THUNDER BAY -- Clearview Window Cleaning was founded in 1985, the year its current owner Shawn Prochnau was born. Founder Ted Prochnau worked in construction, but with the birth of his fourth child, he started looking for work that would allow him to be at home more. Shawn’s uncle had started a window cleaning business in Fargo, North Dakota, and it seemed like a good idea.
For many years, Clearview remained a one-man operation; Ted with his cleaning supplies going around cleaning windows for Applebees, Robin’s Donuts, Pizza Hut and other businesses in the city.
In 2013, Shawn was where his father had been in 1985 - married with a baby on the way. “At that point, my old man was working three days a week, so I thought if I did that, I could help with the baby and relax over the next couple of years, take it easy, not have to answer to anybody. And then it just blew up into this big thing, and I haven’t had any relaxation since then!”
Shawn had been working at Northern Windows for 12 years, at first assembling windows, then cutting glass, and eventually going into installation. “I developed a lot of transferable skills. I went into homes with all these older windows and removing them and putting new ones in, so I learned how all the different types of windows work. Plus, I learned customer service, which I found very rewarding,” he says.
When Shawn and his wife Ashley bought the business, Clearview had contracts with stores, but did not do any residential or commercial properties. In fact, there weren’t any local window cleaning companies servicing larger commercial buildings at all. “They would have to get somebody from Winnipeg or Sault Ste. Marie,” explains Ashley.
Shawn started looking into water-fed pole systems, which were big in the UK and Australia, where there were laws restricting the work window cleaners could do on a ladder. He went to Denver, Colorado, to check out a water purification company. Purified water attracts dirt and binds to them, rendering detergents unnecessary. A van with a water tank, filtration system and telescopic carbon fibre poles was what Shawn wanted, and he figured a big contract he had put in a bid for would pay a good chunk of the cost within a year.
Great plan, except he didn’t get the contract. “I was sitting there with a newborn, a company that I was still learning about, and this new expensive machine,” he recalls.
Desperate, he looked around and decided he needed to stand out from the other window cleaners. A guy with a bucket and squeegee wasn’t going to keep the business afloat anymore. A company van with a nice logo on it and uniformed cleaners was what he needed, because nobody else was doing that.
He started approaching maintenance companies, explaining his new system that did not require on-site access to water (the tank in the van can hold 200 gallons of deionized and purified water, enough for a crew of two to work for six to seven hours) and involved poles that could reach as high as 65 feet. Work started coming in.
Now, the couple employs seven people in the summer and one in the winter. “I’ll be honest, we’re probably not the cheapest window cleaners in town,” he admits. “But we do whatever it takes to deliver a high-quality result.”
Proud of their equipment and safety record, the Prochnaus make sure all their employees are well-trained and outfitted with the best. “I don’t mind spending money on things that make people’s jobs safer, or if it’s going to get better results, or just make my cleaners happy,” Shawn says. “I’d happily spend $60 on a squeegee!”