Lisa Kulisek Tempest wasn’t one of those kids who had to be constantly reminded to clean their rooms.
“It was always done,” she recalled, a sense of pride in her voice. “The bathroom was always done, too. The laundry room was always done. From the time I was 12 years old.”
Tempest joked that she was born with a neatness gene, so it hardly seems surprising that now, at 47, she is still dusting, scrubbing, sweeping and mopping as the owner of a cleaning company called Sparkles.
“There’s clean ... and then there’s sparkling clean,” her Egg Harbor City-based business boasts in its advertising fliers.
Tempest started her company in 2005, a year after she ended her 14-year career as a cocktail server at the old Sands Casino Hotel. She said she was earning $700 to $1,000 per week at the Sands, but the rigors of hustling tips from gamblers simply became too much for her as she entered middle age.
“I wasn’t happy. I was getting older, and I wasn’t comfortable walking around half-naked,” she said of the skimpy cocktail-server outfits.
Sparkles began humbly. Tempest grabbed the cleaning supplies from her own kitchen and ripped up some of her towels for dust cloths. Then she went searching for clients.
Business once was strong, but for this cleaning lady, the rotten economy has been a mess. Tempest explained that when money is tight, a cleaning service is often regarded as a luxury item and people will go without one.
“It’s the economy, and the first service that will be cut is the cleaning service,” she said. “My clients have told me, ‘We’d love to keep you. We want to have you back, but we have to let you go.’”
In the past, she would do cleaning at construction jobs, but that market has all but disappeared because few projects are being built these days.
“This is my first winter when I have to get out there and really, really hustle, just like I did when I first started,” she said. “I’m out there talking to construction firms. I’m out there talking to hair salons. But the clients I do have will keep me afloat.”
With the holiday season approaching, she is touting her company as a source for party preparation and cleanup.
Tempest also sees the poor housing market as a potential boon for her business. Properties going through foreclosure need to be cleaned before they switch owners, she noted. One of her fliers mentions the word “foreclosures” in oversized, boldface type to emphasize her willingness to perform that kind of cleaning work.
“My heart breaks for people who are losing their homes,” she said. “But there are many avenues in this business.”
Tempest and her Sparkles employees clean homes, condos, offices and businesses, mainly in the shore communities. On a recent day, Tempest was polishing the desks and chairs at an Edward Jones Investments office in Ocean City, the smells of Endust and Windex filling the air.
“I’ve never seen anyone clean as well as she does,” said Dawn Warren, senior branch office administrator for Edward Jones.
Having little money for advertising, Tempest largely depends on word of mouth from satisfied clients to drum up new business for her company. She said she personally oversees each cleaning job to make sure things are done right.
“I’m on every job. I just don’t send people out,” she said. “Clients like that, because they feel more comfortable knowing that the owner is there.”
Tempest’s first client was Phyllis Amendt, a Cape May County woman she met five years ago during a trip to Maine. Amendt, 81, still has Tempest clean her Upper Township home.
“She’s very good, very thorough,” Amendt said. “She’s not only my cleaning lady, she’s my friend.”
Amendt said Tempest consoled her while she was grieving the death of her husband, John. He died Nov. 24, 2004, the day before Thanksgiving. Amendt said she was reluctant to celebrate Thanksgiving the following year, but Tempest persuaded her to spend the holiday with her family.
“She really, really helped me a lot during a trying time,” Amendt said. “The next year, she brought flowers and helped set up the table for Thanksgiving. She forced me to have my family come over, which turned out to be a nice thing.”
Contact Donald Wittkowski:
Address: 427 Buffalo Ave., Egg Harbor City
Owner: Lisa Kulisek Tempest, 47, of Egg Harbor City
Employees: Three to six, depending on the cleaning season