"Very fast" track to success: chamber member business Prestissimo finds a niche in Southeastern Michigan.
Detroiter: Did anyone tell you it was foolish to start a business at 18? Who provided you with the most encouragement? Did anyone tell you not to do it?
Carl Scott: Plenty of people tried to discourage me from starting a business, but none more feverishly than my parents and the owner of the window cleaning company I worked for at the time. When I got into it, I had a shoe-string budget, and absolutely no clue about the bureaueratic and legal ends of the business world. I just knew how to talk to people and clean windows. I went into business because I was tired of working my butt off for minimum wage. I have learned by making mistakes -just never the same one twice.
D: Where did you learn to manage the day-to-day operations of the business? Did you take a class, or consult books, or just learn along the way?
CS: I've never had a single business class, but I see now how it would have made things a lot easier. I registered my business about a week after declaring sociology as my major at Wayne State. Even though social science is a passion of mine, it is certainly no way to pay the bills.
In my business's infancy, when I was still a teenager, I would skip shaving every day, thinking that my stubble made me look older and therefore more trustworthy. I'd go to networking events and get invited out for drinks and have to make up an excuse as to why I couldn't make it, because I didn't want to reveal my age.
D: What is a typical day like for you?
CS: A typical day for me involves class at Wayne State, quoting jobs, meeting perspective clients or associates for lunch, networking events, homework, study groups, random office work (emails, faxes, invoices, phone calls, etc) and supervising jobs. I try to work every job if I can. And of course, I'm still young, so I feel obligated to have a good time at the end of the day, staying out way too late and not sleeping sufficiently before doing it all again.
D: What do you consider your greatest business success thus far?
CS: My greatest success as a business person thus far is that I've maintained my integrity. 1 pay my guys more than I've ever made at any of my previous jobs, and I'm very proud of it. 1 put my money where my mouth is in terms of charity--we're probably the only window cleaning company that cleans nonprofit organizations' windows for free. It's our main niche in the charitable community. We also consider ourselves green because we have fuel efficient vehicles, non-toxic chemicals and reusable supplies.
D: What's your advice to other new entrepreneurs in a tough economy?
CS: Its strange being in business at such a young age because I find myself associating with, and even employing people twice my age. It has definitely given me a unique perspective. I must admit that I have learned more sociology from my business than from college.
I really think that young people are our future. Not only do I think that there needs to be more young people starting businesses, I think that more nontraditional entrepreneurs need to emerge. I get a lot of accolades from people who think it's really cool that a sociology major owns a business. I will say, though, that owning a business and going to school full time is not good for your health. Last semester I had 18 credit hours and I spread myself so thin that I couldn't do anything as well as I wanted too.
I hope that the youth of Detroit help to make the city a hip and happening place, where creative young professionals will flock and eventually raise families. Detroit has a rich culture; we just have to convince the rest of the world of that.
There is no question that the economy has raised the stress level and lowered the profit-margins of the cleaning industry. As in every sector, we've been forced to get creative and to take an analytical approach to see where there is still demand that can be supplied. One funny nuance is that in this economic climate, people get their windows cleaned rather than replacing them. A dramatic housing turnover rate has also made window cleaning desirable for real estate agents wanting an inexpensive way to aesthetically improve a property for sale.
D: What are your plans for the future?
CS: I have the dream of one day hosting a Great Gatsby Party (just kidding).
My goals for the future are constantly changing, but I've always maintained that I will try to do something that will make the world a better place. When 1 expire I want to know that I made a serious effort to better things, socially and environmentally. I definitely consider life and consciousness to be the ultimate privilege and thus the ultimate responsibility.
My dad was a teacher in the Detroit public schools and I know that I had and have a huge advantage in terms of opportunities having grown up in the suburbs with educated parents. I'm very fortunate. For this reason I feel indebted to the city of Detroit.
I think law school would be a great vehicle for my ambitions, but I've been told by a lot of attorneys not to quit my current day job if I decide to get a law degree. 1 have seen from the world of business that it is possible to turn your passion into your profession; one just needs the gumption and some creativity.
D: What does the name of your business mean?
CS: "Prestissimo" is Italian for "very fast." It's a musical term that I learned while playing the bassoon in high school orchestra. I thought that people would probably dig a proud Italian window cleaning company, and I was right. We try to be by far the best dressed and most suave of anybody in the janitorial professions. I've never been into fashion; I actually think that its an opiate of the masses, but I knew that people had an inherent distrust of window cleaners, and that anything I could do to separate myself in ways that would be perceived as 'respectable' would make all the difference (even if I believe that its only conspicuous consumption.)
Louis Eakins is a freelance writer and Jennifer Baum is editor of the Detroiter.
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|Title Annotation:||DAY IN THE LIFE|
|Author:||Eakins, Louis; Baum, Jennifer|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2009|
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