Dust to Dawn entrepreneur uses success, lessons to empower local women

Sarah Opara-Nadi made the leap to self-employment in 2011, founding Dust to Dawn, which provides professional services to residential and commercial clients in Fayette and Shelby Counties and North Mississippi.

Sarah Opara-Nadi honed a diverse skill during her tenure as a production supervisor at Memphis-based Wright Medical Group, where she did everything from handling human tissue to packing and shipping orthopedic medical devices.

She was originally sent to the company by Manpower as a temporary worker, but worked her way up to supervising other employees.

“As I became a coordinator, I started scheduling people in different areas and making sure the product went out on time,” said Opara-Nadi. “I worked in so many areas because it went from the floor to inspection to packaging and shipping.”

But the company began downsizing in 2011, and although her position was not eliminated, Opara-Nadi was feeling uncertain about sticking with the company. She enjoyed her work there, but felt a backup plan was necessary for her sense of security.

“I was just afraid it wasn’t going to last, and I had to look for other opportunities,” she said.

Opara-Nadi began seeking new employment and considered relocating for another position in the medical device field, while also researching other industries that might provide her with more peace of mind.

Her research led her to the cleaning industry. She said she knew it was something she could do well, given her innate attention to detail, excellent people skills and a work ethic based on time-management, organization and efficiency.

Opara-Nadi made the leap to self-employment in 2011, founding Dust to Dawn, which provides professional services to residential and commercial clients in Fayette and Shelby Counties and North Mississippi.

Dust to Dawn’s motto is “Do it right the first time.” Her goal is to simplify the lives of busy clients through dependable service, attention to detail and flexible scheduling, all at a fair price.

“I think about what I’m going to do when I come to your house, what I can do to improve things for you, and in a timely manner,” she said. “That’s how you operate a business. So much is about time.”

It took her some time to build up her client base, and there are times when she said she nearly gave up.

“I was a little naïve because I thought it would be a piece of cake,” said Opara-Nadi, who invested in some advertising, which was costly and usually only resulted in one or two new clients. “I threatened to give up so many times because it was hard. It was difficult to break into it.”

But business unexpectedly took off practically overnight when she offered a deal on cleaning services for new customers through Groupon.

“I ended up with about 25 clients,” she said. “It was hard though because I had no idea I’d get that many customers. It was overwhelming.”

Among those first customers was Katie Midgley, a busy nonprofit specialist who had struggled for years to find a dependable local cleaning service.

“Folks would always cancel or show up late, or I wouldn't be pleased with the work quality,” Midgley said. “Then along came Sarah – a true gem. She arrives early for each appointment and sends me a reminder when she's coming. She’s a great communicator, always accessible to her customers, and she consistently goes above and beyond.”

Opara-Nadi said she always finishes each job with one unexpected service, such as cleaning out a closet or organizing shoes.

“I do something extra all the time,” she said. “The customer may not notice it, but I know. It might be something we haven’t discussed. The small things count.”

Opara-Nadi has added personal organizing to her company’s services. Her work in the medical device industry involved constant organizing, sorting through pallets and preparing shipments in an orderly fashion.

“My brain can’t function unless everything is where I need it,” she said, adding that she bases her organizational methods on the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.

“People are overwhelmed, and I go in and talk to them about making sure everything has its own place,” she said. “I take that approach to organizing garages, kitchens – whatever they need.”

Dust to Dawn currently has 10 employees, five of whom are her siblings. The other five are single women for whom she wanted to provide an opportunity to help get their lives on track.

Opara-Nadi was a widow and raised her daughter, now 30, as single mother.

“I have a special place in my heart for women who are trying to juggle everything, and I want to help them carry their burdens, because people helped me,” she said.

Opara-Nadi employed one woman to provide her with flexible work while she pursued her GED, teaching her new skills and ultimately placing her in charge of two other employees to gain managerial experience.

She also hired a woman who had trouble finding work because of a lack of transportation. Opara-Nadi picked her up in Frayser and dropped her off at the end of each workday.  

Both former employees have since gone on to attend college.

 “I have a turnover but that’s good because it means they’re pursuing their goals,” said Opara-Nadi. “They just need some positivity, some hope.”

She said she plans to continue to expand Dust to Dawn and put as many people to work as possible.

“Beyond her unbelievable work ethic, impeccable customer service and reasonable prices, Sarah herself is a wonderful human being and friend,” said Midgley. “She goes out of her way to make everyone feel special. She's trustworthy and her smile lights up the room. I'm lucky to have met her and I know we'll have a relationship for years to come.”

Read more articles by Aisling Maki.

Aisling Maki is a writer and editor with awards from The Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and Public Relations Society of America. Her work has appeared in publications in more than 20 countries and she has written locally for more than a dozen publications, including The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent Magazine. She previously worked as a digital producer and weekend reporter for Action News 5, Memphis correspondent for the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and staff reporter for Memphis Daily News.

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