Tuesday August 27, 2019

'How I Got Started': Nadine Barnett

Her drive, determination and dedication have resulted in a successful business that is making a clean sweep of the industry
By Lou Sorendo

    Nadine Barnett

    Q.: When did you launch Dusting Divas Inc. and what motivated you to start your own business?


    A.: I began the company in February of 2012.


    It wasn’t easy. I didn’t have two nickels to rub together when I started this. My husband, Scott, is a good man and puts a roof over our heads, but I have a child and there are a lot of expenses to that. He told me, “You take care of Carter and I’ll take care of all of us. Go for it!”


    I started the company with a Volkswagen bug, which I loved. It was a little silver convertible. I ended up trading that in to buy my first van because I needed a down payment.


    I still clean with my crews. I prefer to be in the field with them, although I have to operate the other end as well. You just have to be smart when it comes to growing a business. We bought one van, paid it off, and then bought another. We have four company vehicles and we run three pretty much every day.


    Q.: What did you do prior to embarking on your own business venture?


    A.: I was a flight attendant and employed within the flight industry for 16 years. When 9-11 happened, it changed the whole industry, including my thoughts of retiring as a flight attendant. I was disappointed, particularly since I loved to travel and enjoyed living in New York City.


    When United Airlines offered full benefits and unemployment if I accepted a voluntary layoff, I took it. However, I still needed income, so I went back into the restaurant business working evenings and weekends.


    When my son Carter was young, it worked well because when kids are little, all activities are during the day. As they get older, everything is during the evenings and on weekends. It was breaking my heart to miss anything. Even though I had the flexibility of making my own schedule because I was a restaurant manager, it was still exhausting working 40-60 hours a week.


    The restaurant business was hard on our marriage because I was gone all the time.


    At one point, my mom said, “You need to stop making everybody else money and figure out something to make yourself money.”


    My biggest inspiration comes from the work ethic of my husband, my dad Bob Bresnahan, and my brother and best bud, Roy Bresnahan, who are all self-employed. My husband has owned Barnett Forest Products for the past 11 years and my brother has owned RJ’s Excavating for the past 28 years. My dad always advised not to go in over your head when it came to doing business. He has owned and operated Bresnahan Excavating for more than 55 years.


    Starting this, I knew what I was in for. It’s 24-7. I am up sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning doing paperwork, but I am still home with my family.


    My best friend and I came up with the company name and logo and then I sat in bed late one night and built a website for my new cleaning business. I received my first call from a woman who lives nearby. I did not tell her she was my first estimate, that I had never done this before and that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I did an initial cleaning for her that took me an entire day and I only charged her $75. I still have her as a client.


    Q.: At what point did you decide on creating a cleaning business?


    A.: I knew I was a cleaner; it’s just what I’ve always done whether it was at the restaurant or babysitting as a young girl. Parents would come home and find that I had vacuumed the house and cleaned up after the children.


    I did work for a cleaning company for a short period of time. It was valuable because it helped me envision the company that I wanted to build.


    My Divas are in uniform and look professional. They drive our company vehicles, and are held to a dress code to ensure professionalism.


    They can’t look like they just rolled out of bed. We are cleaning people, but we are a professional cleaning company. We also have a no cell phone and non-smoking policy.


    Four of my Divas have been with me since I began hiring. I have nine girls now, and did have a gentleman clean for me who I referred to as my dude. If people apply and fit my standards, I don’t care if they are men or women.


    I want my Divas to know they are important to the company. Teamwork makes the dream work!


    Q.: How did you grow your company from its infancy?


    A.: We still have the majority of our original clients. When I started, it was just myself. I would work all day, but I could bring my son to and from school, which was important to me. It just started slowly growing. A couple of girls who worked with me at the restaurant were looking to make some extra money, and they would work a day or two with me. I also had a girlfriend of mine who was willing to leave her job and come work for me and she is still a Diva.


    However, it was a gray area because I was still going to the store and picking up what I needed every night because I didn’t have the funds to buy a lot of inventory and I didn’t really know where the business was going.


    I didn’t want to be known as a one-person show because there are a lot of them out there.


    I did a bit of advertising at the beginning. My husband was extremely supportive and wanted me out of the restaurant business, and knew I wasn’t going back to flying. While he did help, I wanted to do this on my own and I knew that I could.


    I started hiring through a temp agency, because they covered workers compensation and liability insurance. I couldn’t afford to pay what I am paying now in terms of those types of expenses.


    In a way, I was leasing my staff through them. Once the business began being more profitable, I got my own workers compensation and liability insurance, and hired an accounting firm to do my payroll, as well as being fully insured and bonded. It took me about three years to accomplish that.


    My goal originally was to be servicing 50 clients weekly within five years, and we about doubled that. I get the occasional phone call that a person saw my name on a billboard or saw a van, but 99 percent of my business is all word of mouth and referrals. Our loyal clients refer us to family and friends, which shows the trust they have in us.


    Q.: How did your past experience help you in terms of running a business today?


    A.: Being a flight attendant taught me that reliability and consistency are huge.


    I tell my Divas, “We are the Dunkin’ Donuts of cleaning businesses.” It needs to stay consistent. We fold blankets the same, clean toilets the same, and all beds get made the same way. I train my workers, and we have meetings to go through everything. This approach trickles all the way down from the way rags are folded to the manner in which the vans are loaded.


    People have told me that I make it look easy. You just have to stay strong. When you’re stressed, take a deep breath and remember that two weeks ago, you were just as stressed out and got through it. The clock doesn’t stop for you to figure it out. This is where the Diva “sisterhood” helps as well. We always get through it together.


    Q,: What have been the keys to sustaining the business on a successful level?


    A.: We’ll always make it right. If a client calls and they have a legitimate complaint, 9 out of 10 times there’s a crew still out there that will go right to that house and fix it. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.


    I want workers that have families; that’s huge to me. I built this so I could be with my child, and I want my Divas to be with their children too.


    I also provide a retirement program, life insurance, and vacation, sick and personal days. The Divas also know that I will work around their children’s schedules and offer other incentives.


    I do drug testing and criminal background checks, and call all references. I know other cleaning services that will just hire anybody, and I could do that and quadruple my business tomorrow, but I won’t.


    Communication with clients is important, and I create a quarterly newsletter to keep them informed.


    If you have a good week, don’t think that money is yours to keep. You want to tuck it away and play your cards right. Next week might not be as good.


    Q.: You are active in the community by supporting various causes. What organizations do you support?


    A.: I support several causes in the community, including Oswego County Opportunities through events such as their Bowl-A-Fun and Giving Thanks fundraisers. My best friend of 30 years, Bridget Dolbear, is the development coordinator at OCO.


    I also support the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Syracuse. In 2018, we raised more than $5,000 for the foundation.


    Q. What are your thoughts in terms of the future for the business and retiring some day?


    A.: I hope that someday, one of the Divas will continue the business for me. With both my husband and I being self-employed, it is difficult to go on family vacations that are more than a week long.


    My husband would love to retire in the next 10 years and sell hot dogs at Citi Field so he can attend every Mets game, but I don’t see that in my future, so I will keep cleaning.


    I’ve been approached to franchise down south, but that’s not what I am looking to do. I’m really proud of Dusting Divas and want to hold onto it as long as I can.


    We provide service in Pulaski, Oswego, Mexico, Radisson, Baldwinsville, Liverpool, Clay and other local areas. I think five to six houses per crew are plenty a day. I do see potential for growth, but need to find more Divas that fit my professional standards. It takes a special diva to be a Dusting Diva.