Interview with Saki Tsuru: Founder of Sakura House Service

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Interview and translation by Mibu Minami

Dedicating her life to empower disadvantaged people in India while revolutionizing the cleaning industry, I spoke to Saki Tsuru via Zoom about her business and what empowered her to start her business.

Mibu Minami (MM): Tell us about your initial connection to India?

Saki Tsuru (ST): I started backpacking when I was around 20 years old, in my first year at University in Japan. I started in South East Asia, then heard through the backpacking channels that India was a great country to visit, so I followed my curious heart and headed to India. I was immediately attracted to the country’s scenery, the culture and the kindness of the people. Since that initial trip, I’ve traveled to South India, the North and pretty much all over India in a span of about 10 trips. On one of my trips, I had a chance to visit an orphanage run by an NGO in one of the poorest villages of Bihar. I met children who had great ambitions and dreams and they made me realize that there are many people who have the ambition but are not able to pursue their goals because of the environment they are born into or the situations that are beyond their control. Poverty is the root of many of these issues and I started to focus on what can be done about it. Slowly, I went from being a tourist in India to a person with a mission and began to work with NGO groups to figure out a system to help these children.

MM: Seems you and India have a very special connection. Did your experience with working with NGO groups help to come up with the idea to start a house cleaning company?

ST: When I was a student and working with several NGOs, I visited several slums and villages and realized that lack of stable employment was an issue. Many could only get low paying, unstable jobs and I saw that if parents worked this way, their children will most likely end up the same way. There was no room for improvement in this kind of system.  
Yet talking with women who lived in slums, I learned that many did not know how to read or write and though ambitious, were not used to being asked “what do they want to be?” or “what jobs would you like to have?” so I had to recognize who they were and start from there. Most women I met were mothers and they had the fundamental skills of house cleaning, cooking and taking care of children so I came up with an idea to help elevate their “skills” and add value to this type of service by starting a cleaning and housekeeping company.

MM: What a wonderful idea. I see on your site that there you employ both men and women. Were there challenges in hiring women?

ST: Initially, I wanted to focus on helping to raise the social position of women in India, so I hired and trained only women. However, we’ve had cases where we felt it wasn’t safe for our female staff, so now we also have men on our work force.

MM: I imagine there must be many challenges, but you keep pushing through which is very inspiring. And what is the response from your employees regarding training and teaching?
I believe parents who want to give their children better opportunities in life are more motivated to work and learn new skills. Therefore, I make an effort to employ those who have the desire for betterment for their children. I’ve employed mothers who had never seen a vacuum cleaner, yet their eagerness and curiosity helped them to learn very quickly.

There are still challenges when it comes to teaching of what I consider “professional” level of housekeeping. For instance, in Japan professional housekeeping is not just the quality of cleaning but it involves the polite attitude or manner toward the customer, comparable to something you expect from a housekeeper at a 5-star hotel. I have developed a training method by using video tutorials so the employees can understand the fundamentals of professional housekeeping. For those who cannot read we differentiate bottles of chemicals using colors so there is no mix up and have created a detailed check lists using photos to avoid forgotten items or miss any steps in the process.
MM: Very thorough indeed. I have been living in Delhi just over 4 years but even in the past 4 years, it feels as though customer services in general have greatly improved and people are adapting with it too.
ST: I agree. Showing up on time or texting a customer to let them know we are on our way are common and expected in Japan. When we did that here, many of our Indian customers were shocked at first (laughs) but there is an appreciation for this type of service and perceived well.

MM: Has business changes since Covid-19 and lockdown?

ST: We were mainly a house keeping service before lockdown. Since July we have incorporated professional cleaning machines and repositioned our business to deep cleaning related services. We have various orders to deep clean the whole house or just the kitchen or bathroom but in general we have more orders since lockdown. We clean thoroughly from drains to ceilings, many areas that the usual house staff may not be able to reach.

MM: I am really looking forward to seeing your business grow and your mission recognized. I gather you will be in India for a while.

ST: The company only started a little over a year ago and there are still a lot of challenges, but I plan to build a structure where everything runs smoothly in the hope to empower people and provide customers with quality service.

MM: Lastly, what do you love most about India?

ST: I love the people… in general, people in India are very passionate, some may see it as being too involved in other people’s business. But I love that sense of care and kindness of the people.

Sakura Home Service:

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