Alex landed an opportunity right outside of high school but it was his character and willingness to work beyond his own responsibilities that opened the doorway to running his own business. Driven by a passion to provide structure and ensure efficiency, Alex is now calling his own shots which includes building intentional relationships in the workplace.

LOCAL 219: Hi Alex. I know you’re a small business owner but I really don’t understand the type of business it is.

ALEX ARWOOD: So I own a business called Industrial Housekeeping Services which is a very generic broad name because I plan on doing a lot more than what I’m doing. The main thing we do now is a vacuum truck service. It’s an industrial vacuum truck with a six inch hose. We’ve got a steady account we’re at five days a week and we just clean up all the excess dust that falls off the conveyor system onto the floor.

L219: Where is this at?

AA: South Chicago.

L219: So it’s that same location?

AA: Five days a week.

L219: All year long?

AA: Yeah.

L219: How long have you been doing this type of work?

AA: We just finished our third week. So it’s a new company, but there’s a story behind it.

L219: Give me a quick summary.

AA: So I came up to Chicago from Tennessee for a six week job seven years ago. I was turning wrenches, welding, just doing mechanical industrial work, and the facility we were working at could never find any spare parts to fix their equipment so I reorganized their entire warehouse, all their store rooms, implemented a barcode system, and through that started my own business doing inventory for them.

L219: So what was your position when you were doing all of that?

AA: I created my own position. I was literally fixing the equipment, and then in my free time I would go and organize their warehouse.

L219: You just realized the systems weren’t in place so you took the initiative and said, “I’m gonna do something about it?”

AA: Right. So I was doing that as a contractor, and I figured that I could do it better if I worked for myself so I gave them rates and they said okay. Then I got my insurance, business license and all that. Recently they were bought out by a European company and corporate said, “hey, you got to cut your costs.” I was one of the costs that got cut. The management at the plant didn’t want to lose me; they knew that I had quoted some other work and I was trying to offer other services so they said, “Can you quote the service again and when can you start?”

I already had a little bit of knowledge of the vacuum stuff and I wasn’t worried about it so I was like, ‘okay, no problem.’ Then they asked if I would train one of their people to do that job. Most people wouldn’t do that after being told they were being let go, but that was the plan the whole time; to get them set up so they could operate better and be more efficient.

L219: How did you first enter the industry?

AA: So right out of high school, I had a cousin that smoked weed with the son of a foreman of a refractory company, and one thing led to another. He got a job, then my brother worked him, and he got a job. So, my brother closed his mattress store and as soon as I graduated high school I went on the road and I was working with them too.

L219: Okay, so you first started with them.

AA: Yeah, I started doing that, which allowed me to travel all over the country. Working in that industry you get to meet a lot of people.

From when I started in 2005 to when I quit doing refractory probably five or six years ago on the regular, you could see the decline in the craftsmanship-quality of people and it’s like that across the board because we’re running out of men. Like we don’t have strong men in the workplace anymore. It’s one of the reasons that I wanted to start this company that I’m doing now.

My supervisor had said the same thing. He’s had a really rough life, but his heart is so good. He also wanted to help younger men that have grown up hard; help them to make it in life, and help them realize what true masculinity looks like.

L219: What gets you out of bed in the morning? What gets you excited for the day?

AA: I mean, now I’m responsible for the income of three people, plus myself, plus providing for my family. So, there’s a drive that comes with not only being a provider for my family, but being a provider for others and their families.

L219: Who has been one of the biggest influences in your life?

AA: Throughout my life definitely my father. Like the work ethic that I have, the integrity that I have. That directly comes from him. He always worked even if he was between jobs, he had something going on. We always had everything we needed and we may not have had extra at times, but we always had what we needed.

L219: What has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way in your career?

AA: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Don’t take the shortcut, and don’t try to sell anything you wouldn’t buy. So, if I wouldn’t pay for that service, I’m not gonna sell that service.

L219: I completely agree with that mindset. I’ve had people tell me I’d be great in sales, but if I don’t believe in a product or service, and I’m not passionate about it, I can’t force it upon someone or convince them to purchase it. What do you enjoy most about your position as a business owner?

AA: The relationships I get to build with the guys that I have now. Even before I did this, when I was doing the inventory stuff I didn’t really have anybody tell me what to do. Nobody checked up on me, I just did it. So if somebody came into my office and wanted to talk I could just drop everything I’m doing and talk and build a relationship.

A lot of people don’t have that opportunity, or they don’t want that opportunity, you know. They just want to go to work and be done, but when you share some stuff and then you have somebody come in and they’re like telling you what’s going on in their life, how they see things, and they’re say, “I really don’t understand what’s going on, but I know God’s got something to do with it, and I didn’t know anybody else that I could talk to here.” That told me I was on the right track.

L219: Do you feel like you saw a significant positive change in your staff when you started intentionally building relationships?

AA: Absolutely. For sure.





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