Leny Day, a former secretary in Abu Dhabi , now runs a Dubai-based cleaning services company that earns millions of dirhams and is the recipient of small business awards.
Filipina expatriate cleans up in Dubai
Working two jobs is a reality for many expatriates who move to the UAE to support their families back home.
That was the case for Leny Day when she arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1985, aged 21, from rural Tarlac province in the northern Philippines.
She made Dh900 a month, working as a receptionist from 4pm until midnight at the Khalidiya Palace Hotel, then from 8am until 1pm as a secretary at a travel agency.
With her free time taken up, she had little energy to consider launching her own enterprise.
Twenty-eight years later, Mrs Day’s life has changed dramatically. Her company – Smashing! Cleaning Services, which she owns – generates millions of dirhams in revenues. And this month, the company won the MasterCard Small Business of the Year and the Sustainable Initiative of the Year awards at the Gulf Capital SMEinfo Awards, while Mrs Day herself won recognition as the Regus Business Leader of the Year.
As with many other heads of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Mrs Day’s entrepreneurial success story is built on perseverance and family support – in this case, including her Welsh husband, James Day.
While Mrs Day acknowledges that she has come a long way and hopes to expand her business from Dubai to other emirates, she insists it has to be at her own pace.
“I am not a businessperson, but there’s no harm in trying,” says the 49-year-old. “When you achieve something, it’s the fulfilment that I enjoy.”
Mrs Day slowly worked her way up the career ladder as she moved from one secretarial job to another in Abu Dhabi. She met Mr Day in 1994 and they married two years later. In 2000, the couple and their two children moved to Dubai, where Mrs Day launched her first enterprise.
The cleaning services company, which will celebrate a decade in business in January, arose from a family need. Mrs Day, who used to send money home to support her family, thought that setting up her own company would help her employ some of her relatives. A cleaning services company was the first idea that came to her. And after she had the windows of her Jumeirah villa cleaned for Dh600 in 2003, she realised that she could do the same job better and cheaper.
With Dh100,000 in money she had saved up, Mrs Day founded Smashing! Cleaning Services in 2004 by employing her brother, cousin and a neighbour from her native village in the Philippines. They all lived with her initially.
The venture, which began as a window cleaning company, secured its first customer, Bookworm on Al Wasl Road. The company received Dh80 to clean five windows and the signboards per visit.
Within six months, the company’s services expanded to cleaning billboards, and it made Dh20,000 a month. Shortly afterwards, the firm took on contracts to clean water tanks and kitchen chimneys for schools, hotels and hospitals, as well as pipeline disinfection, beach and lagoon cleaning and post-construction work.
By 2009, Mrs Day employed 12 people and had more than 200 clients.
During her days driving around local neighbourhoods dropping flyers, she took along her daughter and son – now 16 and 19 respectively – for their company and assistance.
“Even now, my son works as a storekeeper downstairs when he comes home during college breaks in England, and my daughter answers the telephone,” Mrs Day says. “It’s so that they understand that life is not easy and what we are doing here.”
In the early days of the business Mrs Day did not pay herself; today she makes Dh25,000 a month. “And 100 per cent of the profits,” quips her husband, 49.
“Like any marriage, one person has to give up a little bit, which is why I left the business to Leny and I give technical support,” Mr Day says. “Day-to-day management and shouting is her problem.”
Last year, the company made a profit of Dh3 million on revenues of Dh8m. It employs 65 people and is recruiting 10 more by February.
This year, the company has already achieved revenues of Dh6m.
Mrs Day’s business success looks set to continue, as commercial customers including Emirates Airline, Dubai Municipality, Mubadala and Brookfield Multiplex make up 60 per of her clientele, while residents in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah make up the balance.
“Now, I am choosy with the clients,” says Mrs Day, who reckons there are more than 500 cleaning services companies in Dubai. “But I don’t compete in pricing, not to the point of losing money.”