MY PERSONAL FINANCES
Dr. Glass Breaks New GroundJune 1999
Ronaleen R. Roha
Entrepreneur Philip Bregstone isn't "just a window washer" anymore.
When we first met Philip Bregstone ("Dr. Glass Does Windows"), he was perched atop a 20-foot ladder, wielding a cloth and a squeegee and making a comfortable living as a part-time window washer. Then opportunity knocked, and even though his first inclination was to say "no, thank you," Dr. Glass finally answered.
He's washing more windows than ever, but now he's also telling other people how they can duplicate his simple but satisfying way of living. In a year, Bregstone has gone from being, in his words, "just a window washer" to being an "accidental entrepreneur."
Hitting home. Bregstone, you may recall, spends four months a year washing windows in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., for which he grosses roughly $100,000 annually--enough to comfortably support his wife, Roberta, and their two sons for the rest of the year in Nyland, Colo., where Philip, a classically trained musician, teaches music and Roberta works as a sign-language interpreter.
"My business and my life apparently rang bells for people," says Bregstone. And after Kiplinger's story, his phone started ringing, too. He got calls from an architect, a copy editor and middle managers galore--all of whom wanted to simplify their lives. "With the first few calls, I spent ten minutes on the phone and didn't take names," says Bregstone. Then he recognized a serendipitous chance to merge his window washing with something else important to him: helping people improve their lives.
It wasn't foreign territory. Bregstone had taken courses in organizational training and development, which focuses on how co-workers relate to one another, and he leads an annual workshop on balancing work and family. But "while I was good at washing windows, I wasn't sure I knew how to run a national consulting business."
With Roberta's support, Philip created Biz-in-a-Box, "a data dump of everything I'd learned in 20 years of window washing." He wrote two manuals and two workbooks, and designed a database template. To avoid losing money on his new venture, he kept costs to a minimum. For one thing, he and two window-washing subcontractors--hired to handle his growing Colorado clientele, attracted by all the local publicity--even made two videos on their own, manning the camera, appearing on screen and doing voice-overs.
And Bregstone bartered. He worked out a deal with a copy editor to edit his materials in exchange for a completed start-up kit. A drummer in Bregstone's garage band, who's also a computer whiz, created www.doctor-glass.com in exchange for music equipment.
Secret of success. Biz-in-a-Box sells for a flat $2,000 (with an option for one week of on-the-job training with Bregstone for another $1,000). He does not want to become a franchise operation, suggesting that "you sell yourself as a human being in a home-based business."
So far he has helped about 20 businesses get off the ground. He still treks eastward each year, but now that his window-washing business has taken off in Colorado--which "used to be my refuge," he says--Bregstone is a tad wistful. With Biz-in-a-Box complete, he's hoping to concentrate once more on washing windows. Then, he says, "maybe I'll get my eight months a year back."