Billing itself as "more than just a cleaning company," Merry Men Services is truly more than just three guys and a vacuum cleaner. Merry Men takes the cleaning jobs – merrily – that other companies refuse or simply can't do, from residential and office cleaning, garage and basement clean-ups as well as clean-outs, to construction clean-up and even airplane and car detailing.
They also do painting and handyman work.
Mike Musser, Adam Butler and Josh Duchow own Merry Men. They say that "Merry Men" is not a riff on the female-oriented cleaning company name, but that they came up with it one day while watching a Robin Hood movie. And hey, they're a band of three happy guys, so why not?
More company humor is present in their repeated tag line promising many "happy endings" if their services are employed. Merry Men has some high-profile clients, such as Quad / Graphics, they clean other large office complexes and currently have about 15 repeat residential customers.
The three long-term friends met during high school at the Highlands of Olympia ski resort in Oconomowoc, where Musser and Duchow were snowboarding instructors and Butler would come by as part of the Mukwonago ski team.
Merry Men is one of the only aircraft cleaners in the Midwest. Their aircraft services account for about 20 percent of their current business. Musser says this helped open doors to other customers, which currently include several engineering companies, one with a 15,000-square foot building.
"Aside from expertise, the main reason clients go with us is the way we present ourselves," says Musser.
Their level of presentation goes beyond wearing khakis and nice shirts (although they do that). Mostly, they are developing a business model based on quality of customer service and doing what other cleaning companies won't do.
Merry Men offers online quotes. Visitors to their website can submit pictures and video of what they would like cleaned.
"I believe we're the only cleaning company to do online quoting," says Musser.
The three friends started Merry Men in December 2010 and by January 2011 they had Shorewest realtors using their cleaning services. They've been adding to their resume ever since.
Butler and Duchow originally brought the business idea to Musser, who had just moved back to the Waukesha area after doing public relations for a reality TV star in Colorado.
"Adam and Josh pointed out how most cleaning companies were missing things as a matter of policy. For example, they won't clean crystal chandeliers; most won't go up on ladders at all. We feel if you're going to clean a place, clean all of it," says Musser.
Some of Merry Men's jobs have not been for the timid or uncommitted. One residential cleaning involved washing 45 years' worth of cigarette stain from the walls.
"We started washing and the walls went from yellow to blue," says Musser.
Another job included chipping away two inches of ice from the floors and walls of a foreclosed home.
The Merry Men owners are all in their mid-20s. Duchow graduated from MATC with a degree in graphic design. He created the company logo and designs publicity materials. Butler attends UW-Waukesha part-time for an accounting degree, which he expects to use directly in the company.
Musser attended UW-Waukesha for a year but decided that more school wasn't for him. He got a job at an aviation firm at the Waukesha County Airport, where he began working on corporate jets.
"I learned my way around a plane; I know what not to touch (when cleaning)," says Musser.
With its many charter companies and corporate fly-ins, Waukesha is Merry Men's home base for aircraft cleaning, but they travel as far as Chicago for jobs.
Cleaning an aircraft costs between $1,000 and $7,000 and takes between three and 10 hours. Merry Men is hired to clean both the insides and the outsides of aircraft. Certain parts of the outside cleaning must be done by hand and include waxing and applying a special polish to metallic parts.
Bonded and fully insured, with a $7 million policy, Merry Men quickly earned the trust of their corporate clients, some of which have planes that cost $14 million. Screw up on just one part of an airplane and it could cost $500,000. Musser says most other cleaning companies are only insured for a couple hundred thousand dollars and this fact helps attract other commercial customers.
Merry Men hasn't incurred any debt and the owners don't plan to, preferring to pay cash as they go.
"We don't want to owe anybody anything. We haven't taken out any loans; we started with $10,000 start-up money that we pooled together," says Musser.
Merry Men adds equipment as necessary – and as they can afford it. Musser says the next big purchase will likely be a Dodge Sprinter van, for its fuel efficiency and "because you can put a lot of stuff in it." They are also in the market for an electric lift that would hoist them and their cleaning supplies to the tops of tall aircraft.
"Some plane tails are 30 feet high," says Musser.
Other than equipment purchasing, the short-term plans of Merry Men's three owners include adding more employees, which Musser says has been challenging because of the work hours.
"The hours are tough, lots of 14-hour days. Especially with the airplane cleaning, which has to be done on short notice," he says.
When Merry Men gets a call to clean an aircraft they usually need to be at the hangar within two hours, even in the middle of the night.
Long-term, Musser can see Merry Men opening another branch or franchising.
"We've developed a system that makes us more professional than most cleaning companies," says Musser. "It's a marketable plan, and we've already done the groundwork. We could be franchising within five years."
Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.