Squeaky clean: Nevada County man launched own window washing business at 18, still growing five years later
May 21, 2017
Donning a holster with cleaning supplies and a squeegee perfectly poised in his hand, Nathan Rhoades assesses the large window in front of him and deems it a candidate for the "butterfly technique."
"The goal is to clean the entire expanse of glass in one swipe," he said. "It's a method I learned from my dad."
With precision and grace, Nathan carefully executes large figure-eight-like motions, followed by a quick flick of the wrist at the bottom so as not to leave any streaks or water stains. Spotless. Perfect. Impeccable.
Anyone who questions whether window washing is an art should spend a morning with Nathan, who is a third generation window washer. In the 1960s, his grandparents started a carpet and house cleaning business in Southern California. Nathan's father, Ron, was trained by his own father in the window washing arm of the business, before moving his family to Nevada County in the mid-70s.
Today, Ron's business, "Rhoades Family Janitorial" has been cleaning offices in Grass Valley and Nevada City for more than 30 years. At the age of 14, young Nathan began working with his father to learn window washing, with the goal of opening his own business upon graduation.
"At first I was dragging my feet — it was hard trying to do homework and school," said Nathan. "But I got used to going out on jobs with my dad pretty quickly and I saw that it would pay off. After all, it's a business that has provided for our family for 30-plus years."
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In 2012, at the age of 18, Nathan graduated from Forest Charter School and launched his own business, "Rhoades Window Cleaning."
"My mom, who does the books for my dad's business, taught me how to do my own accounting — that was the biggest challenge," said Nathan. "But the biggest lesson I learned from my parents is to always be completely honest. That's a good lesson for life in general, but especially in business."
Despite the success of his one-man business, Nathan says he's not interested in adding more employees. Instead he'd rather "keep it small and keep life simpler."
Nathan will travel to customers' homes or businesses to give free quotes, and — in addition to the glass itself — the job includes cleaning window tracks and screens.
Understandably, Nathan does not feel comfortable cleaning windows more than three stories high.
"The most challenging jobs are three stories up in the wind with the hot sun drying out my windows before I can catch a streak," he said. "My goal is for each window to be pristine and perfect. I love it when I can change a dust covered window into something that looks like there isn't even glass there. Clients are very happy.
"Word of mouth has been my best advertising."
More than the reward of a job well done, Nathan, a Jehovah's Witness, says he has used the money he's earned to take two missionary trips abroad — one to Nicaragua and another to Bali, Indonesia. More trips are in the works, he said.
While Nathan is currently taking classes at Sierra College, he says he's happy with the rewards of a small business.
"It's easier to be content when things are simple — being content is another principle my parents taught me," he said. "Window washing is not a business that is likely to die out. At least not until they make force fields."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
Rhoades Window Cleaning