Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
October 2012 Cover Story

Teaching An Old Industry New Tricks

The face of the JanSan industry has more than just a few wrinkles.

Several years back and a few years before America became entrenched in The Great Recession, I wrote an article that outlined a changing time in the JanSan industry.

At the time, the dot-com bubble had popped, but distributors were still being affected by untraditional competition as end users had more options to purchase products and equipment online or at big box retailers.

The article also painted a grim picture of the industry’s state of training, citing that only one in 10 cleaning workers was properly trained.

The industry’s durability was being challenged, and an obvious transformation in thinking and cleaning approaches was omnipresent in the market.

The Industry’s Resilience

Prior to writing the article, and for many decades previously, the professional cleaning industry provided workers and owners with stability; some even referred to the JanSan industry as recession-proof.

However, over the past 10-plus years, a different reality has been realized.

“While the professional cleaning industry is certainly not recession-proof — as it was called during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s — it is recession-resilient,” asserts Robert Kravitz of AlturaSolutions Communications, a JanSan-focused communications firm. “Despite setbacks, we know how to get back on our feet and start building again. However, at this time, we have not fully recovered, and some ways of doing business may have changed forever.”

This industry’s resiliency and how it performs during uncertain times relies heavily on facility and cleaning service owners’ and managers’ abilities to uphold the importance of the cleaning worker’s role in healthy, properly functioning buildings.

So far, it appears as though the message continues to be received by decision makers.

“The cleaning industry enjoys a certain insulation from external economic factors,” notes Dan Wagner, director of facility service programs for ISSA. “Facilities continue to need to be cleaned regardless of economic malaise. Further, despite tightening budgets, there does seem to be a growing appreciation for the role cleaning plays in protecting public health, the environment and facility assets.”

Wagner adds that the recession seems to have highlighted a widening divide between facility end users who understand the true role of cleaning and are willing to treat it as an investment and those who treat cleaning as a commodity and look for the lowest price, regardless of “total value.”

The number of business-savvy end users will have to strengthen and these decision makers will have to consider more than just a price point.

“There is a growing demand at the end user level for understanding the total ‘cost of clean,’” says Michael Wilson, marketing director for AFFLINK. “Successful companies are now looking at their facilities’ budgets more holistically and in the context of their overall profits and losses. Seeing that a product may save 10 percent on the buy side may not be a wise investment once the cost of acquisition, possession and application of that product are factored in.”

Moving Onward And Upward

New approaches to business, communications and technology have changed the face and perception of the JanSan industry.

The professionals we interviewed for this article all agreed that business moving forward has changed, for better or worse, and adapting to this change is key.

Clearly, the nation is not clear from being affected by key economic indicators, and the recession effect will impact our industry for many years to come.

However, we learned a lot during this time, and our industry made significant advancements.

“When times are good, margins are fat and the government coiffeurs are full — there is no motivation to seek innovation that will reduce costs,” explains Mark Bozich, president of NISSCO LLC. “This new economy has created opportunities for the distributor that attacks the problem not as a race to zero on existing products to the same customers, but uses the market as a rationale to present more efficient systems, which will reduce their total cost of usage and cleaning.”

According to Bozich, the recession will continue for those who are holding onto the old ways of merely dropping prices to meet demands.

However, cleaning professionals who are introducing and implementing total system solutions will prosper moving forward.

Investing In Our Industry

Today, the culmination of developing trends and an emphasis on education and proper training have transformed the JanSan industry and its workers.

Many building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house cleaning staff managers remain in a “holding stage” when it comes to investing in new equipment, products and processes.

For some, lack of funds is the reason; but, for others, lack of proper education remains a barrier.  

But, today’s automated, “smarter” tools and equipment can improve both productivity and results, shifting the debate.

And, forward-thinking BSCs and in-house managers now side with long-term value over short-term savings.  

“We are constantly looking for innovative ways to reduce labor, but still provide the same level of service to our customers,” says Susan Popovic, president of Cleaner Living Services, an Illinois-based BSC. “As an example, during the recession, we invested in machinery and equipment to reduce labor hours. A daily maintenance project that took eight hours a day is now reduced to 45 minutes.”

According to Popovic, her company was able to keep costs lower and not reflect any increases to clients.

“We continually think of ways to stabilize prices and rely on the partnership with our suppliers to introduce us to the latest innovations in our industry,” comments Popovic. “Every day, we are thinking about how we could provide the same services for our building owners without raising prices — we just have to work smarter and rely on manufacturers to continually introduce us to new ways to improve our business operations.”

Reducing costs and delivering the same results challenged equipment and chemical manufacturers in our industry over the past decade and more.

In fact, innovation and change on several fronts of the industry continue to advance our businesses.

“Innovation throughout the industry continues to power change,” concurs Peter Henson, president and owner of The Henson Sales Group. “Whether it be new product technology, developments in sustainability, legislation mandating product reformulations and compliance, logistics and supply chain developments or implementation of new communication tools and software platforms, better, faster, cheaper is what drives most purchasing decisions throughout the channel, and the ability to harness and adopt these changes determines success or failure.”

Older Industry Getting Younger

Many businesses in the JanSan industry are family-owned and family-operated.

As young cleaning professionals and business owners enter the market, shifts on many of the topics discussed so far will change at an even more rapid pace.

“As more young people become involved in our industry, it will change exponentially,” predicts Guy DiLullo, owner of Alternative Sales Inc., an Ohio-based JanSan manufacturers’ representative group. “It’s amazing that there are salespeople in this industry who are still not comfortable on the computer.”

DiLullo also believes that green cleaning is not going away, but there is a large education curve that has to be crossed with regard to capabilities and a definition as to what “green cleaning” actually is.

“Everyone says they want their buildings to be cleaned green, but most only think it’s by changing their chemicals — it’s far more than that,” DiLullo adds.

Young generations are more prone to advocate and use green and sustainable processes because their education and awareness is heightened.

Green cleaning and being more sustainable, albeit not new trends at all, continue to evolve in this industry.

For some, green is not a trend at all, but rather the norm today.

“Green cleaning is no longer a trend; it is a way of doing business and it is here to stay,” explains Popovic. “The green movement has compelled initial skeptics to now focus their attention on delivering more environmentally friendly services and products. As the market matures, there will be a demand for services from businesses that understand how to cater and actually deliver the specifics rather than just greenwashing.”

Henson believes green cleaning is a growing sub-segment of the cleaning industry and BSCs need to demonstrate proficiency by earning certifications such as ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard for Green Buildings (CIMS-GB) or Green Seal Inc.’s GS-42.

One communications and marketing trend that will also further develop as young people enter the market is the use of the Internet and social media in particular.

In fact, some view social media and the use of the Internet as emerging trends that will surpass any other industry-specific movement.

The market has changed more in these past few years than ever before in the history of this business, and that is not going to change back, insists Bozich.

“To thrive, a company must continually be seeking their next customer. The customer is not waiting to be found, they are not waiting for their salesperson to call on them and, in many instances, they do not even know who their salesperson is,” says Bozich.

This development is not a fault of the field representative, but rather a reality of where today’s market resides.

“For companies to be successful, they must place their business where their next customer is looking. We live in an era of proactive customers who first seek out solutions, then seek out sourcing. The typical product search involves a customer searching on the web for solutions,” continues Bozich.

Investments In Employees’ Skill Sets

While green cleaning has been one of the most recognizable trends, the recession has also helped to advance certification and training awareness.

Beyond certification for green products, cleaning managers and owners turned their attention to new and existing employees as a way to reduce costs and preserve results.

“An increasing number of customers will demand professionalism, a commitment to total customer satisfaction and validation of excellence,” notes Wagner. “This will lead to an increased emphasis on certification and true business partnerships as it pertains to sustainability, increased efficiency and the delivery of dependable, quality service.”

Wagner adds that ISSA currently sees an increasing separation between organizations that understand training and certification represents an investment in excellence and those who view it as nothing more than an expense.

However, he continues, companies that make the investment discover that their efforts are well worth it and are enjoying unparalleled success.

“For example, organizations that have achieved CIMS and CIMS-GB certification report lower turnover rates, higher retention rates and increased overall business opportunities,” Wagner explains.

Five years ago, third-party certifications, such as CIMS, were brand new and relatively unknown.

Today, if you are not CIMS-certified, you cannot quote on many bids, inserts Henson.

While there are still companies who maintain the one in 10 average of properly trained cleaning workers, the statistics are improving as a result of an increased emphasis placed on training and worker certification, and reputable BSCs and in-house cleaners will continue to be rewarded.

BSCs, such as Popovic’s company, are seeing a comeback effect occurring.

“We have experienced boomerang customers … those who have turned to the low-cost option for budgetary reasons, only to return to us after a short amount of time due to performance issues,” says Popovic.

Customers that “get it” are staying with credible cleaning service companies; however, these customers are asking different questions today than they were several years ago.

According to Kravitz, who previously owned and operated three contract cleaning companies, price alone is no longer the only buying factor.

While costs are still a consideration, building owners and operators are asking about what type of cleaning chemicals will be used, how the facility will be cleaned, if the work will be outsourced and if the workers have been trained or certified.

“This is good news for our industry,” adds Kravitz. “Facility managers now realize how important their cleaning crews are to the overall health of their facilities. I do not believe this was an issue that was on the radar 30 or more years ago.”

As mentioned, moving forward and being successful as a BSC or in-house department will depend on placing importance on cleaning, spreading awareness throughout the facility and having full buy-in from all employees.

Remember, awareness proceeds technical know-how.

If there is a value to the organization, notes DiLullo, either by reducing costs or improving productivity, decision makers are more apt to invest in training or certifications.

“But, most end users need to learn how to make themselves better trained and apply it to their organization in a profitable way for the organization,” claims DiLullo. “Most end users are lacking information specific to their own buildings. For example, they don’t know how many square feet of carpet they have, what types of hard floors are present, etc. Many can’t tell you what it costs to clean their buildings. They don’t understand square foot costs, procedures or plans.”

As DiLullo concludes, successful BSCs are succeeding and will continue to succeed because, for instance, they know what it costs per square foot to maintain carpeting; they are using equipment and technology to make themselves more productive and can quantify it.

Bracing For Growing BSC Business

Arguably, one of the biggest changes our industry has seen over the past decade and a half is interest in outsourcing to contract cleaning services.

While the typical BSC has profited from this trend, the way they approach and handle each account will be critical.

According to Mike Sawchuk of Enviro-Solutions, consolidation in our industry will continue, and it will even affect BSCs.

“This is how many companies will set up for a more solid position in the future,” explains Sawchuk. “As to BSCs, given that, for most organizations, it is not a critical part of their core competencies, I do believe more will be looking to outsource their cleaning. Those BSCs that can provide exemplary service at competitive pricing and provide the professionalism of documentation and communications will be able to capitalize on this opportunity and communicate their value to core decision markers.”