coverage of key topical issues affecting the industry.