Mike Eller, President, Populist Cleaning Co.

We all have a story to tell and I want to share a bit of mine with you.

In 1976 my father, Dan Eller, resigned from his tenured teaching position as a Professor of Music at Eastern Michigan University to embark on a new path in life. He chose not to conform to the mold required to continue a career in the arena of academia. So, in order to make ends meet and feed his family, he became a janitor and went to work for a church friend and successful business owner and entrepreneur, John Barfield.  

After a few years, my dad and John Wagner, my current business partner and lifelong family friend, started their own cleaning service in 1980. I was 13 years old at the time.

Their contracts consisted of cleaning a few churches and offices. As a teenager, I became interested in the business and it’s potential. I ran around with a cheap floor buffer in the back of my car polishing up floors for local hair salons and party stores. In the 1980’s, $20 per service for an hour and a half of work was pretty good money for a 16 year old!

Over the course of the next few years while attending college as a Music Performance Major (trombone), I built a portfolio of small route jobs servicing floors out of the back of my pick up truck for customers such as Fantastic Sams Hair Salons and other local businesses that needed their floors to look clean and shiny. I even got a few college buddies to take on routes as I had more work than one person could service. 

One step progressed to the next, my father retired in the early/mid 1990s, and John and I have grown Populist Cleaning Co. to new levels over the last 25 years. We now have almost 100 employees, key partners, who are critical in our efforts to continued growth.

These early years of my life provided me with the foundation and inspiration to continue on in business and grow an organization in the cleaning industry. My father, through example, taught me the real meaning of risk, survival, and keeping the faith to move forward and not look back. I knew that I loved business, the hurdles that it presented and the self-reliance and drive required to be successful.

So, what is it about what the cleaning business that remains important to us after all these years? I think it’s because we serve people on a daily basis through the quality partnerships that we embrace and enhance with our partners. These partners are our staff and our customers.

How do we enhance these partnerships? Through a variety of ways – training, listening, responding, understanding, exercising empathy, patience and discipline, instilling and nurturing our core principles and values, and more. It’s a long term process. 

Aside from the daily business grind of compliance, regulation, taxes, liability etc… our primary focus is the quality of the partnerships we choose to forge with our people, both clients and staff. People are such an extremely important part of our business that our name reflects it. A populist is a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Each day is a new day with its own set of challenges and opportunities. We enjoy the good fortune of watching 3rd generation family members and other important young talent bring new ideas and solutions to our organization. 

We feel a moral obligation, a drive and commitment to do what we do with the intent of doing things right every time. We are very excited about where we are today, poised for continued growth, with a focus on providing true quality partnerships with our staff and customers.

Here’s to the next 40 years!