Principles are foundational for the success Claudia Boutte has achieved. She was never one to bemoan “woe is me,” when life took its twists and turns, but rather knew the God she believed in was trustworthy and worthy to obey. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if the changes were of God, but faith carried her through to new beginnings and each time another step up the ladder to success for her personal best — and she’s not finished, yet. Back in her hometown of New Iberia, Boutte is starting another walk by faith, this time adding an old established business to her career portfolio. If you’ve driven down Center Street and noticed the vacuum cleaners lining the front of a business, that’s AAA Vacuum Cleaner Repair Center, as of July 1 owned by Boutte.
Give us a little background about your life.
I was divorced in 1987. I had no college degree. I had three small daughters and being a single parent, on my own with three kids, I made a decision I wasn’t going to fail myself and my kids. My kids didn’t know what I was saying at the time, but I realized words were like seeds to the minds of those listening. I got on my knees, eyeball to eyeball and told them, statistically, a single black mom is going to have trouble financially. Odds are I’m going to be in the system for welfare, housing, whatever. In most cases that is true, but that will not be true for this family. I said, that statistic will not be true in this family. With the wisdom and understanding that God is behind us, I’m going to raise y’all in the admonition of God and he will show me. I don’t want to depend on government assistance. He gives you the ability to get wealth. Everything I need to become a successful parent is inside me. I told them, they didn’t understand, but I meant it.
How did you prepare for work?
Being a book worm, I’m an avid reader and have been since high school, I use to tell my girls, we’re going on a little outing. It was the library and it has a wealth of information. That was the day I startied studying finances and budgeting and the purpose for having insurance. From then on I went to work trusting God.
What was your first job?
I started working at Fruit of the Loom first as a seamstress, which meant you had to produce. But early on my machine broke, and they had to order a part. They told me to go home, but I wasn’t going home. I wouldn’t make any money and going home wasn’t as option. I needed to make money so I could take care of myself and my kids. I asked them if there was something else I could do. They were conducting inventory in the parts department, so I started to do that. I actually liked that better. I never did go back to sewing. Eventually I moved to the Jeanerette plant and created the parts department. They never really had one before at that location, but I had seven years of experience at the St. Martinville plant parts department. Then both plants closed. I got a job selling manufactured homes until that business closed. Everyone else went home, but I still wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept going back to the manager asking if there was something else I could do, elsewhere in the company. They were closing this location but needed someone in Shreveport. I even asked for a moving bonus and because I knew what my budget needed, I got it. I couldn’t move to a strange place without financial help. They knew what a hard worker I was and gave me the bonus.
Did you become successful selling manufactured homes?
I was a good sales person, but you didn’t get paid until the sale closed and sometimes they fell through. Waiting on a check wasn’t going to work. I had my youngest daughter with me, the two older girls were in college. I needed something more. I asked the owner if they couldn’t use someone cleaning the models. I asked him to give me a test by letting me clean the dirtiest one and he gave me a key. I told my daughter she had to help and by morning, we had it spotless. I got the contract to do the cleaning. In addition to selling all week, at night and on the weekends, I started cleaning the homes and the office. My cleaning business grew. I was doing complexes and offices all over town.
Is that what you did until you moved back home?
There came a point where my extra job was bringing in more than my selling. My days off I went to Books A Million. A man came up to me, a stranger, and said I would own my own business. I was already successful, nice house, two girls in college. Then I heard, “move home and take care of your mom.” I didn’t believe it was God, at first. Then I talked to my mom and the family wanted to put her in a nursing home. I took six months and moved home determined to take care of her until one of us died.
Why did you buy the vacuum business?
Mr. Alton Barbin and his son sold me this business. Mr. Al wouldn’t sell it to anyone else. He ran it for more than 20 years. He was 89 years old when he sold it. He saw something in me and he was obedient to God. I was a regular customer. I worked in Lafayette with my cleaning service but I came to New Iberia to let him service my vacuums, the vacuums of my customers. I’m from here. I’d seen those vacuum cleaners in front of the store forever. None of those work, by the way. When he got sick, he asked me to buy it but I said I had to pray about it. Monday morning when I came back in I told him I think it is a God-thing because it goes right along with my business. He said, I know it is a God-thing. I won’t go unless you buy it. I won’t sell it to anybody else, he said.
Did you hit the ground running?
I walked in and thought I need to do inventory and do this and that, get some guys to fix the vacuum cleaners. Mr. Al hasn’t been able to come in as much as he has wanted. But when he does, I’m so excited. I’m going to build this business because I think God gave it to me to add to what I’m already doing. I’m going to make some changes, more products people can pick up for their houses. I’m blessed. I’ve met a lot of good people and they’ve given me a lot of support.
What are ideals you live by?
So a man thinkth, so he is. That’s Biblical. If you think you’re going to be successful, you will be. If you think you’re going to be unsuccessful, you will be. A lot of people blame the system or other excuses. There are a lot of things that can trip you up, delay you, but it can’t stop you. The only person to stop you is yourself. I’m a living testimony. Poverty is a state of mind and a lack of creativity. Everything I do and everything I am is about my faith in God.