Before the doctors, nurses and patients arrive at the new Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville, Mary Coffey makes sure the hospital is ready to open its doors. Coffey isn’t a local building inspector, she is president of All-Purpose Cleaning Services, Inc., an industrial cleaning corporation which was awarded the final construction cleanup contract for the hospital. “I clean everything up before they (the tenants) move in,” the Crafton resident said.
While cleaning up might not be considered glamorous, Coffey literally has been cleaning up Pittsburgh for the past 30 years and parlayed a job as a nanny into a million-dollar business. Not bad for a woman who dropped out of Langley High School at 17. “I got pregnant and couldn’t finish school with my classmates,” she stated. “A year later, I was married and two years later I had baby number two.”
In 1978 Mary and her twin sister Martha opened the Mary and Martha Cleaning Service. They did it with $35, a sweeper and a few cleaning supplies. Two years later, she formed her own company – All-Purpose Cleaning Services, Inc. “I was always interested in business, as a child I sold candy apples,” she explained. “I wanted bigger and better things for myself and the excitement of owning a big business.”
Along the way, Mary had some assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Pittsburgh District Office. She entered the Agency’s 8(a) program in 1985.The purpose of the 8(a) program is to promote equal access for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals to participate in the business sector of the nation’s economy. Individuals must make a nine-year commitment, during which time they receive business development assistance, access to government opportunities and technical support.
Coffey said the SBA helped her to better market her company. She began attending seminars and networking at marketing events. “When a business enters our 8(a) program we teach them marketing techniques, because they are the best salesperson for their company,” said Barbara Fisher, deputy district director of the Pittsburgh District SBA.. “We can’t guarantee government work, but, instead we show them how to enter the government market – it’s then up to them to market their product or service.”
“For the first four years, I really didn’t go out and sell myself,” Coffey explained. “Finally, I got my first big contract cleaning the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh.” Other contracts soon followed, including the Pittsburgh International Airport and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Today, Coffey serves as president and estimator of All-Purpose Cleaning Services, Inc., and Multi-Purpose Cleaning and oversees a staff of more than 80 people.
Donning a suit, hardhat and boots, Coffey goes on site visits to bid on contracts. “I’m always the only woman there,” she said laughing. “In fact, I once took an excavating class and the men were saying ‘why is she here, she’s a cleaning lady’…But, of all of those men there, I’m the only one still in business.”
Note: For more information on the SBA’s programs, please contact the SBA Western Pennsylvania District Office at 412-395-6560.
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