Dorchester entrepreneur provides employment for locals with Boston Cleaning Company
Yawu Miller | 4/26/2017, 10:59 a.m.
Midway into his first year at Quincy College, Abeeku Barrow felt the entrepreneurial itch. A self-directed learner, Barrow left school, cashed out $3,000 from his federal student loan and immersed himself in the Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Center at the Copley branch of the Boston Public Library.
After several weeks, Barrow had developed the outlines of a marketing plan for a commercial cleaning company. Armed with his college loan money, the 19-year-old invested heavily in marketing, paying professionals to design a logo, a website and literature for Boston Cleaning Services.
Then, in 2012, he hit the streets.
“Within my first 60 days, I had contracts with financial institutions, real estate companies, insurance agencies and an ice cream chain franchise,” Barrow says.
Investing early in marketing — and putting little into equipment — may seem like a risky move. But for Barrow, it was calculated. He passed the costs for cleaning materials along to his customers.
“I wrote the contracts so my customers had to supply all the materials,” he says.
At first, he did all the cleaning work himself. As he grew, the Dorchester native began hiring local high school graduates.
“I hired teens who struggle with economic readiness,” he says. “People who lack credit-building skills and financial literacy.”
Barrow requires his employees to take financial literacy workshops he developed with staff at the Dorchester Youth Collaborative. The impetus for the requirement was born out of Barrow’s own experience entering the business world. Seeking financing for a new car, which he would need to start the cleaning business, he found he couldn’t secure a loan because he lacked credit history.
He headed back to the library to read up on financial matters. Over time, he built up his credit. With a FICO credit score of 747, he was able to obtain a $100,000 line of credit through Eastern Bank, an institution that specializes in small business lending.
For Barrow, the cleaning business is an extension of an entrepreneurial streak that began in high school, when he would cut lawns for pay. During the school year at Boston Latin Academy, he would sell candy bars, often employing classmates in his venture.
“I would move 400 bars a week,” he recalls. “It taught me to have the tenacity and the grit to form a company that not only benefits myself, but others in my community.”
Barrow currently has contracts with 10 companies. He has eight employees and works with two subcontractors: one who provides snow removal and landscaping and another who does power washing and painting. He has floor buffers, backpack vacuum cleaners and several vehicles.
He pays his employees $16.50 an hour, a wage he says provides an incentive for them to work hard. The workers usually put in 15 to 20 hours a week, mostly at night.
Barrow says he plans to grow his business by expanding into city and state contracts, although he does not yet have minority business certification. He’s also eyeing increasing his services to include cleaning the common areas in the city’s expanding residential condominium complexes and to provide more opportunities for young adults in his Dorchester neighborhood.
“The important thing for me is to provide jobs for the people around me and help them obtain the skills to move forward,” he says.