By Denise Barnes
Philip Bregstone has a special affinity for the squeegee. It is the tool of a trade he started at age 16 after graduating from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. Then, he was a young musician playing in venues like the Bayou in Georgetown who needed to supplement his income. So he teamed up with a friend, headed to a hardware store and found a gadget that would become the centerpiece of his livelihood.
Armed with the squeegee the teen-ager washed windows at houses in his neighborhood. His determination paid off, and young Mr. Bregstone's window washing enabled him to attend Syracuse University in New York where he majored in music. During spring and summer vacations, Mr. Breg-stone returned to Maryland to wash windows instead of carousing in Florida with his college pals or traveling to Europe. He graduated in 1983.
Word spread quickly and new clients added their names to Mr. Bregstone's list of regular customers, he says.
Young Philip Bregstone's window washing enabled him to attend Syracuse University.
"The thing that was so great about the business was that I was able to start small. Every year I did the same houses," says Mr. Bregstone, 38, founder of Dr. Glass Window Washing, who completed his graduate work at the University of Maryland at College Park while tending to his business. By 1986 when he entered the Great Books program at St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M., his window washing business was going strong. "That's when I knew that I had something great," he says.
With that in mind, he expanded the business to include Santa Fe. "Once I completed the program at St. John's [and returned to Washington], a friend of mine and I would go to New Mexico, wash windows and call it a vacation," he says, laughing. The pair went there for a week in the spring and a week in the fall.
Now his company rakes in a six-figure income by making windowpanes sparkle. But nothing is ever as easy as it may appear.
"People ask me what my secret is? It's experience. Having done it for 20 years, I know my customers -- they know me" the upbeat entrepreneur says.
Dr. Glass Window Washing handles about 800 loyal customers at homes in Washington's Kalorama neighborhood, Mount Vernon, Great Falls, McLean and Potomac. He no longer operates the business in Santa Fe. Mr. Bregstone notes, however, that not all of his clients get their windows washed every spring and summer. He says a job consisting of 25 to 30 windows in side and out costs $300. Window washing for some houses costs more than $1,000.
"It takes years to become a good .window washer. We're going into homes with baby grands and Oriental rugs; he says. "The ladder has to be positioned correctly so you don't damage anything. We to do some amazing things" Among the things he does is put the sparkle back on teardrop crystal chandeliers, light fixtures and gilded mirrors.
Garbed in hiking shorts and T shirt, he climbs ladders to allow the sun to shine through the panes. His list of clients includes notables such as businessman John Koons Jr.; Jack Kemp, former Republican vice presidential candidate; Patrick Ewing, center for the New York Knicks; Paul Duke, former .moderator of "Washington Week in Review"; former Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio; former Maryland Gov. William Don-aid Schaefer; and Knight A. Kip-linger, editor-in-chief and publisher of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.
"One of my favorite places is [the late] columnist Drew Pearson's farm - it's an old horse farm in Potomac," he says.
This off-the-beaten-path occupation gives the musician flexibility and time to enjoy life. A big part involves spending quality time with his two sons, 3-year-old Jonah and infant Julian.
"What's nice about this is-- I get to be with my family. The most important thing for me is being a dad" Mr. Bregstone says.
A lot of my friends are doctors and lawyers. They work hard, but they don't get to see their kids. I get to spend hours with my children. I wouldn't miss it for the world" Nowadays, there's a demand for Mr. Bregstone’s expert advice. He stays busy traveling around giving seminars on the art of window washing.
"I'm getting calls from people around the country who want to start their own window washy businesses" Mr. Bregstone says.
"Right now, I'm putting together two training videos and four training manuals -- plus computer software for running the business:'
He spends March through July with his wife, Roberta, and their two children in their home in Northwest. The rest of the year the family spends in the Colorado.
"It looks like a vacation, but I go to work every day. The secret of self-employed entrepreneurs is you do what you should do and then you come home" he says. And, I only do it four months a year. I work like crazy and then in July, we drive back. By that time, we're ready for a break," Mr. Bregstone .
He relocated to Colorado after getting married eight years ago. The couple built a house in a co-housing community just outside Boulder
This living concept originated in Denmark, he says. "The idea is that a group of people get together and build a village. Everyone owns their own home. It's a community that we created ourselves. At this time there are 50 around the country. We were No. 2;' he says.
At home in the Rockies, Mr. Bregstone is called "Dr. Music:'
"A lot of my friends are doctors and lawyers. They work hard, but they don't get to see their kids. I get to spend hours with my children. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
He spends his days teaching piano and guitar to children while Mrs. Bregstone, 38, a Gallaudet University graduate, works as a sign language interpreter.
"The reason I came out here was to raise chickens and goats, teach from my home and raise my children;' Mr. Bregstone says from his home in Boulder. "If not for the window washing business I couldn't do this:'
Mr. Bregstone also leads an a cappela community chorus and a community garage band. "I taught everyone their instruments because no one knew how to play them. It's really special" he says.
Although Mr. Bregstone quits window washing in the latter part of July -- there's still plenty of work to be done. Se rather than hire a staff, Mr. Bregstone ~ who runs the business from his home in Boulder ~ employs another entrepreneurial concept.
"I had a great idea;' he says. "I train people how to start their own window washing business. In exchange for training, I give them work and they give me a percent. age of what they make" he says.
Jesse Andrus, the minister of Christian Praise Church in Southeast, accepted Mr. Bregstone's offer and says he is glad he did for a number of reasons.
Mr. Andrus, of Clinton, Md., says he wanted a job with flexibility ~ evenings and weekends free. Plus, he needed an income that could support his family.
"It's a sneak approach because before you know it, you have your own business ~ almost overnight," says Mr. Andrus, 41, who averages about five homes a week and works primarily in Maryland.
"You have to be willing to do an outstanding job. There's only one standard for clean windows, and that's clean windows" Mr. Andrus says.
He says the criteria for the job are that you have to care about your customer, be honest and have a photographic memory. The objective is that clients only notice their clean windows when they reenter their homes.
"Service is remembered long after price has been forgotten ,-that's the reaction that we get," Mr. Andrus says. The soft-spoken clergyman has nothing but praise for Mr. Bregstone, whom he characterizes as "the consummate professional:'
"He's a beautiful and generous person;' Mr. Andrus says.