UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Many young mothers want more time with their kids, but not many determine to start their own business to get it. In February 2018, Samantha Grace founded Coastal Maintenance Solutions. As it has grown from just her to 12 employees in two locations, Grace’s aim has held fast on good pay and flexible hours for herself and her employees as they provide exceptional quality in large-property, mostly post-construction janitorial services.
Helping sustain Grace’s focus amid remarkably fast expansion has been assistance she receives with Jenefeness Tucker, a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center in South Seattle/Tukwila.
The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 40 advisors in more than two dozen communities across the state working to help owners and entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or buy/sell a business. Advising is confidential and is provided at no cost to the client through a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration and Washington State University. Additional support is provided by funding partners including other institutions of higher education, economic development agencies and business and civic organizations.
Business plan clarifies growth possibilities
As a full-time property manager in the Tacoma area, Grace was working 8 to 5 and was on call 24/7. She started the job after meeting another property manager who thought Grace would be a great fit. The fit was good; the hours were not – they left her with little time for her sons, now ages 8 and 4.
Realizing janitorial and maintenance hours could be more flexible, she quit property management and started Coastal Maintenance Solutions: “I could clean, and I had contacts for clients from my work,” she said. “I jumped all-in to the business.”
At first, the properties were residential – homes and rentals in between tenants. But she soon realized there was a need for cleaning and maintenance of larger, commercial properties, especially post-construction cleanup. And there were resources, including federal money, to help her serve those clients and build her business.
She was accessing free training offered by the South Seattle office of the Washington SBDC when she met Tucker, who was teaching a course on micro loans.
“We hit it off,” Grace said. “I didn’t need a loan then, but I did need one-to-one coaching. Jenefeness helped me see the importance of budgeting, cash flow and projections. We worked together on goals after putting together the projections, which is how I work best. She helped to make the growth plan clear. With it, I saw that I could do more than thousand-dollar jobs.”
Indeed, two years later, Coastal Maintenance Solutions has just closed on a $22,000 contract for 92 units. The business also recently acquired a three-month contract starting at $50,000 for a 40-home development.
Emphasis on training, retaining employees
And after recent hires, Grace anticipates employing 12 people by the end of September. She conducts regular training for them and maintains a system of staff and supervisor inspection in order to assure quality.
“I love the work and getting others employed and providing for their families too,” she said.
“Samantha has focus and grit,” said advisor Tucker. “She was quickly able to secure contracts, make money and employ people.”
Together, Grace and Tucker continue to prepare for the possibility of applying for grants or loans for women-owned and minority-owned businesses. And Coastal Maintenance Solutions received a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to retain workers during the Covid pandemic, which hit the commercial construction industry hard.
Since 90 percent of the company’s revenue comes from post-construction cleaning, many jobs were put on hold when construction shut down. Commercial construction is rebounding, though not as swiftly as residential building, but both remain slowed by post-pandemic supply-chain hiccups and the increased cost of materials.
“Ninety percent of CMS projects were put on hold when the shutdowns happened, and some have yet to restart,” Grace said.
In good shape for leadership, family time
Pre- and post-Covid, managing demand and growth has been key among Grace’s accomplishments: “I don’t want to grow too fast, and I don’t want to be stagnant,” she said. “Jenefeness has helped me stay on track and remain accountable.”
“Samantha’s resilience and focus should be encouragements to other entrepreneurs,” Tucker said. “Her business has seen phenomenal growth in two years and in two locations.”
Coastal Maintenance Solutions opened an office in Columbia, S.C., in late 2020. Grace’s mother lives there and Grace wanted to expand the business, so an initial test run there was relatively simple. She anticipates further expansion, with Portland, Ore., among the locations she is considering.
Along with these projections, she is working to build her management and team-building skills. One goal is to lead her employees more and clean alongside them less. Another goal, partly realized, is more time with her sons. She got a taste of that during Covid, when she was able to work virtually from home.
But even before, her business allowed her “to be flexible with our schedules,” Grace said. “I get up with the boys in the morning and give them more time to prepare for the day. This summer, I had time to be more hands-on and available.
“As I move more into leadership, I will be in a place to provide not just flexibility, but routine – so I can support the boys in academic development and extracurricular activities.”
Toward that goal, Grace continues to take advantage of online and in-person classes offered by the Washington SBDC and one-on-one advising with Tucker.
“Jenefeness is involved and she cares,” Grace said. “She doesn’t let you slip away.”
By Cynthia King, for the Washington SBDC
Learn more about Coastal Maintenance Solutions at https://www.coastalmaintenancesolutions.com/
Learn more about the Washington SBDC at https://wsbdc.org/