"Where were you in December? That's what I'd like to know," says Jerry Selig, owner of Cleaning Management Services. He's talking to all those hotel and motel managers and condo owners who now are rushing to get their units cleaned and refurbished in time for the summer rental season. Mr. Selig's company does carpet cleaning and dyeing as well as restoration and renovation work, and the preseason push has his staff of 14 working long hours six days a week.
"People put it off all winter," he says of the touch-ups and scrub-downs required to put Ocean City's 23,220 rental units in shape for the summer season. "Then right around Easter the phone starts ringing and doesn't stop."
Cleaning Management Services' carpet-dyeing service is in particular demand as owners try to erase the effects of Ocean City's alliterative big three -- sun, sand and sea. Mr. Selig's
company works on 10 to 12 jobs a day this time of year -- and one job might mean cleaning 30 or 40 hotel rooms.
Mr. Selig is lucky, though; by midsummer his business slows down enough for him to take off for a summer vacation. For other companies cranking into high-season speed, spring is only the beginning.
"We're busy all summer," says R. J. Lock & Security manager George Tobson, whose five locksmiths answer distress calls from locked-out drivers and renters 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in season.
With the bulk of the beachgoing (and key-losing) crowd still west of the Bay Bridge, Mr. Tobson's staff currently is handling about 10 calls a day from real estate agents and condo owners who want to replace the locks in their rental units. Mr. Tobson suggests that owners of rental units reconsider the timing of their lock-changing, and not just so that he and his staff can have a spring break.
"Do your rekeying at the end of the season," he urges, "then your unit is secure. It's too easy to get a key copied. Time and time again, we hear of owners who come down in the winter and find that some renter who made a key has come down during the off-season and entered the unit."
A sparkling pool is a great lure for many Ocean City hotels, and keeping pools in the swim is what keeps John Jarvis and the staff of Atlantic Aquatech busy, especially from March 15 to June 15.
"That's our busiest time," says Mr. Jarvis. "We're getting everyone's pool back on line. Some need to be drained and painted, some need minor repairs. This is the time of year condo associations start meeting and voting to get the work done."
Mr. Jarvis employs 22 people who are working on an average of eight to 10 pools a day.
"The rental business is the No. 1 thing in Ocean City, bar none," understates Bill Cole of William Cole and Son Painting Co., who has spent the last eight seasons brushing up Ocean City residences, "but people always seem to wait until the last minute to get their places done."
Mr. Cole says rental unit owners can save 10 percent to 15 percent by painting their units before March. Once the preseason push begins, he and other local contractors charge premium prices to pay for the overtime their employees must work to complete the job before the summer vacationers move in.
Procrastinators also risk being unable to find the help they need. By early May, Mr. Cole's company was booked into July and was turning away clients who needed painting or cleaning done before Memorial Day.
Fortunately, many owners and managers do plan ahead. Betty Chavis, resident manager of the Thunder Island condominiums near the Convention Center, starts examining the property and getting proposals from contractors in January and February. By March and April, workers are starting the tasks big and little needed to bring on the summer people.
With eight years on the job, Mrs. Chavis easily rattles off a list of her yearly tasks: Look for what needs repair or replacement, call repairmen, hire pool guards and a security guard, paint masonry, wash down buildings, repair docks, turn on outside water supply, check equipment, have the elevators and fire emergency equipment inspected, have the pool washed and painted, spray for ants and mosquitoes, check with the police about new regulations, renew licenses, get out the pool furniture. . . .
The list seems endless, but managers like Mrs. Chavis worry about everything so their guests can relax and worry about nothing. To make sure she's ready for the onslaught, Mrs. Chavis builds a little leeway into her planning.
"We say we want to be ready Memorial Day weekend," she says, "but we really aim to have it ready the weekend before. Just in case."
Once the season is under way, there's no room for error. Mrs. Chavis, her husband Ernie, who maintains the pool and grounds, and their staff of four turn over 1,000 to 1,200 people a week in the 175-unit property.