San Antonio entrepreneur leans on faith for success

While Emily Rhodes’ classmates daydreamed about roller-skating and rainbow-colored Lisa Frank posters, commerce was on her mind.

The eighth-grader at New Life Academy thought of how her mother bought candy in bulk at Sam’s Club and decided to parlay that purchase into a payday. She packed the candy in her backpack and sold the treats to classmates before lunchtime — $1.25 for a Twizzler, $1 for a pack of Skittles.

“I was always the one trying to find business in something,” said Rhodes, 35.

But there was one hitch — she hadn’t factored in her mother missing the cache of candy.

At age 11, Rhodes made a decision that guides her every day — she walked down the long center aisle at New Life Church and accepted the Lord.

Faith is the foundation for Rhodes’ life and her Christian-based business, Upright Cleaning. She’s one of San Antonio’s rising African American entrepreneurs, with a company that cleans construction sites, offices and realty properties in and beyond San Antonio.

Emily Rhodes is the founder and owner of Upright Cleaning Services, and she is one of San Antonio’s rising African American entrepreneurs with company cleans construction sites, offices and realty properties.

Robin Jerstad /Contributor

A 22-year veteran of the Air Force, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. Observing and listening across San Antonio, he finds intriguing tales to tell about everyday people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.


Wearing a hard hat, safety vest and steel-toed boots, Rhodes works with her team, pressure-washing surfaces, disinfecting rooms and stripping and waxing floors. But before the team starts work, she has everyone bow their heads and leads them in prayer.

Rhodes said her 15-member team has cleaned hospitals, fast-food franchises and the recently restored City Hall. Contracts also have included work with the Border Patrol, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Rivercenter mall and SeaWorld.

From 2005 to 2006, she attended the University of Houston, but she felt there was another venture to pursue. So during the summer, Rhodes worked at a financial firm to earn $4,000 to buy a Dodge Neon. Then came an exit strategy from the company that she knew wouldn’t fulfill her ambitions.

Thirteen years ago, Rhodes tried selling vacuum cleaners door to door. After her first sale, she learned the customer had bad credit. She turned to a temporary services agency for employment. That resulted in three callbacks. Rhodes picked a telemarketing company. On the second day, the company shut her division down. She said that in hindsight, those jobs were not meant to be.

“I’m learning to be grateful for the open doors and the closed doors,” Rhodes said.

Emily Rhodes is the founder and owner of Upright Cleaning Services, and she is one of San Antonio's rising African American entrepreneurs with company cleans construction sites, offices and realty properties.

Emily Rhodes is the founder and owner of Upright Cleaning Services, and she is one of San Antonio’s rising African American entrepreneurs with company cleans construction sites, offices and realty properties.

Robin Jerstad /Contributor

Her heart’s desire was not to come home on the holidays without gifts for her family. She put an ad for general cleaning on Craig’s List and had two responses; one read, “HELP! MOM WITH LAZY KIDS!” She cleaned both homes and made $200 that day.

Carolyn Spencer, an older friend, told her there was money to make in the cleaning industry. Rhodes bought two books: “Jump Into Janitorial” and “Construction Cleanup.” Rhodes reached out to Ron Piscatelli, author of “Jump Into Janitorial,” for help. After sending emails and handing out business cards, Rhodes was cleaning three houses a day.

The next year, Rhodes was referred to a landscape business owner, Hector Garcia. He asked her to partner with him on a janitorial contract for the Border Patrol in eight cities. During the 90-day probation period, Rhodes was involved in hiring workers and training them on her way of cleaning.

Rhodes prayed for guidance to start her own business. And when she decided to clean construction sites, her mother, Tina Jackson, 53, asked for specifics. Rhodes drew up a plan and presented it. Jackson said her daughter started with small sites, got her certification and license, and bloomed from there.

“She’s always been a go-getter,” Jackson said. “When she locks her mind on something, she can do it. I’m so proud of her.”

On Rhodes’ mantle sits a photo of her grandmother, Sara Watson, who cleaned homes in New York state. It reminds Rhodes that she’s expanding her ancestor’s legacy for the next generation.

She credits mentors who have helped her, like Mindy Jackson, who shared insights about the industry.

Businessman Frank Dunn first met Rhodes at a networking lunch. Impressed by her drive, he said he would probably ask her for a job one day.

Emily Rhodes is the founder and owner of Upright Cleaning Services, and she is one of San Antonio's rising African American entrepreneurs with company cleans construction sites, offices and realty properties.

Emily Rhodes is the founder and owner of Upright Cleaning Services, and she is one of San Antonio’s rising African American entrepreneurs with company cleans construction sites, offices and realty properties.

Robin Jerstad /Contributor

“I want other young ladies that look like her to know that they can do this kind of work,” Dunn said. “There’s a whole industry of everything out there.”

He recalled visiting Rhodes when she was trying to get a contract on a hotel south of the city. With hard hats on, Dunn watched as Rhodes talked to the prospective client, explaining her team’s work process. The man asked Dunn when he was going to say anything.

“That’s her company,” Dunn replied.

Rhodes got the contract.

Her being the only woman on site has been a learning experience for some clients. Rhodes has had moments when clients have addressed her as “sweetie” or “honey.” She’ll respond that maybe they forgot her name is Emily Rhodes.

“It’s a kind correction to let them know I’m not that person,” Rhodes said. “Don’t disrespect me or disrespect yourself.”

Now, she’s sharing her philosophy of being bold but humble. She created Kingdom Business Classes, an eight-week online streaming class to help others start their own businesses.

Rhodes said she’s learned grace from her team leaders and workers. She’s had team members who have overcome life’s struggles, such as drug addiction, and she loves to see them turn their lives around.

“There’s not a day that we don’t need a second chance,” Rhodes said. “Why not give it to someone else?”

Team leader John Wall, 48, said working with Rhodes has been an education.

“I just enjoy the work,” Wall said. “It’s a good opportunity. We’re looking for that differential between when we walk in, and we want a wow effect when we walk out.”

Rhodes celebrates her team’s milestones, birthdays and the Christmas holiday. At the end of each job, the woman who stepped out on faith joins workers to inspect the site for any last touch-ups.

“I love when they see a project done,” Rhodes said, “and spending time with them and saying, ‘Wow, we did this.’”

vtdavis@express-news.net

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