Growing up, instead of doing chores like regular kids, Cherron Smith went along with his dad, a hardworking and ambitious corrections officer who started his own cleaning business. While establishing his business, the senior Mr. Smith took his two boys, including Cherron, with him to learn and help.
“At a young age, I was cleaning carpets, stripping floors—my dad had clients like [now-defunct electronics retailer] Silo, Red Apple stores, doctors, and car dealerships,” recollects Smith, now 42. “I started my own business in 2013—I’d been working for [global food and facilities management company] Sodexo, doing well as a troubleshooter for them. I learned a lot, but it was too much travel; I wanted to be home more with my family.”
Since then, he has grown his commercial janitorial company, Consolidated Maintenance Services, to eight employees. He found early success with his former employer Sodexo, as an approved vendor and subcontractor specializing in floor care; he’s still works with them, and has become a certified minority-owned enterprise.
Pre-pandemic, in a growth phase, Smith received a loan from Pursuit (formerly Excelsior Growth Fund). “In early March, I took on a second account with Sodexo. As a small business, I played my finances close to the vest,” he explains. “I wanted to ensure that I could cover equipment and still make payroll. But my company was not big enough to get a loan from the bank, so they referred me to Pursuit, which gave me a loan to help me expand.”
Sherri Falck, Pursuit’s assistant vice president, says Smith and his business were a good fit for the lender. “A local bank introduced us to Cherron; his business was growing and he needed capital to help fuel it,” she notes. “We worked together to complete the application; we approved and funded his loan just as the COVID-19 shutdown started. He is also taking advantage of the financial-management mentoring and consulting services that Pursuit provides to its clients.”
When the seriousness of the current crisis became apparent, Smith came up with the idea of taking his expertise to new levels. “I knew that we were capable of doing more, and of being versatile; I had managed a clinical level of cleaning in medical facilities including hospitals and universities, so my company is qualified to offer that to our clients,” he says.
He’s also seeing shifts in the business overall, and preparing for larger changes in the world. “The pandemic has shown businesses, especially facility-based businesses—like some of our clients who own malls, department stores, etc.—that they can save a lot, that their facilities may not be as necessary as they thought they were. They are going to be licking their wounds over pandemic-related losses for a while,” he says. “That whole segment may be at a freeze. So I’m anticipating that, and I want to kind of shelter and get ready for this next phase. My main focus now, in addition to providing the services we already are, is eliminating debt.”
He’s concerned with both protecting and being able to retain staff, and has taken the measure of shifting the majority of employees to part time. “I’m being careful not to bite off more than we can chew—I want to be financially sensible, while keeping clients’ and our own costs down, and keep our employees working,” he explains. “To be proactive, and lower their risk of infection, I reduced some of the full-time people to part time.”
During this time, he is fielding both clients and employees’ concerns regarding safety and procedures. And he never hesitates to lead by example. “I’m out in the field with my staff; whatever I ask them to do, however mundane it may be, they know I would also do it,” he says.
“Most of our accounts are in the hospital, so we go over safety training, and make sure that proper PPE is available, that it’s used correctly and that wearing it becomes a normal, everyday habit,” he adds. “Having knowledge and sharing with both clients and employees helps allay fears and worries.”
In the face of our quickly changing world, and his immediate response to help his clients in response, Smith credits his religious upbringing. “One of my mottoes is ‘see a need, don’t see the greed,’” he says. “Also, being raised Jehovah’s Witness, I see people. I’m interested in them. I don’t want to take advantage of them in vulnerable moments.
“I can live this and explain it in secular and financial settings—I look for ways that we can help. That keeps us honest—of course I want to make a buck, but I might not get rich,” he sums up. “Most businessmen look for ways to exploit and squeeze; I look for opportunities to share the wealth. If I come across a job that’s maybe too big for us, like construction cleanup, I’ll look to partner and bring someone else in. So we can get the job done.”