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 Fresh Start Cleaning CT.
By Sarah Thompson
DShaun Williams is following in his father’s footsteps, literally.
Born and raised in Hartford, his dad showed him from an early age what hard work and perseverance looked like. Almost every weekend, he would tag along to his father’s second job in commercial cleaning, a job that his dad is still doing 17 years later.
“I was raised solely by my Dad,” shared Williams. “His way of parenting was strict, but now, as a grown man looking back to when he took me to his cleaning accounts on Saturdays when I would rather be outside playing, I’m glad all that took place. He would bring me with him, and I would help out and see what he was doing.”
His father encouraged him along the way, explaining that cleaning businesses can be lucrative.
“That inspired me to go ahead and press go,” said Williams.
Williams met his business partner, Christopher Cho, whom he also refers to as his friend and brother, at a corporate job a few years ago.
“We were working a corporate job together and I was his boss, so it just so happened that we shared an office together,” he explained. “So, we grew close and it worked. I would throw out these crazy ideas and he would go with it and make it work.”
From there, Williams learned organization skills and lived by the mantra “whatever you have to do to make it work, make it work,” earning recognition and achievement awards along the way. "We are so confident in our abilities as a company, we offer our customers the first week of cleaning absolutely free of charge,” he explained.
Soon after, Fresh Start Cleaning CT was launched, in June of 2020. The business, with a team of eight employees, now provides commercial cleaning including dusting, window cleaning, floor buffing and carpet shampooing for large property management companies, medical offices and other facilities.
"All throughout my life I’ve been able to push right through [adversity] and to be honest, we couldn’t have picked a better time to start this endeavor."
“We can handle any aspect of any facility,” explained Williams. “The biggest challenge is the pandemic. People want to work from home, so to be able to provide a very clean and disinfected [work or office] environment is the utmost importance so we all, as a society, can eventually get back to some kind of normalcy.”
Despite COVID, Williams and Cho have seen a steady growth in businesses since their launch just seven months ago.
“When I look back on my life and my upbringing, for me, I like a challenge,” shared Williams. “That’s how I like it to be done. Everybody’s freaking out and people don’t want to come outside but in the turmoil we will rise. Like a phoenix.”
Launching a business isn’t the only new chapter Williams took on last year. He also has a new son who he affectionately named Phoenix.
“All throughout my life I’ve been able to push right through [adversity] and to be honest, we couldn’t have picked a better time to start this endeavor,” he shared.
Just as his father was dedicated to him, he is dedicated to his customers. And it shows.
“My customers know that they can expect from me that if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and we’ve got to get something done, we’ll jump out of bed and get it done,” explained Williams. “I sent an email at 2 o’clock in the morning recently and we got a response by 9 o’clock that morning asking for a quote. So, just staying on it, not giving up, constantly pushing the limit, that’s my style and it works.”
Fresh Start looks forward to giving back to the community soon, too. “We must give back. It is a requirement,” he explained. “We have to show people that through adversity like the pandemic, they can still reach their goals and push forward towards their dreams.”
As for Williams, he’s always been interested in politics and changing the outlook of places like Hartford.
“One thing I learned coming up as a Black man is to always be ten times better. You have to be,” he shared. “Sometimes there’s this trustworthy factor—like hey, can I trust this guy? Or for a lot of people, their first scope into really having personal or business relationships with a Black person is through the lens that they saw on television. When I deal with people, it’s straight professionalism. I don’t subscribe to what they may have seen. It’s about being better than every other business and providing better service.”
At first glance, Williams and Cho might seem an unlikely pair.
“If you look at Chris and I, it’s what the country needs right now,” shared Williams. “We’re two people from totally different aspects of life, different upbringing, coming together to make something happen. I put a lot of faith in him, he puts a lot of faith in me and we make it work. With everything that’s going on right now, with the pandemic, with the whole cry for social justice, I feel like our story is very important for people to see.”
With each new opportunity to engage with a new or potential client, Fresh Start is inspiring others with their representation of unity.
Williams summed it up: “We represent what America can be…and clean!”
Fresh Start Cleaning CT is located at 304 West Main Street in Avon, with services available throughout Connecticut and New York. Click here to learn more.
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