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Stockbroker Gave Up Trading to Keep Buildings Clean

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Darren Williams was working as a stock broker in Atlanta when he came across a calling that seemed much more lucrative: janitorial services.

“I thought, ‘We’re paying someone $30,000 or $40,000 a month to get this building clean?,’ ” he said. “That amount of money caught my attention.”

A few years later, Williams packed a U-Haul truck, moved to Prince George’s County and bought an Anago master franchise for $100,000. He and two partners have been running the local arm of the company, which specializes in commercial cleanings, since 2003.

“In the beginning, we wore five hats each,” Williams said. “It took about two years for us to get out of the gate, to be profitable.”

This year, Williams’ franchise was the official cleaning service of the Citi Open, formerly known as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. For nine days beginning July 28, the company had 30 people emptying trash cans, cleaning bleachers and restocking bathrooms and locker rooms. Workers collected nearly 400 bags of trash a day — enough to fill six 30-yard-long dumpsters in less than three days.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Dan Laufer, director of operations for the Citi Open. “The stadium fills up, people are eating and drinking. They’re moving around and throwing things away. Sometimes [Anago staffers] are here until 3:30 or 4 in the morning — sometimes until dawn — depending on the amount of trash there is.”

Much of Anago’s business, though, comes from regular clients — bowling alleys that need cleaning seven nights a week, or embassies and offices that hire the company for weeknight services. Last year, the local franchise brought in $2.5 million in revenue.

“Some of the larger embassies, they’re constantly having events — luncheons, banquets, tours,” Williams said. “It’s like working in a museum. We clean the carpets, dust the shelves, polish the brass.”

Williams currently oversees 48 franchise owners in the area, with a total of about 120 employees.

For a while during the recession, Williams said clients began cutting back on cleanings.

“The five-times-a-week companies went down to three days,” he said. “The three-day people cut back to one day. And the one-day customers realized that this was probably a luxury and they could just have their kids do it.”

Business has since picked up, and Williams counts Amtrak and Jenny Craig, as well as the embassies of Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia as clients.

“For most of us, we just don’t consider who cleans the building after we leave,” Williams said. “You come in in the morning and see that your trash has been emptied, and that’s about it. But there are so many moving parts. So many things that happen overnight.”

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