2020 Hero: Carolina Alvarez, President of J&S Building Maintenance, Inc.

carolina alvarez

This year has been tough on everyone. Running a business — let alone doing it successfully — is more challenging than ever. For this reason, it’s refreshing to meet entrepreneurs who are thriving despite everything that’s happened in 2020. 

And today, we’re putting the spotlight on one of them. 

Carolina Alvarez is the owner and president of J&S Building Maintenance Inc., a company that offers commercial and construction cleaning services.

Established by Alvarez just three years ago, J&S Building Maintenance, Inc. has seen rapid growth. The business has doubled in size year after year, and nothing — not even a global pandemic — curbed its success. 

That’s why we’re proud to recognize Alvarez as a "2020 Hero" in this year's 40 Under 40: Construction Champions of 2020. Aside from running a thriving business this year,  she has gone above and beyond to help her staff, clients, and community.

Even when crew availability was limited, she was committed to helping when asked and got things done. Alvarez led the move to add plexiglass to all workstations of her firm’s biggest clients, and was also able to quickly obtain PPE for all staff to keep them safe in the field, sometimes driving out of state to pick up items when needed.

Even more admirable, she is committed to paying it forward and has donated cleaning chemicals and consumables such as toilet paper and paper towels to local organizations.

In addition to being recognized as a 40 Under 40 Construction Champion, Alvarez was recently featured in the Professional Women Magazine for the great things she accomplished during the pandemic. 

We recently caught up with Carolina and chatted about the moves and initiatives she implemented during pandemic. 

Have a look at what she has to say. 

Tell us a little bit about J&S Building Maintenance, Inc. and what you specialize in.

I'm the owner of J&S Building Maintenance, Inc. We’re a commercial janitorial and post-construction cleaning company that’s based in Southern California, though we serve other states as well such as AZ, CO, MT, GA, PA, and more. We started the company in 2017, and just celebrated our three year anniversary in October. 

I started the business because I knew there was a need for a company that can communicate better. I built my team from the ground up and brought other people that I worked with in the industry who I knew were phenomenal.

Why do you think you were nominated to be a 40 Under 40: Construction Champion of 2020?

I think part of it was because of the growth of the business. Despite everything that’s happened in 2020, we actually grew this year, and that was quite unexpected.  

Like other businesses, we had to shut down and didn’t even know how we were going to make payroll. But little by little, our team came together. People stepped up and suggested a lot of helpful ideas. 

Another thing we have going for us is the fact that we communicate really well and openly. It has to do with communication, 100%. Be honest to your employees and be honest to clients. And by doing that you can come up with a good plan that everyone is on board with. 

Everything that we do, I feel like we do it as a team. That’s why I’m always saying “us” and “we.” Everyone played a part, and this wasn’t my individual achievement. 

From my understanding you were recently featured in the Professional Women Magazine because of your swift and impactful response to COVID-19, tell us more about that.

They were impressed with how we handled the pandemic.

While we did have to shut down in March and transitioned people to working from home, I knew that our clients were going to need extra cleaning at some point.

So I started doing research and I wanted to get ahead of what was to come. I looked at what was happening outside the United States and what people were doing in places like Europe. I started seeing all these foggers and sprayers, and I looked up all these new things. Soon, the CDC came out with their guidelines and the approved chemicals on the N-list, and these things were fairly new to the cleaning and disinfecting world. 

I anticipated that everyone was going to sell out quickly, so I went ahead and bought a bunch of cleaning chemicals. I bought the fogger and the sprayer, which ended up being $2,500 worth of equipment. 

Within 30 days, our construction sites were needing full PPE. They relied on us to get what was needed to comply with the guidelines and stay open. 

We delivered on what our clients needed, but everything sold out so quickly. So, I was literally calling everywhere, and driving to San Diego and Las Vegas to pick up all these chemicals and supplies that we needed. It was crazy.

But I think that was one of the things that our clients, particularly on the construction side, appreciated. They couldn’t go back to work unless we provided what they needed, so they were also apprehensive. 

The fear was, "Are you going to be able to provide what they're asking and what the city is asking?" Like I said, everything was sold out, but we found a way. There was no “I don’t know if I can do it. It’s going to be too hard.”

It was hard, yes. But the whole year — 2020 — is hard, right?

How do you continue to stay creative, dedicated, and empathetic at work?

The first thing is recognizing that we’re a team and communicating with each other. 

What do we need to do? What ideas do you have? What's going to make you feel safe to start with?

You need to ask those questions. Talk to your staff, see where they’re at, and accommodate their needs if necessary. 

Number two is thinking outside the box. Always consider the next step. Look at the companies that are thriving or pivoting to stay open. Consider the tools and equipment that will help you adapt. 

And again it’s a team effort. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

You have to say, “Hey you guys, if you hear of anything out there or see anything let me know.”

We did that in our company and we had to be creative with things like getting disposable gloves, because they weren’t available through the usual channels. We were on the Facebook Marketplace every week shopping around. 

I see that as being innovative in its own way. We didn’t limit our thinking to “Oh we can’t find anything on Staples or Costco…”. We found a way, and we found tools to help us.

And that’s my advice for staying creative and dedicated. Use social media, use your tools, use everything you have. If there's a will, there's a way for everything. You just have to find it.

When you look back at 2020, are there any silver linings, lessons learned, key takeaways?

The number one lesson is to have a more thorough emergency plan. 

Your emergency plan shouldn’t just be “Oh what if the internet went out.” That may have worked pre-2020, but if a pandemic or something similar happens again, you need to be prepared. Your business plan needs to expand to other types of emergencies and what to do in case of that, because who knows what will happen again?

In terms of silver linings, I think 2020 brought about new ideas, new ways of thinking, and lots of innovation. And it’s been amazing to see communities and teams come together.

I think it's the American way, right? Yes, a lot of terrible things happened in the last year, but when it comes down to businesses and people, I’m seeing communities coming together and coming up with amazing ideas and innovations.

Who have been your heroes this year? How have they made an impact on your life?

I keep coming back to communities because I think those who come together and do good despite everything that’s happened are some of the unsung heroes of this year. I really look up to those who have stepped up to save other businesses and help the less fortunate.

And we try to do our part. We actually work with some non-profits, such as Colette's Children Home. Earlier this year, we donated consumable products like toilet paper and paper towels, because we figured they needed it as a family shelter. Now we’re doing it again for a toy drive. 

Looking ahead to 2021 (and beyond) what do you think construction professionals and firms need to do to stay resilient?

Construction professionals and firms should focus on communication, innovation, and teamwork. Put your heads together. Don’t be afraid to say your ideas out loud.

Say things like “Have you tried this? “What can I do to help?”. Don’t keep it in.

Use your network, use your community, and find people to stand behind you. 

I’d also like to stress the importance of giving back. Sometimes we get so involved in our businesses and day-to-day that we lose sight of others who may be outside our network or daily lives. 

It would be great if we all came together and helped out. Share the wealth. And when I say that, I’m not just talking about money. I’m saying, share your knowledge, your ideas, your suggestions. Everybody has something to contribute. 

Alyssa Jaber

As Manager of Customer Marketing at Autodesk, Alyssa Jaber has been partnering with Autodesk customers in the construction space for 5+ years to build their brands and powerfully tell their stories. Alyssa is a human-first leader who supports a team of talented individuals who always put the customer experience first.