Starting Fresh … and Clean
It is not the kind of surprise anyone likes to get, but when Shariah Brown was informed by her longtime employer that due to a joint venture merge, she was going to be let go, it did not take her too long to take a step of faith and open a business of her own.
After doing some research into businesses that would have a low overhead cost, she decided to pursue professional cleaning and also decided that the perfect partner would be her younger sister.
“I pitched my business plan to her, and she decided to jump in with me. Our mom was an entrepreneur; she taught social graces and modeling and ran her own business. So we thought we could give it a go together.”
Almost 15 years later, they’re still going strong.
Brown, a Harrisburg native and graduate of Harrisburg Area Community College, drew upon her sales experience from her former employment, and that, combined with her background in human services, helped get Personal Touch Cleaning Services, LLC on its feet.
Today, they have several trusted employees working with them. At first, though, the brunt of the responsibility fell to Brown and her sister.
“Originally we started doing janitorial and housekeeping,” says Brown. “At night we cleaned buildings. When you own your own company, your reputation is on the line, and there were times when you get that midnight call that [an employee] can’t make it to work, but you must get the job done before the next day, so you will be the one to fill in. It doesn’t help your reputation if you can’t get the job done.”
Brown had taken another fulltime job after being let go, which happened at the same time she opened the cleaning business. However, she soon discovered that the cleaning business was definitely more financially rewarding.
“My time was being consumed by a job where I could have made the same salary working two days a week with the cleaning business,” Brown said. “I decided I couldn’t do both.”
And so she decided to pursue the cleaning business exclusively.
It wasn’t always easy.
“Business has its challenges, but in those days, we didn’t see the challenges,” Brown said. “We were writing the book — writing down what problems we experienced and creating solutions along the way.”
Personal Touch, which is a certified construction and commercial cleaner, has since developed quite the reputation specializing in universities, retail locations, box stores, apartment buildings, estate cleaning, and even construction cleaning.
“In construction cleaning, every vertical structure must be professionally cleaned after renovations,” she said.
It is imperative that the clients she works with trust her company to do a good job, which means it is important that Brown can trust her team to work on keeping up the excellent reputation that Personal Touch has achieved.
“Year round, we have people working with us, and that number changes based on the projects we have — but we always have [core] people with us that we trust and can rely on. Our supervisor, for example, has been with us since the very beginning. Our people are skilled, they are professionals, and they work together to get the job done right,” she said.
The time came for the Personal Touch team to move their offices, which ended up being in the same building where the African American Chamber of Commerce also had their offices. That move triggered another very important chapter in Brown’s life: her service as chairwoman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania.
“They met me there at the building,” Brown said. “I made some suggestions and found that I had a lot of ideas I could share, and so they asked me to get involved on the board, which led to my current position as chairwoman.”
Brown said that serving as chairwoman, in addition to serving as president of Personal Touch, keeps her quite busy.
“It’s like working two full-time jobs,” she said.
As chair of the chamber, Brown represents more than 1,000 minority entrepreneurs and corporate partners in Harrisburg and the surrounding areas. It is her goal to advocate for those individuals and help bring educational programs, personal growth, development, and networking opportunities to them.
Currently, Brown is also serving on the Governor’s Advisory Board for Diversity and Inclusion, where she works toward helping others have a better understanding of what those terms truly mean. At Gov. Wolf’s suggestion, a committee was formed to help address some of the disparity in regard to culture inside of Pennsylvania, something that she supported completely.
Brown said that her personal goal is to “be as effective an individual as I can be inside of my community and inside my culture. People need to find a way to create their own worth … when cultures come together, and you want to learn about other cultures, it’s beautiful.”
But she also said that sadly, the color that often wins when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the world of business is not a human color.
“It’s the color green — the color green often seems to win,” she said.
Today, Brown is a successful businessperson and a professional who works diligently and effectively with her local government. Yet she can look back upon that time of uncertainty, when she lost what she thought was her “forever” job and decided to take the plunge as a business owner, as a turning point in her life. It was then that she realized a few things about herself.
“I learned that I can survive outside of a job,” Brown said. “It’s really scary, and it takes a lot of faith … sometimes God takes you down that road so you can learn how resilient he made you,” she said. “It can take a while to get comfortable in that stage, but it’s so worth it.”