Entrepreneur finds success in other people’s messes

Pam Washington, owner of A-1 Janitorial Services, stands in her Las Vegas office. Washington transitioned from being a “solopreneur” to an employer of 50.

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Steve Gallegos of A-1 Janitorial Services cleans up around the Sapphire Pool.

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Crystal Curtis of A-1 Janitorial Services clears trash from a bathroom at the Sapphire Pool in Las Vegas. A-1’s clients include casinos, hotels and office buildings.

When Pamela Washington first arrived to Las Vegas, she ran a one-woman show. She was chief executive officer, sales manager, bookkeeper, receptionist and janitor for her cleaning startup, A-1 Janitorial.

Today, the company is a local industry leader, with close to 50 employees and strong profits.

“When I first started out, I knew nothing about cleaning,” Washington said. “I was looking to start a business that had some security to it with low start-up costs. There seemed to be a pent-up demand in the early ’90s for cleaning services.... No longer could you just rely on the women to clean up in the office.”

Washington had a diverse employment history before branching out into janitorial services.

She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., then moved to Austin, Texas, to work in banking, sales and marketing. She returned to California in 1984 and worked in Beverly Hills as an account executive with Dean Witter Reynolds, now Morgan Stanley. Five years later, she founded her own catering and event planning business in Los Angeles.

Washington moved to Las Vegas for personal reasons in 1993 and started A-1 as a “solopreneur.” She got business cards printed and armed herself with a vacuum, mop and bucket.

“I had a pager, and that was how potential clients could reach me,” Washington recalled. “I took every job. I set up my own appointments, cleaned and then did the billing.”

Washington hired children from a local youth group to distribute door hangers around her neighborhood to market her business. She also ran ads in the community services section of local newspapers.

“I really started getting a lot of work,” she said. “I did all of it myself until I had so much work that I needed to hire another girl. We continued to build it up some more and then added another girl. The rest is history.”

Over the past 20 years, A-1 has cleaned for the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Caesars Entertainment and Mirage. Its client list runs includes retail, banking, technology and hospitality companies.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that if you take care of your customers, they will take care of you,” Washington said. “It’s a never-ending circle. We have seen a wide swing in the economy, and we’re no longer in the ‘go-go days’ like we used to be. There is much more of a focus on price today than ever before.”

Even so, Washington warns businesspeople looking for cleaning companies to steer clear of focusing only on the bottom line.

“Value is what you get,” she said. “Companies really need to weigh the differences in cost versus having constant complaints. In this business, you truly get what you pay for.”

Washington suggested that businesses consider several factors when hiring, including a company’s training, insurance, references and experience.

“The proper training of a janitorial staff is the meat and potatoes of any serious cleaning service provider’s business structure,” Washington said. “Do they have a training program? Can you see an outline of their plan? It doesn’t have to reveal any trade secrets, but the fact that they have a written training process shows you how important the subject is, or is not, to the company’s management.”

Most cleaning companies offer a la carte services – say, floors one visit and windows the next. A-1 provides a thorough cleaning every time.

And Washington quotes clients prices up front, another rarity in the industry. She charges 10 cents per square foot for a standard cleaning, although flooring and the age of a building can affect the price.

“I wish more people would be up front in the bidding process,” Washington said. “I just ask prospective clients where they are, what they are paying and where they need to be. It’s a better way of doing business. Open communication is a good thing.”

Washington also turns down clients who don’t fit her business plan.

“At A-1, we’re a very different model than some of the other cleaning companies out there,” Washington said. “We require a business to be at least 10,000 square feet, they must want cleaning service at least five times per week, and the client must demand quality work.”

Other companies offer every-other-day service or cleaning a few times a week for a lower cost.

To advertise her services, Washington maintains an elaborate website for A1Janitorial.com that features videos, testimonials and even the company’s philanthropic work.

“If someone wants to know more about us, the website is a great starting point,” she said. “We want to help people fall in love with us before they even meet us.”

Washington also puts out a bimonthly newsletter for clients and writes an industry blog.

She recently purchased Carpet Sharks, a carpet cleaning company that caters to residential and commercial customers, and has started teaching her trade through a company called “Build My Cleaning Business.” Washington also is CEO at Genesis Books and Gifts, 1815 W. Charleston Blvd., Las Vegas. The store sells self-help and recovery books. Washington sees it as a way to help her community.

In its 20-year history, A-1 has earned a profit every year except one, during the downturn, Washington said. She went three years during the recession without landing a new client.

Even in good times, Washington remains hands-on with customers and favors communication over contracts.

“If you have a problem, call me,” she said. “We’ll fix it. I like to stay in close touch with my clients. I want to earn their business every day. Some corporate clients require that a contract be in place, and that’s fine. But we make sure that every client receives top-notch service every time out. That’s just the way I do business.”

Washington has collected numerous awards for her business acumen. She was honored by “Enterprising Woman” magazine in 2006, named “Supplier of the Year” by the National Supplier Development Council in 2001 and featured in “Black Enterprise” magazine. A-1 has received nominations and awards from the Small Business Administration, National Association of Women Business Owners, National Association of Purchasing Managers and Society of Human Resource Managers.

But Washington isn’t alone in her industry. Dozens of local companies offer janitorial services in Southern Nevada.

Here are a look at 10 others:

Cassity Building Maintenance, 228-2277


Cassity Building Maintenance maintains, landscapes and cleans malls, office buildings, auto dealerships, restaurants and schools. It operates in Southern Nevada, Utah, California and Arizona.

Clearwater Building Maintenance, 499-9400


Clearwater Building Maintenance has handled general office cleaning, porter service, building maintenance, green cleaning and floor cleaning since 1982. Clients include auto dealerships, medical facilities, restaurants and real estate offices.

Green Valley Janitorial, 499-1277


Green Valley Janitorial is operated by Fabiola Tarin and Fernando Contreras, who have more than 20 years of experience in the cleaning industry. The company offers outdoor pressure washing, floor stripping and carpet cleaning, as well as other janitorial services.

Jan-Pro Cleaning Systems, 979-1453


Jan-Pro has been cleaning Southern Nevada commercial properties for more than 20 years. It offers specialty services, including green cleaning and medical cleaning. Jan-Pro is certified in handling blood-born pathogens.

Las Vegas Building Maintenance, 524-2665


Las Vegas Building Maintenance is a family-owned business that has operated locally since 1996. The company owns all of its equipment, which allows it to operate with a low overhead and maintain competitive prices.

Limpio Janitorial and Carpet Cleaning, 437-4237


Limpio Janitorial has been in business for more than 10 years providing janitorial services and carpet cleaning. It also provides restaurant exhaust system cleaning to help businesses meet fire marshal safety requirements.

Mayberry’s Office Cleaning, 699-8174


Mayberry’s Office Cleaning has operated in Las Vegas and Henderson for more than nine years. Besides routine cleaning and maintenance, the company offers move-in, move-out, pre- and post-party cleaning services.

Roadrunner Cleaning Service, 642-4403


Roadrunner Cleaning services buildings as small as 1,000 square feet and as large as 300,000 square feet. Clients include schools, libraries, banks and restaurants. The company has been in business for more than 20 years.

Routine Cleaning Service, 452-4550


Routine Cleaning has operated locally for more than 30 years, making it one of the oldest commercial cleaning companies in the valley. Prices start at 8 cents a square foot.

Six Star Cleaning, 641-7827


Six Star Cleaning opened in 2000 and offers cleaning services on a one-time, daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly basis. The company is family owned and operated.