Army Aviators Jim McDonough and John Cappadoro started Veterans Cleaning Solutions LLC in July 2011 in the military town of Enterprise, Alabama; however, the journey that got them to that point started years earlier. Jim and John met after being recruited for a select assignment on the Army’s Aircraft Shoot Down Assessment Team at Fort Rucker, Alabama. They were selected to this team for the last three years of their military careers and quickly became great friends. While serving in Afghanistan they began talking about what they would do after the army. John and Jim bounced around the idea of starting a business together. John suggested either a lawn care service or a New York style sandwich deli. Jim had worked in the food industry and wanted nothing to do with that very competitive industry. So, they finally settled on a service business with two separate divisions. John would provide lawn care services and Jim would run a carpet cleaning division.
You might wonder how they decided on lawn care and carpet cleaning – neither of them had experience with either type of business. Over the years, Jim and John had both experienced problems with finding good service providers. When questioning friends about their experiences, they found that most of them seemed most unhappy with providers of lawn care and carpet cleaning services. Jim and John listened to their complaints of unreliability and unprofessionalism. They decided that their target market would be clients seeking trusted, reliable and honest service providers. These determined military veterans would build a business based on being customer oriented.
They first began with the lawn service to create cash flow and capital to finance equipment purchases for the carpet cleaning division. Their first paid job was on July 17, 2011, when they cut Jim’s neighbor’s lawn. This initial job turned into a weekly job for three years. Within a short time they had 50 clients and they continued to grow that division of the company.
As they were banking the money to purchase the carpet cleaning equipment needed to get that division started, they began a certification program with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) and both became Certified Carpet Cleaning Technicians. The carpet cleaning division was also started in 2011. In the beginning they worked together to provide the lawn care and carpet cleaning services; however, as the demand for both services grew, John focused his attention on the lawn care division and Jim on the carpet cleaning services. A few months after adding the carpet cleaning division, they hired their first employee who they crossed trained to work in both divisions.
Jim and John slowly began growing their business and building their team including technicians, a bookkeeper and a salesperson. As the business grew, they began receiving requests for exterior cleaning services. After researching the feasibility of adding roof and exterior cleaning services to the business, they concluded that it would be a better fit for their business than the lawn care division. They eventually closed the lawn care division and focused on exterior and interior cleaning. The company soon built a reputation as a residential-commercial master restorative cleaning business specializing in the areas of the dangerous, difficult and complex cleaning jobs. Again, they obtained the necessary certifications to provide a top notch service.
The business continued to grow. The journey; however, has not been without challenges. In 2015, Jim and John decided to expand into the Dothan market as they had been experiencing 25+% growth in the first four years in business. They would need additional financing for the expansion so they needed to update their original business plan. Prior to starting their business in 2010 they had contacted the Troy University Small Business Development Center (TROY SBDC) for guidance. They again reached out to the TROY SBDC for assistance and registered for their nine week program, NxLeveL Business Planning Series. While attending the NxLeveL series Jim and John updated their business plan but also were forced to take a serious look at their business operations. Although their revenues were steadily growing, they found that they had serious issues that needed to be addressed. According to Jim, they were burning through cash and borrowing like there was no tomorrow. They had refinanced and consolidated most of their debt with a local lender who shortened the terms, resulting in added financial pressure. They realized that they had problems with their staffing and accounting procedures. They did not have the high quality, client-oriented staff necessary to provide the level of service on which they had based their original business concept. They found major deficiencies in the areas of marketing, sales, operations administration and environmental compliance. As Jim stated, “We quickly realized that we were going out of business fast and didn’t even know it. Our lack of planning before going into business was showing up in all areas of the business.” Jim further stated, “We regret not participating in the NxLeveL program in 2010.”
Their expansion plans were quickly put on hold.
After seeking out the advice of others including the SBDC advisor and researching industry best practices, Jim and John began to make changes. “Both of us began reading and learning more about being leaders in the company and stopped focusing on being the greatest technicians that ever cleaned carpet”, John stated. They developed a 180 day short term plan and a long range plan for their business. Jim became the Director of Marketing and Sales and John stepped up as the Director for Operations and Administration. The restructure includes a strategy to be more sales force oriented rather than technician heavy. Their immediate goal became reaching full production capacity. Jim said, “We hired a very good bookkeeper and began regular meetings with the TROY SBDC advisor to clarify our financial picture.” He continued, “This resulted in a year of forensic accounting and rebuilding that should never have happened if we had known how to set-up and maintain our books in the first place.” Jim added with a wink, “The TROY SBDC has a class on this!” The company currently employs eleven, revenues continue to grow and they now believe they are on the right track. Veterans Cleaning Solutions LLC is now the customer oriented company that these two retired military aviators envisioned in the beginning.
As they were growing their business, giving back to those who serve our country has been a priority for Jim and John. Since the company started they have hired fifteen veterans and numerous veteran spouses. Also, the first employee hired was an Eagle Scout and since that time they have hired three other Eagle Scouts. , As Jim put it, “Veterans are by far our desired recruiting pools. We have also assisted four of our employees with joining the Armed Forces. This is quite possibly our greatest contribution to the future security of the freedoms we all enjoy today.” Jim added, “Our own success inspires young men (no women yet) to join the Armed Forces.”
Both Jim and John are active with the Enterprise and Dothan Chambers of Commerce. John is involved with the Enterprise Networking Alliance. Jim is active with the Dothan Networking Alliance and two Referral Network Marketing groups in Dothan. John is a member of the local Lions Club and Jim is a Rotarian. The company supports local community events and causes. The business pays membership dues for any of their employees who want to serve their community through any of the local community service organizations.
The company also provides training and continuing education opportunities for their employees. All employees are trained that from the top down the customer is their number one priority.
So, are you ready to begin your own success story like Jim and John? Your SBDC Business Advisor can’t wait to hear from you.