(Photo by Don Kadair)
Name: Amber Douglas
Position(s): Vice president/owner of Xtreme Cleaners; President/owner of Xtreme Promotions
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Education: Bachelor’s degree, LSU
Don’t let her platinum blonde looks fool you: Amber Douglas isn’t afraid to get dirty. As vice president of Xtreme Cleaners, a crime scene and hazardous cleanup company, Douglas regularly deals with scenes most people would run from. Work at Xtreme Cleaners comes randomly, so Douglas and her crew have to be prepared to spring into action on any day. “Normally, we don’t know what tomorrow brings; we just know the work will be there,” she says. Douglas also runs Xtreme Promotions, a promotional product distributor she and her husband, Larry, formed after their cleanup company was featured on the TLC show Ultimate Cleaners. She says the TV exposure garnered international attention for Xtreme Cleaners. “One job in particular was at a hotel, and the maintenance manager was so excited to meet us. He said, ‘Last week it was Snoop Dogg; this week it’s you guys.’ We just laughed, as we do not consider ourselves anywhere close to the popularity of Snoop Doggy Dogg!”
What was your very first job, and what did you learn from it?
I attended Baton Rouge Magnet High School and was a disc jockey at its radio station, 90.3-FM WBRH. Skills I learned were how to be precise in my speaking as well as how to write a script to meet strict time constraints during commercial breaks.
How did you go about beginning your career, and how were your businesses born?
I have always had a love for marketing and customer service and worked numerous years for an embroidery and promotional company. I learned all aspects of that business. When I met my husband he owned a part-time crime scene cleanup company, but with my input and help, we rebranded the company to Xtreme Cleaners and turned it into a full-time business. During the rebranding, we were under contract for a reality-based TV show that aired on TLC. We knew we would need promotional items and apparel, so we formed Xtreme Promotions to be the exclusive provider of these items for Xtreme Cleaners.
Your family business is a bit unusual. How do you manage two distinct companies, and which one is more challenging?
I always get asked how my husband and I own two completely different businesses together. We are a second marriage, and my background was in the marketing and promotional products industry and his was in law enforcement, safety and construction. Managing both companies can be difficult and there are never enough hours in the day, but I try to keep an accurate to-do list to make sure everything gets taken care of.
Why did you ever want to get into the crime scene cleanup business in the first place?
If you would have told me 10 years ago I would own a crime scene cleanup company, I would say you were confusing me with someone else. I married into the business. My husband originally owned the business with three other family members, and after we got married we eventually bought out the family members.
What’s the craziest job you’ve ever been called out on?
One of the craziest jobs, out of numerous ones, we have been called to over the years was a residence that had thousands of dolls. Every room was piled high with dolls. All sizes, all types—and they were all staring at us. There are also many jobs that we do that are so tragic and sad that they are hard to fathom; out of respect for the families, I just wouldn’t want to release any information that might retraumatize them.
What is one thing about your job people don’t know about or expect?
Everyone thinks law enforcement, firefighters, coroners or funeral homes clean up after these unfortunate incidents, which is totally inaccurate. Fortunately, we have worked with all of the major insurance companies to make sure the cost of our services is covered under homeowner’s or auto insurance, which most people do not expect.
How many people are involved in your business and what types of roles/backgrounds do they have?
While my husband and I run the day-to-day operations of both businesses, we could not do it without our employees. We currently have 20 employees. Their backgrounds range from law enforcement, emergency medical services and firefighting to the fields of construction, nursing and safety.
How challenging has it been to market your business, and what is the key to your growth?
The challenge in marketing our business is people do not know our service exists. We always say that an auto dealer doesn’t have to explain what a car is; they just need to differentiate themselves from another dealer. We have to explain what our business is and what our services are. We’ve tried billboards, television commercials and print ads, but what has worked best for us is grassroots marketing by attending statewide agency conferences for first responders, coroners, funeral directors and property management companies. We also rely heavily on referrals. Our goal is to have every first responder that is on the scene of a tragedy to tell the family about our services. Another marketing avenue that we have found successful is SEO marketing, especially for the hoarding portion of our business.
What have been some of the unexpected trials you’ve faced in running your company?
The increase in violence towards law enforcement has been a very disturbing trend. It is extremely difficult to remediate any scene that includes the loss of life of any law enforcement officer, as my husband has been involved in law enforcement for over 30 years. We were called in recently to help local law enforcement in a few tragedies, and even though they were reeling with grief, they were hugging us and thanking us for what we do, which makes us extremely proud.
Are you particularly busy now after the flood with cleanup jobs?
While we helped out families immediately after the flood, we have had an upswing in crime and death scenes, which may or may not be related to the flood.
What are your short- and long-term goals for the business?
Our main goals for our business are making sure that everyone knows that our services are available and seeing that no family member has to clean up any type of tragedy that we deal with.
What is a typical day like at your business?
People are always surprised at how often our phone rings. Whether it’s a crime scene, meth lab, hoarding situation, an infectious disease outbreak like c-diff, Ebola or Norovirus, or something off the wall—like, “Raccoons broke into my attic and we need you to clean the dung left behind”—we know our phone will ring. Our business is quite different from others in that we don’t have worked lined up for months out. Normally, we don’t know what tomorrow brings; we just know the work will be there.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
There is no better feeling than when a member of a family who has suffered a tragic loss, such as a murder or suicide of a loved one, hugs you and tells you that you are their hero or angel. This job is the most rewarding one I have ever had.
Your business was featured on a TLC show called Ultimate Cleaners. How much recognition did you get from that show, and how did it help your business? And what was it like having TV crews follow you around?
Being on TLC’s Ultimate Cleaners and Destination America’s Buying the Bayou was difficult but exciting. While filming, we would have to repeatedly do a task more than once. While that was time consuming, it was well worth it as it has helped our business gain name recognition and branding. After our episodes aired, we got calls and emails from not just around the United States but also from other countries. We have been on some crime scenes where we have been asked for autographs. One job in particular was at a hotel, and the maintenance manager was so excited to meet us. He said, “Last week it was Snoop Dogg; this week it’s you guys.” We just laughed, as we do not consider ourselves anywhere close to the popularity of Snoop Doggy Dogg!
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you’ve overcome, and how did you go about surmounting it?
In 2011, my husband and I were on our honeymoon when we were called by a regional drug task force informing us that the Federal COPS grant for meth lab cleanups was defunded. They needed our help in dismantling and deactivating the labs in their area. We knew this could be a new business unit for us and even though we had attended some trainings on meth lab remediation and cleanup, we needed more. We educated ourselves, attended training sessions and immediately began marketing this service to other law enforcement agencies. We grew it to include meth lab testing and remediation, and we service over 50 agencies in Louisiana today.
What other leadership roles do you hold in the community and/or what volunteer efforts do you support?
I am on the board of directors for the Jambalaya Trade Exchange and am the current past president of the Ascension Producers Chapter of Business Network International . My passion is working with small businesses and helping them grow their business. I want every small business owner to realize the importance of a marketing plan and how to effectively promote their services.
What is a great piece of advice you personally received? Did you have occasion to put it to use?
My parents taught me to treat everyone the same and in the way you want to be treated. I have always said, “I don’t care if you are the garbage man driving the garbage truck or the CEO of the trash company, I will talk to both with the same respect!”
What gets your workday off to a good start?
A good cup of Community Coffee with cream and sugar!
How do you like to spend your free time?
If I had a third job it would be as a professional poker player. I’m a student of Texas Hold ’Em and enjoy the cerebral side of the game. Most people write me off as a blonde, Southern belle who doesn’t know the game, but they soon realize I am quite an accomplished player. I have gained the respect of many seasoned players in the Gulf Coast area from my strategic performance. Playing poker is also an outlet to relieve the stress of the scenes I deal with on a daily basis.
What would people be surprised to know about you personally?
Even though I have a big personality, I have an even bigger heart.
What is an item on your “bucket list”?
I have many items on my bucket list, but number one would be playing in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker in Vegas and be the first female to win it!
Where is your go-to spot in Baton Rouge?
Tio Javi’s … It will always be Ninfa’s to me!