Following years of challenge and change, the cleaning industry prepares for a promising future. But there’s a catch: those who wish to capitalize on emerging opportunities must learn new skills and prepare to take on competitive challenges with creativity and a heightened sense of professionalism and business acumen.
Crystal balls might only be found on movie sets, but at Cleaning Business Today we keep an eye on the future so we can prepare our readers for what’s ahead. In lieu of magic, we think the best way to see into the future is to talk directly with those thought leaders who are focused on the horizon.
With a still-sluggish economy, it’s clear that there are challenges ahead. However, our contributing experts tell us that there are also many opportunities. New, affordable technologies, they point out, will empower several sectors of the cleaning marketplace, enabling them to expand in exciting new directions. In addition, a growing emphasis on measurement, training, standards, tools and systems will compel a heightened level of professionalism in the cleaning industry. As one expert expresses it, these efforts have the potential to improve health outcomes, show the industry’s value to consumers, and ultimately improve the reputation and bottom-line of the cleaning industry. Other experts remind us that the basics of good business and cleaning processes will always be important no matter what the future brings. We’ve identified six major themes and reached out to a select group of experts both from within and outside the cleaning industry to bring you this in-depth look at the future.
The future of the cleaning industry will be impacted by two major macroeconomic forces. On the one hand, the US will see a slow but steady economic recovery, according to the Congressional Budget Office. On the other hand, the US Department of Labor reports that the country will see a modest reduction in the overall growth of the workforce in the coming years. To thrive in a cleaning marketplace shaped by both constrained spending and an altered labor pool, residential and commercial cleaning companies will have to stand out in the minds of their clients and their employees.
“All Labor Problems Are Geographic”
Labor trends will impact this industry to a degree. In reality, though, all labor problems are geographic. If you live in a place where there are many homeowners and businesses that can afford cleaning services, finding people to clean those places will be difficult. If you live in an area with a large cleaning labor pool, it’s unlikely that the population will have enough income to afford your services. This isn’t going to change in the future. More importantly, the biggest challenge companies will continue to have is not finding people to hire, but rather finding great people to hire. Mediocrity kills businesses. What this means is that cleaning companies must be constantly recruiting for the best people. Owners can’t just wait until they need someone and then take a “pay and pray” approach by placing an ad. Recruiting and retaining great employees must become a core business competency for companies in this industry. You might think you’re running a cleaning business, but you’re really running a staffing company. Your people ARE your business. Luckily, cleaning can’t be outsourced to China and we haven’t found a way to fully automate it, so owners won’t have those labor challenges to contend with in the near future. Rather, becoming a cleaning company that can recruit and retain exceptional people is and always will be the biggest challenge.
CEO & Founder, Nourish
After fifteen years of brand building at P&G and growing my own company’s brand, I’ve learned that conventional marketing wisdom isn’t always right. Define your target market as specifically as possible and create a message that reflects your company’s beliefs. This approach is crucial to business success in the best of times, but is especially important when consumer spending is as cautious as it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. It sometimes feels scary for business owners to tighten the definition of their target market. They don’t want to exclude potential customers. In fact, the opposite occurs. When a company creates a unique voice for a very specific target market, customers are drawn to that message. This means telling potential customers what your company believes, not what it does. Does your company believe in exceptional customer service? Is unsurpassed attention to detail your motto? Is chemical-free cleaning for health a core principle? Every aspect of your business must be infused with your philosophy. It must become part of all of your company’s branding, and I mean everything! Your logo must capture the essence of your philosophy in its design. Your website must be professional and synced with your message. Don’t be afraid to invest some money in design. It’s powerful, and you’ll see a big return. Brand every “touch point” you have with your customers – cars, uniforms, products, promotional materials and stationery. That’s how you create a powerful brand. If your company colors are red, consider buying red vacuums and place a sticker on each with your logo. If “shiny,” “new” or “sturdy” are words used to convey your values, then your vacuums should be shiny, new and sturdy. And don’t forget your people. They are your brand ambassadors. Teach them how to convey your company’s beliefs in everything they do in a client’s home or business. Find your customers by defining who you are and what you believe in. Those customers who value what you value will be drawn toward your business and be loyal to it. That’s what’s going to sustain and grow your business in tight economic times.
CLEANING FOR HEALTH
With global pandemics such as the H1N1-virus, consumers and governments are waking up to the fact that the health of entire populations can depend on clean residential, commercial and public environments. The cleaning industry is on the front lines of this battle, which means cleaning professionals will be held to higher standards in the future.
Allen P. Rathey
President, Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI)
“Cleaning Should Always Be for Health”
As an industry, we need to understand what the phrase “cleaning for health” actually means. If you think about it, it’s redundant. Cleaning should always be for health. When we use the word, “clean,” we should mean preventing or removing what is unhealthy in our indoor environments with the smallest possible footprint. This means reducing toxic matter, pathogens, residues, etc. The future of cleaning will involve measuring health outcomes. A precursor is the use of ATP meters. This hand-held device is relatively affordable and can provide cleaning technicians with a fifteen-second, on-site reading of the amount of organic soil on a surface. Since this is what harmful microbes feed on, it is a first step toward establishing a standard for measuring “clean.” One could foresee, for example, this laying the foundation for a related health metric linked to how lowering post-cleaning ATP levels in school correlates with better student attendance. In the future, our industry will have a wide range of such measurement tools. In addition, the growing number of industry standards being developed by organizations such as ISSA, the Worldwide Cleaning Association, and the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) will further refine the definitions and baseline metrics necessary to convey the message of clean to a wider professional and public audience. These emerging tools and standards will allow us to do our jobs better, improve health outcomes, show our value-added to consumers, and ultimately improve the bottom-line of the cleaning industry.
Director, Professional & Technical Services, Virox
“The Focus Is Now on Prevention”
Cleaning for health in the future will require getting back to the basics and recognizing the importance of preventing the spread of illness. For many years, the wonders of antibiotics have enabled us to be “cure” oriented, taking the attention away from the prevention of illness. With so many drug-resistant germ strains now threatening health, this cure-based approach isn’t as effective anymore. It’s why we’re seeing higher mortality rates for certain diseases. For this reason, the focus is now on prevention. There is plenty of scientific research demonstrating that cleaning staff play an integral role in infection prevention. For the cleaning industry, this means thinking about how to empower these professionals on the front lines. Cleaning staff need outstanding training, tools and products to do their jobs effectively. If you own a cleaning company or run a facility with a cleaning staff, meeting the challenge of prevention requires more than just hiring great people. It takes training these employees and their trainers through certified courses. It involves finding products that work in the real world, where cleaning professionals must often do their jobs quickly. Disinfectants based on hydrogen peroxide with shorter contact times are an example of the types of innovations now readily available. Finally, to empower cleaning technicians we must keep them up-to-date on how diseases spread, so that they can do their jobs both effectively and safely and with knowledge that, with appropriate protocols, they themselves are not at risk. Cleaning for health is an immense and complex undertaking. However, if we properly equip our professional technicians to effectively address the challenges they face in preventing the spread of disease, both the public and the cleaning industry will benefit.
With increased responsibility comes the need for increased professionalism. The creation of industry-wide standards, certification and licensure programs as well as investment in professional systems for both the cleaning and business-side of operations, are steps in the right direction. Owners of cleaning companies are going to have to “get their game on” in the coming decade.
Director, Facility Services Programs & CIMS, ISSA
“The Industry Must Band Together”
The impact of cleaning on public health is all-too-often undervalued. The industry must band together to change the mindset of the public toward cleaning and improve the pride of the frontline cleaning service workers. The creation and adoption of certification programs and professional standards such as ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) is extremely important if we are to help the world understand and appreciate the true value of cleaning as an investment in human health, the environment, facility assets and the bottom line. CIMS is the first consensus-based management standard that outlines the primary characteristics of a successful, quality cleaning organization. It sets forth a framework to show customers that a company is committed to delivering quality, customer-focused services. Of course, ISSA is aware that professionalism in the future will also require technicians and their companies to understand environmentally sustainable practices and products. In 2009, CIMS was expanded to include green cleaning criteria, known as CIMS-Green Building (CIMS-GB), setting forth the primary elements of a green cleaning program and allowing companies to demonstrate their ability to partner with customers in their sustainability efforts. Further, in keeping with the association’s efforts to empower members with professional resources in this area, ISSA is launching Transpare, an online product registry that will help purchasers differentiate cleaning products based on environmental, safety and health attributes in a transparent, harmonized and verified format. The first phase of this free online tool will be focused on chemical cleaning products, but the registry is expected to be expanded to equipment in the future. Informed and well-trained cleaning professionals are what will help this industry change consumer perceptions and help the public understand that cleaning is a valuable investment in their health.
CEO, Concepts 4
“Measurement of Effective Surface Cleaning”
When looking at the future of our industry what comes immediately to mind is a concern about obvious deficiencies. There are two that are prominent; the low value placed on the importance of cleaning and secondly the serious lack of effective training. Have enough of us learned yet so we can build new, efficient models for training and cleaning efficacy measurement? This is not to say there is no interest in raising the bar of performance at the operative level or developing new tools to measure the potential of the presence of bio-contamination. On the contrary, there is. We’re starting to see more meaningful information flow into the industry from highly knowledgeable sources and new certifications validating the existence of quality systems and processes. All of our leading trade associations have been successful in developing education, seminars, books, conventions and certifications that have a positive impact on industry professionals. The question then becomes how do we get this know-how to the “floor”? Something happens between the supply side and the service provider. In too many cases there is extremely poor application and implementation. In essence, this creates a barrier to the infusion of right processes for right results. There are a couple of relatively new sources to help raise the performance bar for the service provider both from a cleaning measurement process and a quality management evaluation. The Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), founded in 2006, and the World Wide Cleaning Association (ISSA) have formed a first-rate alliance for the purpose of developing the ISSA Clean Standard for K-12. The three-and-a-half years of unbiased, peer-reviewed science research in a large school district has resulted in a standard that is expected to be released this summer. The impact of the standard will release an unmet market need not heretofore addressed – the measurement of effective surface cleaning. This will stimulate a hunger for cleaning knowledge at the operative level, which in too many instances is casual at best. This new standard will join the effort put forth by ISSA with their very successful Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS), which has created a renewed interest in evaluating the existence of quality processes in organizations. Economics play a major role in the cleaning field. Cost of delivery, pricing of services and the increasing employee benefit burden on its way to the employer. Wages, equipment costs and productivity are three of the biggest controls influencing ultimate costs. Effective management training utilizing lean operations and strategic deployment are beginning to appear in the culture of progressive service providers. As this continues, we will begin to see existing facility staffs deliver cleaning at a higher level of efficacy, improved productivity, lower overall costs and the capacity to sustain the results – it’s all up to us as industry leaders.
Major legislation with regard to health care, immigration and labor are on the horizon. They have the potential to have a huge impact on major sectors in the cleaning industry. Professionals who wish to navigate this shifting environment will need to stay informed and create strategic plans to adapt.
Director, Environmental Services & Legislative Affairs, ISSA
“‘Pay or Play’ Has Major Implications”
One of the biggest legislative issues ahead is the health care “Pay or Play” mandate, which requires companies with fifty or more full-time workers to offer health-care coverage or pay a $2,000 penalty per employee. So major are the implications of this legislation for a certain sector of the cleaning industry, that ISSA is hosting a webinar to educate professionals on the mandate. How this will impact hiring in our industry is yet to be seen, but for those companies with just under fifty employees, we could see a hesitancy to expand in order to avoid being subject to the pay or play mandate. We could also see movement toward the hiring of more part-time workers. Another legislative issue that we see heating up is immigration. In addition to the Obama Administration’s position on this issue, a bipartisan group of senators has also set forth its goals and objectives for immigration reform. One likely outgrowth of immigration reform is the possibility that companies will have to electronically verify that their employees may legally work in the US. Not only can this be expensive, but companies must walk a fine line with regard to anti-discrimination laws. We’re watching this issue closely at ISSA. On a completely different front, now that the economy has begun to improve, we do see states focusing once again on green procurement initiatives. Currently, twenty-two states have green procurement initiatives. This creates an opportunity for our industry. Companies should keep an eye out for these programs in the states where they reside.
Opportunities for growth through free and affordable marketing and sales channels have never been more readily available. Yet, with more consumers purchasing and reviewing products online, cleaning companies need to adapt to a marketplace undergoing a major change in customer buying habits. The tools are there, but are cleaning companies transitioning fast enough to keep up with the times?
Founder & President, Cleaning for a Reason
“Professional Marketing Systems Are Key”
Opportunities for cleaning companies to grow their businesses through affordable and effective marketing strategies have never been more abundant. Social, for example, is a free outlet that, if used efficiently and consistently, can help take a business to the next level. As a consultant, rarely do I see operations as the problem with companies that have plateaued at or below $500,000 in revenues. Usually, the problem is that they haven’t invested the time or money to set up professional marketing and sales systems to grow to the $1 million revenue level. The residential cleaning industry has been notorious for not keeping up with the times in this regard. That has to change. Today’s consumers expect their service providers and brands to engage with them in real time. This trend will only accelerate in the future, and the cleaning industry needs to accelerate with it.
Vice President, Consumer Marketing, MaidPro
“Consumer Buying Habits Are Changing”
The biggest thing that is changing is the buying habits of our consumers. It used to be that sales for residential cleaning services came through referral or traditional media channels like mail. Now, consumers are much more likely to go online, do some research and check out reviews to find the service they want. Traditional media has taken a backseat to online channels in many of the markets we compete in. The good news is that this change in buying habits represents a big opportunity for companies that are engaging their consumers online. The customary referral was typically a result of a conversion between a current customer and their friend. The ‘new referral’ happens online and may come from a client’s social network or from a complete stranger. The big advantage here is now companies can participate in these conversations. Whether it is responding back to positive or negative reviews or cultivating your own social community of happy clients, being an active participant in this dialogue sets you up for success. Because of this, developing a strong online reputation and carefully maintaining it is an essential part of our local marketing plans.
The future looks bright for cleaning companies led by innovators. From amazing Renewable Cleaning methods and products for homes and businesses to emerging cloud, mobile and information technologies, cleaning professionals will want to stay well-versed in breakthroughs and the latest techniques.
“Customized Mobile Solutions”
For the past ten years, I’ve been focused on bringing mobile solutions to industries where “the work is not done at a desk, but is done instead in the field.” Software applications have traditionally been built for desktop computers. Since cleaning is not done at a desk, software applications that will have the most impact on the industry will not be used there. I can envision customized mobile apps having a big impact on the effectiveness and profitability of cleaning companies. In the area of quality management and customer satisfaction, imagine checklists to verify cleaning was done with thoroughness. For route management, owners will track the travels of cleaning technicians and the amount of time spent at a location. For scheduling and customer service, think about the possibility to field a customer inquiry or schedule a cleaning visit in the palm of your hand. Such software applications are starting to become available already. In the future, we’ll see more customized solutions for those companies looking to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace.
Dr. Benjamin Tanner
Founder & Principal, Antimicrobial Test Laboratories
“‘Ewater’ and Renewable Cleaning”
There are innovations ahead. Among them are “ewater” and its role in Renewable Cleaning. Ewater is a generic label describing the sometimes confusing world of ‘electrolyzed water’ and branded water-based modalities known by a variety of names such as ‘activated water,’ ‘electrically converted’ or ‘EC Water,’ ‘engineered water’ and ‘ozonated water. One type of ewater is engineered water, a term for a version of split stream electrolysis, in which one stream (the acidic one) is created by adding a bit of salt to tap water, then zapping it to produce very diluted hypochlorous acid solution (a mild form of bleach), and the other stream (alkaline) is created by a adding a bit of potassium carbonate to tap water, then zapping it to produce a very diluted form of sodium hydroxide solution (a very mild form of lye). Another type of ewater is ozonated water or aqueous ozone. This process uses electricity to produce ozone and infuses it into water for cleaning. Ewater is a “change agent” through Renewable Cleaning, which is the prevention, removal, inactivation and/or proper disposal of pollutants, pathogens and harmful chemical residue to preserve or restore built or indoor environments to their desired condition. Renewable Cleaning uses H20 as its archetype because water is universal, benign, non-polluting and replenishable. Moving to core water-based methods means the industry’s environmental footprint will be small. Ewater technologies enable more affordable, and chemically less complex, onsite and on-demand cleanings, eliminate expensive and bulky shipping and storing of chemicals, and lower costs significantly.