Thursday, February 19, 2015

Two Paths - One Dream: Lavender Wachira and May Lebo

Congratulations to our friends May and Lavender of MayLav Cleaners! Their immigrant success story was selected as the winning entry for the Pittsburgh region by the WE Global Network - and is published in a new book of 11 inspiring stories of successful immigrant entrepreneurs from across the Rust Belt. This is their story.

We are May Lebo & Lavender Wachira, and we are the faces behind MayLav Elite Cleaning, a residential, commercial, post-construction and party/event cleaning company.

May was raised in a small farm town called Kitale, also known as the granary of Kenya because of the large-scale maize/corn farming they do. Lavender was raised in Nairobi, Kenya’s Capital - we like to describe it as mini New York.

May left Kenya in 2004 to pursue a degree in communications at Point Park University in Pittsburgh PA. She enjoyed the experience that a new city brought and was happy to start a new life here. Lavender was working in Kenya for a few years after her undergraduate degree and decided to pursue an MBA to further her career, and incidentally picked Point Park University.

We met on campus in 2009, and a friendship sparked instantly. May had also decided to pursue her master’s degree and we continued to forge our friendship in class.

After graduating we sought employment in order to experience working in corporate America. We worked for two years and that gave us the experience, capital and confidence needed to start our own business.

We live in two different parts of Pittsburgh, Lavender in the West End and May the East End, which is good because it has allowed us to understand and anticipate the needs in the neighborhoods we reside in.

The Day...
A typical MayLav Day would probably start at 5 a.m. with us messaging each other back and forth over ideas that we may have. We brainstorm over them, knock some of them off but keep the ones that are more feasible. We then discuss jobs, walk-through appointments, pick up times, or meet up times and which crew member is available. Then probably complain about the cold. See, we grew up in a country with only two seasons: rainy and dry season. Several years of being in Pittsburgh and we are yet to get used to the chill.

The Job…
At the job site, the first thing we do is carry the equipment and supplies in and then assign floors or rooms if necessary. For the next three to four hours our interaction is minimal as everyone is busy, except of course, for the occasional approval or disapproval of a song choice. We like to play music as we work. Something about music, the right tempo and energy gives us drive and keeps our spirits up as we work. When we are done cleaning we do a final walk-through and make sure everything is sparkling and that we haven’t left anything out of place.

After the Job…
We head home, change out of our uniform into business casual attire, and visit a potential client at their site for a prescheduled walk-through to establish a quote. A walk-through is usually our first in-person contact with the client and as such we aspire to make the best first impression. The walk-through lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. One thing we hope our client can take away from meeting us is our authenticity, which is seen through our personalities and references. During the walkthrough we take the opportunity to learn about the client’s needs and tailor the quote to suit their budget and expectations.

Small Business Support…
In order to support small businesses we make a conscious effort to hold our after-walk-through meeting at a startup or small business coffee shop or restaurant. We then draft a formal cleaning proposal that is sent to the client.

Happy hour…
In the evenings we either meet up with a mentor or attend a networking event. We have learned that our business is very personal and word of mouth is the main avenue for attaining new business. We try to attend many events, meet other business owners in our field, and have memberships in different networking groups.

We have noticed that our accents act as a perfect icebreaker and this gives those we interact with an opportunity to get to know us better. “Do I hear an accent?” or “Where are you from originally?” or “Why Pittsburgh?” are common questions posed to us. We welcome these questions as they give us a chance to tell our story, and this helps build a better rapport between the client and us.

We take pride in our work because we are building what we like to call “our empire” and our mission is to provide excellent products and services while inspiring others. We want to live our lives by example and that’s why we work side by side with our employees and are open to suggestions they may have to improve our services.

We attribute our hard work and desire to deliver the best in what we do to our upbringing. Our parents, through example, instilled in us diligence, honesty, and accountability, which have proved invaluable while running a business.

CLICK HERE for the online version of this story and all of the winners.

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