Owner sells business after half a century

I started my business 50 years ago
Lester Cruse shares how finding the right blend of values and financial clarity helped him survive the hard times and run a successful business for half a century

In a nutshell...

My business : Cruse Cleaning Limited - now sold!
What we do : Office cleaning, provision of cleaning products


CV: Tell is how you started your business...
LC: I started my business from scratch 50 years ago.

Back in 1966, I was working as a driver for a furniture company travelling up and down to Scotland. The money was good but my wife at the time wasn’t happy about me being away so much. It was the same for the guy I worked with. So we decided we would pack our jobs in and start window cleaning.

We started off doing it part time at weekends. In a few months we decided to just build up the window cleaning business and let our driving jobs go.

By a stroke of luck my business partner picked up the local paper one day and saw an advert from someone who was selling his window cleaning business for £10. So we paid him for his business and found ourselves working between Bath and Bristol. We were knocking on doors trying to build up business too and it was hard.

After 18 months or so, my partner wanted to leave the business and I carried on with all our kit.

After a few years, I decided to go into office cleaning. I was getting older and window cleaning is a younger person’s job. Plus I was married and had a daughter to support. I had bills to pay. So I split my time doing both window cleaning and office cleaning.

I gradually built the business, upgraded my van and my customers were recommending me to others.

I’ve enjoyed some great long term relationships with my customers, some of whom I have worked with for 30 years or more.

CV:What do you put your success with your customers down to?
LC: It’s about providing them with a really good service. My customers have always been able to speak to me. If they have a problem, they have my mobile number and I tell them I will be with them within an hour.

So it’s always been a very personalised service. I’m friends with a lot of my customers.

CV:What support have you enjoyed as a business owner?
LC: Rob Walsh worked at my old accountants and became my contact there once the older partner retired. I stayed with Rob when he formed Clear Vision in 2004.

I particularly like the fixed price agreements they provide and being able to spread the cost of my accountancy fees over the year. You know what’s going out. I want to go home at night, get into bed and know that I am not at risk of a big unexpected bill from my accountant.

I’m not passed around the houses by them. I know the team and I always get to speak to my Account Manager Lucy. They keep their finger on the pulse and get things done.

There have been hard times for the business as you can imagine, but this is one area I haven’t had to stress about.

CV:What has helped you continue to develop your business when times got hard?
LC: My management accounts have really helped. 

For instance, I could see what a good margin I made by simply supplying cleaning goods.

So we developed this side of the business and I developed my own product brand “Sunstone”, with a chemical manufacturer.

My customers recognised my products were great quality. I remember once one of my customers had an oil stain from a tool cutting machine and he didn’t believe I would have anything to shift it. But I did.

So I’ve watched this area of the business grow from 10% to 20% and I think it’s now 32% of our turnover.

It’s wasn’t all plain sailing though — at one point, we employed a rep to get on the road and develop the product sales for us. It was hard because there are plenty of big companies who keep smaller businesses like mine out.

My secretary Jackie Osmond has worked for me for 22 years. She takes care of the financial management of the business and we could see from our management accounts that the rep wasn’t working out. So having that visibility meant we were able to make the business decision to let the rep go.

Working with Clear Vision has made me more confident to put trust in people. Their support and the financial clarity they provide has helped me become more confident in making business decisions.

I enjoy dealing with the team. They’re reliable and explain everything without talking down to you.

Jackie does what she does for me with Clear Vision’s help and it means I have always got on doing what I do best. Developing the business and seeing customers.

CV: What made you decide to sell your business?
LC: I was talking with Jackie a year ago about how my whole body and head was telling me I’d had enough.

Things were changing and I was getting tired of the phone calls from my cleaners and issues I had to sort out.

So things were getting harder and economic changes meant that new work had slowed.

Rob came over to my house and we sat down to discuss what the value of the business might be. Then he helped me get a formal valuation from a valuer.

I did feel this valuation was too high though and I went on to discuss selling my business to one of my customers. Unfortunately, this potential buyer fell through.

I managed to find a new buyer, someone I have known since he was very young. His father was in the cleaning business and he took over the family business when he died. We had a chat and he said he was thinking about buying a window cleaning business. I told him I thought he wouldn’t make much money on it and suggested he considered buying another cleaning business. He was very surprised to hear I meant mine!

I told him I had had my business valued, I knew what I wanted for it and asked only that I could take my car out of the business with me.

He had a think. Then he told me he thought it was a ‘golden opportunity’ and accepted my offer.

With Clear Vision’s help we made it happen. Now I just work as a consultant to the business and will shortly be pulling out completely.

CV: How does it feel to have sold your business?
LC: Brilliant!

I’m able to enjoy more time with my friends.

I’ve got my garden up together and I’ve got a project to get a new garage in place. We’re going to have a ‘lean to’ and a BBQ area. It’s lovely.

We live in the country and I love it. I’m a country boy.

I feel good.

CV: What’s the biggest difference selling your business has made to you?
LC: The pressure is off. 

CV: What are you looking forward to now?
LC: A long and healthy retirement with my wife.

My wife’s family live in Wales and I love the tranquillity there. So we may end up moving there to an even quieter place.


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