Immense opportunities await those willing to embrace new technologies.
The commercial cleaning industry is relatively young. Our most recognizable structures date back only to World War II. The advances I’ve seen in the last four decades have been substantial, and what’s about to happen in the technology sector of our industry is even more exciting.
Communication technologies have made the world much smaller. Practical applications for these advancements are just beginning to be explored. I’ve used Skype to hold a face-to-face meeting with the head of the only cleaning trade association sanctioned by China’s Communist Party and “visited” a cleaning company in Ghana.
Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are still in their infancy, but are already providing new ways for companies to engage. Though sales and marketing is the big story now, the next step is for companies to connect with their own staffs through social media. This will transform operational functions. Companies that harness these technologies will be able to manage large numbers of remote locations. Tech savvy business owners will use these tools to increase their reach in ways we haven’t even considered yet. Cleaning is still a people business and how people connect has changed for good.
Robotics has been an interest of mine since the mid-1980s. These technologies will lower capital requirements for companies while increasing productivity. The length of service contracts will grow and the stability of revenue will elevate the value of each contract. In other words, robotics is about to change fundamentally the way commercial cleaning companies do business.
I have seen a number of working robots brought to market. Intellibot was originally designed by a floor-care equipment manufacturer. Today, it is in its tenth generation. With this technology, production rates for hard surface floor scrubbing or carpet vacuuming reach 10,000 square feet per hour without a human operator. Just think what 10,000 square feet without an operator could mean to the price of cleaning. The other company, Purifad, was developed because of an indoor air quality problem that had gotten the attention of the US Centers for Disease Control. This robot cleans under-floor air distribution systems, a critical area that is very difficult to clean due to cables and wires. These two robotic technologies are just a sample of what’s coming.
It used to be that investment bankers had no interest in our industry. That’s not the case anymore. Precisely because of the trends outlined in this column, investors are now taking a serious look at commercial cleaning. This will make it possible to accelerate innovation.
For those willing to step out of old models and try new approaches, there has never been a more exciting time to be part of the commercial cleaning industry. These couragous thought leaders will create immense business opportunities for their companies, and see the business of moving dirt transformed.
Ed Selkow has been in senior management at numerous building maintenance companies since the mid-1970s. He currently consults with janitorial companies on organizational and growth strategies, and with small firms on how to grown into large ones.