Spick and Span
Palisades Cleaning Service: Mercedes Nunez
Tomkins Cove, Rockland County, NY
Mercedes Nunez came here as an 18-year old who spoke no English, forced to leave her infant son behind in the Dominican Republic and clean factory floors at night to provide for him.
Now 39, Mercedes is an entrepreneur, finding secure employment for herself and others. But she couldn’t grow her cleaning business without a loan. An online lender gave her one—but with interest payments of 65%! Community Capital refinanced, and provided a line of credit and a small business loan, lending her the money she needed to pay off credit cards and the predatory online lender–and providing the business coaching and capital to support her expanding company.
Now, Palisades Cleaning Service has 35 employees, most Hispanic single Moms, and works with restaurants, car dealerships and office buildings in five states (including PF Chang’s and NBC Studios!) and provides residential cleaning seven days a week in Rockland County. Her margins are lean—because she pays her workers a living wage. “Cleaning is hard work!”
Though she is on her phone 24/7, she is there to put Tristan, 6, and Myla, 4, on the school bus and there, at work in her office, in a home she owns, when they come bounding in the door. Her eldest, Luis, now 22, is in medical school. And Tristan, who has seen his share of office buildings, hopes to design them.
Million for Main Street
A small business line of credit and loan of $75,000 from Community Capital New York from the Million for Main Street fund enabled her business to take on more restaurants, car dealerships and office buildings, each commercial client requiring a team of four cleaners, and increasing her staff from 17 to 35. Mercedes still works alongside each new team for two weeks, from 10.30 pm to 6 am, teaching and training, making sure everything is spick and span.
How did you get your business off the ground?
When I first came here I cried every day. I was breastfeeding and had to leave Luis with my grandmother when he was a year and three months old. I focused on work and was able to bring him here three years later. I started cleaning office buildings on my own, at night, and as I would come in people would ask me “Do you clean houses?” and I started doing houses. My business is now 50/50 commercial and residential. The residential is in Rockland County, and the commercial, which runs from car dealerships to restaurants to office buildings, in five states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Someone just called me from Ohio. To find teams, I check grocery stores, put a flyer up, interview and test potential cleaners. I never woke up one day and said ‘I want to have my own business.’ I was just working to make a living. It was my son Luis, when he was a teenager, who said ‘Mom, you have a good business here.’ He inspired me to look into incorporating and build the commercial cleaning side. The husband of one of my New City clients was an accountant. He showed me how easy it was to incorporate and pay taxes. From that moment, I was no longer afraid of taxes, banks, of becoming part of the economy as an employer and business owner. My business is now a certified “Women and Minority Enterprise” (MWBE).
People see cleaning as a really bad job. It isn’t. It feels good when you clean someone’s home to make their life easier. When I started my business it was a way to be home with my kids.
How did your business evolve?
I do make money, but some clients pay slowly. I couldn’t get a loan from a bank to cover cash flow. Thanks to Community Capital New York, I could stop using my personal credit cards to make payroll while waiting for payment from clients.
I advertise in Rockland Parents and the local Yellow Pages for residential cleaning, but commercial work comes through referrals. Community Capital New York has helped me with accounting and cash flow analysis. Thanks to Community Capital I have a better understanding of QuickBooks than I had before.
I still train every crew. For a restaurant in Pennsylvania, a new client, I’m working nights, driving two and a half hours there and back. I leave at 10.30 at night, and come back by 8 a.m. I show them how to clean to the client’s satisfaction, the best ways to approach tasks, and then make sure that when they are on their own they can deliver.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
When you are purchasing products for your business, don’t get hung up on names. We don’t use Dyson vacuums. A $40 Bissell upright from Walmart has proven to be the best. You also have to treat people the way you want other people to treat you. I treat my employees well and have tremendous loyalty. They are helping me to make a living. I don’t take on any job that doesn’t pay me enough to pay them well.
When will you know you arrived?
When I attend my son’s medical school graduation.
I don’t plan the future. I just go there. I know I want to get more business, and continue to grow the commercial cleaning, expanding from one Chevrolet car dealership to others, and to more restaurants in New York’s Hudson Valley and Fairfield County, CT. I also want to buy a house in the mountains, locally.