Scott Baermann cleans windows at Ipsento on a sunny September afternoon.
Scott Baermann has been in the window cleaning business for 10 years, mostly in northern Indiana. He operated that business from afar when he moved to Chicago in 2006. Earlier this year he took on his friend Ryan Hoban as a partner. But the future didn’t lie in northern Indiana, it was here in Chicago.
I interviewed the Urban Street Window Works guys in August at their “office” in Ipsento Coffee House in Bucktown. This was the same office at which Scott and Ryan decided to try storefronts as a way to break into business in the city, an industry they said was dominated by “one bucket wonders”.
Most people already have a guy, and they don’t know who it is. He just comes around a few times and you pay him $7, $8 bucks. We want to develop a relationship, in how we want to separate ourselves. We want them to know our names.
Our first storefront was Ipsento, I know Tim, I asked, “Who does your windows?” Shoot me a quote and we’ll talk. Tim bought the equipment himself, “but as you can see I don’t do a good job”.
Ipsento became their first customer. A walk around the neighborhood netted them a few more customers. The pair got bikes on their radar after the threat of parking tickets raised its ugly head (fortunately they didn’t get one on an early work call). They looked at trailers on Craigslist and bought a single wheel trailer in Evanston. Ryan mentioned the benefits of using a bike for work, saying, “We can be a lot more efficient. I love riding my bikes. So this is like a dream come true, riding my bike every day.”
After a trial run, and realizing they looked mismatched, it was decided to get a uniform style of bike and trailer. An obsession with finding the right bike started, with Ryan leading the search.
I’m the bike guy, so I looked it up. I went on YouTube, found the Larry vs. Harry Bullitt, and then I just kept going [viewing more videos]. I might have typed in cargo bike. Two friends from church told me about cargo bikes, and the Cargo Bike Roll Call. One of them wanted a Metrofiets. That’s how I heard about “cargo bike” for the first time. I saw the interview with Hans Bullitt Fogh [yes, that's his middle name], and thought, “this guy is freaking awesome”.
The next day, I was like, “Scott, man, I think we really need these expensive cargo bikes to clean windows!” Scott was opposed at the beginning, because we thought just buying regular bikes would be expensive. The more and more we looked at them…
Ryan Hoban arrives at Ipsento on a Larry vs. Harry Bullitt cargo bike.
Scott couldn’t ride his wife’s bike forever. Hans, in a reply email to Ryan and Scott, recommended they meet up with Brandon Gobel at Chicago Cargo to test ride a Bullitt. The pair wanted a bike that would stand out and turn some heads. In the test ride, a gawking passerby confirmed that this would be the bike to do that. Ryan and Scott, though, have higher aspirations than creating a bike-based business about washing windows, removing acid etching and graffiti, and installing anti-acid window film. Urban Street Window Works wants to help advance the community of bike-based businesses and cargo bikes in Chicago.
It was good talking to Brandon, to talk about “green mobility”. Chicago is a perfect city for this. They’re building so many new bike lanes. America’s late in finding the coolest, newest trends in the world. This is going to happen eventually here, so we want to be leaders in that. We want to be advocates for cargo bikes in the city. We want to be good residents in the city.
I asked how they would be leaders in bike business and cargo bike use.
We hope and envision ourselves being an active voice in those circles, involved with Active Transportation Alliance, present at Critical Mass, present at Cargo Bike Roll Call. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but joining the other causes. It’s already happening, so we don’t want to think that we can do it better, but we want to join the causes that are happening, so we need to find out what’s going in Chicago.
The newly minted cargo bike enthusiasts said “We want our families riding bikes, too”; Scott has four kids and Ryan will have a second child in November. They are just as serious about business, though.
Ryan uses a fancy Sorbo squeegee from Denmark that speeds up work calls.
Ryan exclaimed, “We want to see a fleet, Steven! Business-wise we see this multiplying.” We talked about how that could be possible, and how the service they provide is important. Being the first thing customers see, clean glass makes a business more appealing, inside and outside.
Our goal is to take away the glass, so it’s invisible. Graffiti etching is a big problem in the city. It destroys and mars the looks of glass. That’s why we’re removing it and providing glass protection. Our business plan is in 6 years to have 12 staff on bikes providing these services. Perhaps some consulting.
A month later I met up with Ryan and Scott at Ipsento for a work call, cleaning the windows inside and out. They received their Bullitts from Splendid Cycles in Portland, Oregon. The paint and bins were made by Splendid Cycles, and the logo graphics were put on by QDP Graphics (next door to Ipsento). Call or email them to fix your windows; they do residences also: 312-715-7077.
Urban Street Window Works has matching bikes.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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