By Lajeune Hollis
Uniquely Cleaned, a residential and commercial cleaning service based in Naugatuck, is a typical family business at heart--but the family that started it is pushing things beyond the norm.
Four years ago, Byron Williams was inspired to pursue a family business by his father, a re-entering citizen. “My dad was in prison for 26 years. I didn't want him coming back home and working for somebody. We wanted a business to reintroduce him back into society,” said Williams. “So, we asked him, ‘What type of business do you want us to start?’ and at first he said a moving company, and then somehow, a cleaning business came up.”
So, the Williams’ went to work. Once they finished all the paperwork necessary to register their cleaning business with the Secretary of the State, they had to decide what to call it. Byron's wife Dee explained, "My full name is Dewygee, so growing up I would always hear, ‘that name is so different,’ ‘You’re a unique person.’ And I always did do things uniquely!” She just knew their family's cleaning business would have to be called “Uniquely Cleaned.”
In that spirit, Uniquely Cleaned accommodates jobs small, large and in between. As far as they are concerned, every mess is unique, and so is their service. "We pride ourselves on our customer service,” says Dee. “We are not your norm!”
Unfortunately, Byron said, “Things did not work out with Dad. He lasted maybe 4 or 5 months.” After the Williams’ found themselves with a cleaning business they hadn’t planned on operating they pressed on, he says, starting with just “some brooms, mops, and a vacuum cleaner. We started off residentially and then got to a point where, on my father’s last day, we received our first commercial contract with a dance studio."
When the business launched, the Williams' started it with their four children. Byron handles the marketing and finds customers on a part-time basis, while also working full-time as a power plant operator in Bridgeport. Dee works full-time managing Uniquely Cleaned after leaving her job at a non-profit. Their eldest daughter, Oriana, heads up the business' human resources. 19-year-old Gary and 17-year-old Donni supervise the cleaning business part-time, and their youngest child, at age 11, helps with tasks like taking out the trash.
“The bigger we are, the more people we can help.”
Things started to take off as residents of Naugatuck, Cheshire and Waterbury began calling with residential jobs. Their social media posts and business cards were working, in addition to referrals from happy customers. In their first year, Uniquely Cleaned had seven clients. That number doubled to 14 in the year to follow and, by 2020, their service had grown to supporting 70 clients.
But, when COVID-19 hit, it took away about 85% of their business. However, it wasn’t going to be the end for Uniquely Cleaned. Even though they had lost most of their residential business in 2020, they were able to pivot towards more lucrative commercial contracts as people continued to return to work.
Returning to his day job at Bridgeport Harbor Station, Byron saw sanitation employees coming in during the day to disinfect the building with a fogger. The entire job was completed in two hours and came with a fee of $5,000. A lightbulb went off in Byron’s head, and he went out that evening to purchase two chemical foggers for Uniquely Cleaned. But instead of only seeking out industrial clients looking to sanitize large facilities, he started including fog sanitization with small deep cleaning jobs, too. This led to more and more calls from pharmacies, daycares and even an automobile dealership. Now, Byron says, “we will be actively looking for contract opportunities in various sizes, applying to and bidding on more state and government contracts, as we are looking to expand as far as we can.”
Byron also used Pandemic downtime to obtain a Minority-Owned Business Certificate from the State of Connecticut. In fact, they found themselves eligible for several grants, including for veterans like Byron. They also registered with a program in Naugatuck to provide summer jobs at their business to a handful of high-school students, and provide hands-on experience with cleaning and office work to learn business administration.
Dee is also heavily involved in their local community. She has formed partnerships with Naugatuck’s Police Chief and Superintendent of Schools. She is also on the Board of Directors for Naugatuck’s Youth Services, where Uniquely Cleaned serves as a job site, and as a partner in mentorship and community services. Community service, she says, is her passion. "Community service is a major component of what you are supposed to do anyway," she shared. Mentorship comes as second nature to her after running a federally-funded program to get minority students from Bridgeport, New Haven and Stratford into the medical field in 2012.
In keeping with their original mission, Uniquely Cleaned is a Second Chance Employer. They actively look to hire, train and help people that other employers may reject because of their history of incarceration. This includes a supervisor training program to learn leadership skills, and an administrative training program to help people adjust to working in an office environment.
As for what is next, The Williams' are focused on growing their business around the principle that “the bigger we are, the more people we can help.”
Uniquely Cleaned is located in Naugatuck, Connecticut. Visit their website, Facebook or Instagram to learn more.
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Photos courtesy of Joy Monroe
By Alicia Brown
Joy Monroe began creating art at the young age of four. She originally pursued a creative career in elegant cuisine as a chef, eventually joining up with a group of artists in 2011 called Connecticut Arts Initiative, where many more of her creative visions were birthed.
In the years that followed, Monroe’s focus on her art became more prominent. She was offered a position as a dancer, where she learned about production work and was introduced to the art of body painting. It was then that she knew she wanted to be involved with big productions by painting and creating something new—creativity was ignited inside of her.
Monroe has since participated in the International Body Art Competition, one of her favorite events.
“What we go through, it’s life. We are the art. We are what we envision.
“Nobody is judging each other, and everyone feels good about their bodies,” she shared. “It’s a room full of artists making art and it’s all about storytelling—I’m a storyteller, period. I love to tell a story through my art. I want people to understand what life is all about.”
Using art as an avenue for storytelling is magical, and Monroe hopes her art helps people paint vivid pictures in their minds, to be inspired by life.
“What we go through, it’s life,” she explained. “We are the art. We are what we envision. Creation is being creative.”
Monroe’s dreams of growing her art career became realized when she was able to purchase her own space. Her business, Joy of Life Creations, was born and is located at 3580 Main Street, Building 11 in Hartford, Connecticut.
And, her dreams continue to grow. Monroe wants to help other artists pursue their dreams by offering studio rental space. She’s working toward this goal by sharing her expertise in body art with local students and providing internship opportunities.
Monroe also focuses on promoting body positivity through her art, giving back to her community by painting murals to support the arts and movements like Black Lives Matter, and holding summer art camps for kids. This past summer, she and students from area schools beautified Bushnell Park by painting trash cans so passers by had something nice to view as they strolled through the park.
She’s also been working hard to put together a calendar to showcase all of her artistic bodywork from the past year.
With everything she does, Monroe wants to challenge people to see the world in a unique way.
“You might see a bottle cap and say, oh wait, I can turn this into an earring,” she shared. “Art is about putting it out there so someone can see something different.”
For Monroe, she simply wants everyone to see the joy in life.
Follow Joy of Life Creations on Facebook or visit her at her studio. She’ll be sure to inspire you with her passion, creativity and innovation with everything she does.
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