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Cleaning Up

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The day Steve Engelhard agreed to have his commercial cleaning firm, Pro-Pride Inc., take care of the cleaning for 13 food areas of the Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, he never would have guessed the job would earn him $6,000 more than his set fee.

Sound like a problem you'd like to have? The issue wasn't the money, but the incredible volume of work proposed by Host Marriott Services, a food and retail concessionaire located in travel and entertainment venues. "I didn't have any crews, but I had a large Yellow Pages ad, and they thought I was a lot bigger than I actually was," recalls Engelhard, 41, of the 1994 job. "I told them to go to the next person on their list, and they all shook their heads no. If I didn't do it, they would have to." Engelhard had planned to bid only for the experience of bidding until he realized he could set his price. Then he got serious, calling other cleaning companies and ultimately securing commitments from 15 companies for the weekend job.

"Up to that point, I was a hands-on type of owner. I pitched in with employees even on medium-sized jobs. This time it was different because I had to have 13 locations done over a two-night period, so I divided it up into three crews on two separate concourses," Engelhard says. "I [appointed] crew leaders and walked back and forth between the crews."

And he proved his knack for subcontracting wasn't a one-time deal: The Monday after the airport job, he submitted a bid on a large building complex and hired one of the subcontractors he had worked with on the airport cleanup to man the job. "I basically turned the job over to him. That's how easy it is if you can find good subcontractors," Engelhard says. "I did more and more subcontracting and was able to get out of a lot of the headaches you tend to have with employees." Subcontracting proved to be the ticket to success and rapid growth for Engelhard: This year, Buford, Georgia-based Pro-Pride expects to bring in $500,000 in sales.

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