Granny ( Janet Bernard) would put me to sit down in the kitchen with a spoonful of molasses as a purge for my intestines in one hand and some sugar in the other. She would sit right next to me with a belt in her hand and watch me drink it. She liked everything clean. From the human body to the house. In fact the best skill she taught me was cleaning my room. She taught me how to make my bed, sweep and mop. Boy yuh miss ah spot, wipe it again, she would say. Granny wanted my room spick and span and couldn’t miss a dust spot because the cut tail would follow.
It’s a cool day in December and I am chatting with entrepreneur and former dancer, Akeem Bernard about his grandmother’s early teachings and how they inspired his career path. He didn’t turn out to be a pharmacist specialised in old remedies but he embarked upon an entrepreneurial journey as a cleaning specialist. Bernard’s brainchild business, Re-Arrange-by-Keem is a new approach to house cleaning and interior decorating. His story is one of discipline and determination, hardship and hope.
“Transforming homes into exquisite interior spaces was my passion growing up. Granny set the foundation for cleanliness and my artistic talents did the rest,” remembers the former pupil of Curepe Junior Secondary School.
“So cleaning is a talent?” I ask remembering my days dodging housework. Bernard responds with an affirmative smile.
As a teenager he gravitated to interior design. So much so that when he finished secondary school in 2013, he began work at Le Jardin Wedding and Events, his first taste of his dream job.
“I learned a lot at Le Jardin and gradually I developed skills to drape fabric for backdrops and build centrepieces for arrangements. My bosses, Kevin and Laura Thomas, constantly complimented me on the good work. They always commented that they were confident to leave me to work unsupervised. These commendations further developed my confidence,” Bernard recalls.
But in the midst of his journey he would take a detour as a dancer...and a good one at that. “Dancing was a natural skill to me. I remember practising with Preedy (Akeem Chance) and the Ambassador Dance group for my dance group’s first TV appearance on Synergy Night Live.
Everyone believed that Bernard would become a great dancer. Everyone but his granny. She envisioned him as a pioneer in the skills she imparted. So when her grandson created Re-Arrange-by-Keem, she wasn’t surprised.
With time Bernard’s business grew from a few clients to many. With the demands of contemporary living weighing heavily on house cleaning and beautification, the business savvy young man saw an opportunity to make his passion a profession.
“Did people make fun of the idea of a cleaning business?” I question him as it seems rare for a young man to pursue such a field of work. But within that distaste lurked a arena in which Bernard could vary his services and command his price in a business space where the demand was higher than the supply.
“I decided to take a jump into a career path many shy away from. Not many people like house cleaning. It was a niche I decided to make into my monopoly. Back then the demand for cleaning was growing but there weren’t many people supplying the services. What pushed my business as well the promotional work of Gillian Garcia, who has been inspirational in promoting my business on Instagram,” the Sangre Grande resident states proudly.
His mantra is to always stay open to positive and negative criticisms and to work on the negative to ensure it turns to a positive. It seems likely that as we approach the Christmas season, his positives in terms of sales will surely increase as people do their annual Yuletide house cleaning.
“So I guess you hands will be filled for Christmas?” I anticipate as Bernard wipes his brow in expectation of a bumper sales season.
He concludes our chat with sincere words: “For this Christmas and others to come I will take the opportunity to not only conduct high quality work but to thank Granny for opening my appetite for entrepreneurship. In the moment I can guarantee her a clean house but I can’t guarantee the gulp of the molasses!”