Service disabled veterans use drive & determination to launch businesses

(Last Updated On: January 7, 2015)

As a child, Naomi Scales remembers dreaming of owning a private club for affluent blacks that would allow free access to the low-income individuals in the Chicago-area projects where she grew up.

Her path took a different turn that led her into the military where she served in the United States Coast Guard as administrative support during the First Gulf War.  Suffering a chronic shoulder injury during a rifle training drill, Scales was later dismissed from the service on an honorable discharge in 1998.

She worked for a number of years for the U.S. Postal Service, not realizing her injury qualified her for veterans’ benefits, until a co-worker, a former member of the military, pointed her to the Veterans Administration.marfrancleaning

“I went almost five years not realizing that it was a qualifying injury because it wasn’t in combat,” says Scales.

She applied and was approved for a service-related disability. But her desire to own a business had never left her mind.

In 2008, she left the postal service behind to start her own commercial cleaning business, MarFran Cleaning, LLC., named after her daughters, Demarcia and Francisca.

Since that time her janitorial business has grown from two part-time staff members to 12 full-time and 15 part-time employees in 2011. The company experienced a 30—40 percent increase in revenues each year, earning $19 to $20,000 in 2006 and growing to $600,000 in 2011, according to Scales. The growth of the business captured the attention of Goldman Sachs and garnered she and her business partner an invite to participate in the company’s 10,000 Small Businesses program.

The program provides a select group of entrepreneurs from across the country access to business education, financial capital and business support services to help them  grow and create jobs. The company has also been selected to participate in the University of Texas Systems Mentor/Protégé program, designed to help small businesses become bigger players in their industries.

The Journey

In her first four years, Scales secured primarily government cleaning contracts, including divisions of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. Corp of Engineers and the Port of Houston. She also registered in the Veterans Service Disabled Directory.

“The pride that the country now takes in their veterans is off the chain.  When they saw that I was a service disabled veteran, it qualified me for so m any more ’set aside’ projects,” says Scales, who calls the directory the “lifeline” of her business.

Scales believed she had the  “Golden Touch” because of the praise her business received and because “so much was going so well.”

2012 is the first year that her business has not experienced growth, shares Scales. She describes the cleaning business as “a very competitive industry with highs and lows like any other industry.”

“You don’t know really how good of a company you have until you hit those valleys,” says Scales.

She is undaunted and remains optimistic on her company’s future potential.

“I think in 10 years, we are going to be a major player in the facility maintenance industry,” says Scales.

She is now focused on going after more commercial cleaning contracts and expanding to a full-service facility maintenance business.

“We want to service your whole building from your parking lot to your light bulbs.  We want to be your full-service recycling, cleaning, maintenance business—whatever you need done—we can do it,” says Scales.

For more information, call 713-984-7651 or visit www.marfrancleaning.com.

Visit the Wounded Warriors Veteran-Owned Business Directory  at www.veteransdirectory.com.

Ceola Curley took a six foot fall from the back of a military vehicle at Fort Bliss, where he served as a radio operator carrier attendant, changing the course of his military career.

Honorably discharged in 1991, he returned to civilian life. He entered the ministry and served as pastor of Blueridge Baptist Church in Houston and then started Kingdom Building Fellowship Church, where he currently pastors.

“I knew I had to do something to supplement my income and I had gone to school for business construction technology at Mephis State Institute.

After a brief stint in insurance sales, the Houston pastor decided to launch his own construction firm, Kingdom Building Construction, LLC, in 2008. His company provides new residential and multi-family construction services, remodeling, painting, roof and demolition and debris removal. In the aftermath of Katrina, the need for his company’s services escalated with calls for roofing and plumbing repairs, but the demand for construction services has since slowed down.

Last year he was certified to be listed in the Veterans Service Disabled Directory and hopes to begin benefiting from directory referrals. He is certified through the city of Houston to receive contracts as well and also is registered with the Veteran’s Administration’s Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program.

Through his company, Curley retrofits homes for disabled veterans and individuals who have suffered disabling health challenges, such as strokes or heart attacks. The 61-year-old disabled veteran’s company recently retrofitted the home of a stroke victim.

“She was unable to walk or stand in the bathtub, so we modified the bathroom to make it more accessible,” says Curley.

The company also installs rails and entry ramps to homes, widens doors, retrofits bathrooms to make the handicap accessible, and lowers light switches to make them more accessible. His contractors can also install chair elevators.

“We try to enhance their lives and make it possible for them to do what they did before their disability,” says Curley.

He also shares information with fellow veterans on available grants that they can apply for to modify their homes. The Houston pastor rests on his faith and is believing that the company is going to turn around.

“There are great things I want to do for the community and for the people in the community,” says Curley.

As his company struggles to regain its momentum, he is thankful for Veteran’s Administration programs that have been put in place to assist disabled veterans and others.

“I am grateful for what they are doing for military personnel because we don’t realize what they go through, especially for those who go into harms way in war.  They are coming back with PTSD, emotional issues and some have lost loved ones, relationships and businesses,” says Curley.

He also is working to establish a foundation to help veterans start businesses. Called VETS AMANC—which stands for Army, Marine, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard—the foundation will solicit funding to help homeless veterans, those in transition or formerly incarcerated, find shelter.  The foundation also will help provide clothing and job and computer training for veterans.

His ultimate goal is to secure a tract of land and a local facility that will allow him to train veterans to perform jobs in the construction industry.

“The majority have to go out to Dallas to train, but I want to bring that same type of facility here where they can do on–the-job training here and then be able to help them connect with a company that needs their ability,” says Curley.

For more information, call 713-419-6997 or 713-741-1115.