Darren Clark grew up in a loving family with his Mum, Dad and two brothers. It’s a good job they were so close as home was a two bedroomed council flat in Withywood, Bristol.
SCHOOL & EDUCATION
Although happy at home, Darren struggled academically. He attended Withywood school in the late 80s / early 90s. No matter how hard he tried he just didn’t seem to be learning at the same pace as his peers. Being asked to stand up in class would fill him with anxiety and he would come home to his family everyday feeling stupid and with crippling headaches. Each day at school Darren would hope that things would somehow be better and his understanding of the lessons would suddenly improve.
Sadly this never happened. As Darren moved upwards through the years at school, more of his time would be spent in ‘The Unit’, a freezing portacabin in the far reaches of the school grounds where the ‘problem’ kids were sent to receive special help. The special help never materialized and Darren came to understand that kids were sent to ‘The Unit’ to get them out of the way.
When the time came for Darren to take his GSCEs he was filled with dread, nevertheless he turned up to school and tried to find his name on the daily list to see what exams he would be sitting and in which room. Darren never found his name. ‘We’re not putting you through’ was the response from his teachers. Instead, Darren would sit in a separate room, a glass partition separating him from his school mates taking their exams. He was given colouring books and doodle pads to pass the time.
Accepting the fact that he was never going to be a great academic, Darren sought advice at the school’s career day. He received feedback from only two advisors. The Army suggested he might want to join up, and the council were able to advise him on how he might go about getting his own council flat. Darren remembers to this day the words of the council representative ‘To be honest young man, the very best thing you can do right now is get a girl pregnant’.
Darren left school with no qualifications, but coming from a hard working family he knew that he would have to pay his way. His mum helped him fill in all the forms he needed to apply for a job in retail and after many failed attempts at interview he finally got a job as a trolley collector at Sainsburys.
This was the opportunity Darren had been waiting for, he worked hard and moved from trolleys to tills, eventually he was offered full time hours in the produce department.
Ambitious as ever, Darren worked his way up the management ladder in various supermarkets and retailers ending up as the Area Manager for Tesco Express stores in the South West. Quite an impressive journey for a trolley boy!
Throughout his career in retail Darren still struggled with reading and writing. He also still suffered from headaches and erratic levels of concentration. A friend suggested he might be dyslexic. A couple of online tests revealed that Darren was at high risk of dyslexia so he went to see a specialist. Sure enough, Darren was diagnosed with severe dyslexia and although there is no specific treatment for his condition he is now able to manage it with a toolkit of skills he has developed over the past few years.
Perhaps most uplifting about this diagnosis is that Darren has now come to terms with the failings in his education. He realises that it was his undiagnosed dyslexia that caused him to struggle in school and he now does his very best to raise awareness of the condition in the hope that others might be diagnosed earlier than he was.
SETTING UP HIS OWN BUSINESS
But Darren still didn’t feel fulfilled. So, together with his close friend and trusted colleague Kelly Brown, he launched ‘Spotless Spaces’ in 2011 as a small cleaning round. It was great fun and he and Kelly did all the cleaning themselves. Fast forward 5 years and they’re now running a commercial cleaning business with a team of over 60 employed cleaners.
Their next venture was ‘Simply Spotless’, a domestic cleaning agency formed in 2014. They were successful enough again to grow very quickly and now their team of self-employed cleaners carry out around 350 house cleans per week.
Spreading the word about their cleaning businesses came mostly through dropping flyers through the doors of local homes and businesses, the response they had was phenomenal and they wanted to share this with other small companies. ‘Spotless Leafleting’ was born. In the last few months the leafleting team have delivered millions of leaflets for local clients and get more enquiries every day.
Social media was also a great medium for them to grow their brands. Darren and Kelly understand tight budgets and the challenges smaller companies face so they launched ‘Spotless Social Media’ to help small businesses build their brands across social media platforms as cost effectively as possible.
With four successful companies up and running Darren and Kelly decided to bring them all together under one umbrella, The Spotless Group, which launched at the end of 2016.
SHARING HIS STORY
So now, with an understanding of his Dyslexia and finally running his own successful businesses Darren had time to reflect. His thoughts took him back to Withywood school. More than anything he wished that no other kid would have to go through what he went through. He thought about how much he loved business, but had never been taught anything about it while he was at school. Suddenly an idea began to emerge.
Darren approached his old school, now Merchant’s Academy, and offered to give a talk to students on business and entrepreneurism. The careers officer thought this was an amazing idea and booked Darren straight away.
Darren went back to his old school and felt very daunted as he walked through the doors. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy came flooding back – but as soon as he started talking to the students all bad memories were forgotten.
Darren talked to the pupils about leaving school with no qualifications and what a struggle it was for him to find a job. He told them the story of his journey to date and gave them an insight into the world of business. “If I can do this struggling to read and write, with hardly any academic support – then just think what you can do”
The response was fantastic. The students really responded to Darren and were enormously inspired by what he had to say.
“Darren has volunteered his time to support a wide variety of students at Merchants’ Academy in both the secondary and primary phases.
Darren has provided support in the form of motivational assemblies, mock employment interviews and employability upskilling in addition to talking about his role as an entrepreneur.
Without exception Darren has proved himself to be a highly enthusiastic and credible employability role model who connects effortlessly.”
Mark Nixon, Careers Officer, Merchants’ Academy.
Richard, a year 10 student who was struggling with education and had lost all hope of finding a career he liked phoned Darren a few days later. “Can I come and work for you?” he said. Richard joined the company, worked hard for 2 years and now runs his own successful company in IT.
This made Darren’s heart sing, the more his empire grew, the more he wanted to give back.
Today Darren regularly goes back to his old school. He is around at career days, provides one-to-one mentoring for students and coaches interview techniques.
He has recently been talking to students about getting ready for the workplace and how to nurture entrepreneur skills from an early age. At the end of his talks Darren is always bombarded with questions from the students. It seems that the business world holds a deep fascination for them, as it still does for Darren.
As well as Merchant’s Academy, Darren now speaks regularly at other schools in the Bristol area. Including Bedminster school, Colston’s school, Clifton school, Cotham school, Henbury school, Orchard school, St Bernadette’s, Filton School and many more
He also speaks at industry events, using his experience of doing things differently and not giving up to inspire his colleagues and peers. He was recently the keynote speaker at the Best of Bristol Expo and speaks regularly at business networking events across Bristol and Bath.
Darren encourages everyone he meets to dream big. His firm belief is that in this day in age anything is possible. With a positive mental attitude, resilience and creativity anyone can achieve their dreams.
If you would like Darren to come and speak at your event, or your school, then please do get in touch.