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Cleaning in the USA

2007 Let’s Get Rock’n
Here we are again; A year older, hopefully a little wiser, unfortunately a little grayer, but optimistic that 2007 can be the best year yet. As we enter the New Year let me encourage you to remember the basics. We often get so busy with our daily activities that we forget to take care of such basic things as business and personal goals, objectives and timelines. These are the basic building blocks of success.

Being it’s a new year, now is a good time to put your goals and objectives in writing. You wouldn’t take a trip to an unknown destination without a map to guide you. Life is no different. If you want to get someplace special or specific you need a map to guide you and that is what goals, objectives and time lines are all about, simple stuff, but critical to personal and business success. Having watched and participated in the process for some 30 years, I know for a fact that when people set goals and follow them with objectives, action and deadlines, they get better results. The rest is up to you.

The Politics of Cleaning Information
The whole truth and nothing but the truth; I guess that’s what we’d like to think that we get when we ask a question, read an article or hear that someone or something is certified. But is that what happens or is the news and information we get and the certifications we recognize, controlled by manufactures, associations and special interest groups who are paying to push their own products and or agenda on us?

Here’s how it works.
Articles and press releases:
A manufacturer pays a consultant or industry expert or public relations agent to write and get published articles that highlight, mention, promote or picture a specific process or product. I know it happens; I’ve done it hundreds of times.

Speakers, writers and consultants
Associations decide who speak at their events and get published in their newsletters and magazines. If you have good things to say about a group’s activities you’ll get invited to speak and participate. If you happen to question or speak out against a group’s projects or efforts, you won’t be getting any work or referrals from that group’s key people for a while. I know it happens; I’ve been on both end of the stick, depending on what I’ve said or written recently.

Trade show speakers.
Magazines work with trade shows to provide speakers for their events, thus reducing the tradeshows overhead costs. Speakers often work for or are closely involved with (paid consultants) to the manufacturers. Another approach that many trade shows use is to have their exhibitors provide the speakers. A company pays to exhibit and you get to speak or conduct a seminar. Compare the exhibitor list to the speakers list and you’ll see what I mean.

Scientific studies:
We hear a lot about scientific industry studies being done. Here’s how that works, the company or group who pays for the study writes it in such a way that they don’t ask questions that they don’t want answers too. Here’s another way to make sure a study accomplishes the goals you want. When the study comes back, you edit it to remove anything that doesn’t support their position or if the study doesn’t come up with the result you want, you simply don’t publish it. It goes in a drawer and never sees the light of day.

I’m certified. Sure. That may mean something, or it may mean nothing. There are different levels of certification. The lowest level is you pay a fee and you are certified. Some manufacturers do this with their equipment. Some companies and associations do this with a process. You pay a fee, a group puts a certification sticker on it and even thought it doesn’t mean anything, it looks good and fools some people some of the time.

The next level is: you read or listen to some information, fill out a self-audit form or take a test and you are certified. Doesn’t mean you know how to do anything or will keep doing it correctly, but at least you remembered the answers long enough to fill in the blanks correctly, oh yes, and paid the fees.

Next up the ladder is the learn it and be able to do it right repeatedly level of certification. This takes more effort and is a higher level of certification that normally requires retraining and validation to retain ones credentials, much like a doctor or airline pilot.

In the certification and audit business, it begs the question of who’s certifying the certifiers.

Where Is The Truth
That’s a good question. The other day, I contacted the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) to get information on the benefits of micro fiber cloths. I was surprised and disappointed at the response. Basically I was told that yes they have some information, but they aren’t going to distribute it until they can verify it.

Interesting. Is this for our protection or is this to protect CIRI members who have paid over $400.000 to create an independent unbiased body to act as a source of information for the cleaning industry?

Are we getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I’d say no, we are not. In most cases we are getting fed the information that people are being paid to feed us.

Inspection Market is Changing
Hard surface and carpet inspections are good money. No physical labor, take a little crap, snoop a round a little, write a report and collect $200.00. I do anywhere between 20 and 50 inspections a month. I like them, as they are easy, good money and interesting.

I also notice that the market is changing. The number of inspection assignments from manufacturers is shrinking each year as they figure out ways to cut costs by tightening up warranties, shifting claims responsibility to consumers, dealers, retailers and installers. I notice that dealers, contractors, installers, consumers, retailer, architects and other are the new customer base for this profitable service segment.

I also notice the cost of education and certification for inspectors is increasing. The most recent inspector seminars that I have taken cost $2500.00 or more and took a week to complete. Some were worth it, others were not. I think we will see a shaking out of the marginal or part time inspector over the next couple of years as this market continues to shrink and as costs continue to increase.

Change At the Building Service Contractors Association (BSCAI)
What took so long? Now, lets see if the group can right itself and play a meaningful role in the future of an industry that faces many challenges. Its employee base and profit margins continue to shrink; its customer base is demanding better service with scientific validation that the work is getting done according to the tighter contract specifications.

Only time will tell if it’s business as usual at the BSACI or whether new leadership will bring long over due insight and inspiration for the years ahead.

Water Damage Hits Home
We’ve had some wild weather in Seattle. In the middle of December I took a little vacation to Zihuatanejo, Mexico to sit on the beach for a couple weeks. Once I settled in on the beach all hell breaks loose at home. I get the classic disaster phone call from my number one assistant. “It’s 5:00 PM, there are 3 inches of water throughout the building, the power is off and we’re all going home.”

Luckily I’m coming home in a couple of days so it’s not the end of the world even if it sounds like it is. Of course, I’m not standing in 3 inches of muddy water watching the computers float down the hallway; I’m laying on the beach about 4 strawberry margaritas to the wind.

After four or five attempts to reach someone, I say screw it and go back and keep an eye on the sunbathers and the margaritas. The way I see it, I’m headed home on Wednesday and there is nothing I can do about it from here.

By the time I get home, the water has receded, things have settled down a bit, it’s still pretty wet and that wet dog smell is getting stronger by the day. Luckily due to some fast thinking on the part of one of my staff, preventing further damage and starting the process of sucking out as much water as possible with a small extractor got underway.

After a lot of sucking, spraying, blowing and dehumidifying, things are back to normal and I have a little more water damage restoration experience under my belt. Not to mention two more fans and big dehumidifier unit ready and waiting for the next disaster to strike.

Wood and Stone Flooring Continues to Grow in Popularity
Carpet sales continue to take a dive. Even those in the carpet industry are starting to acknowledge the fact that carpet sales are in decline, which is a first for a group that has been denying the decline for the last 15 years.

What this means for cleaners is that they need to gear up to deal with the cleaning and restoration of ceramic tile, marble, granite, and wood flooring. I’m teaching a Stone Maintenance Technician seminar in Calgary Alberta Canada next week and the enrollment has already topped 35 people. I’d say it’s a sign of the times and a peek at what’s to come in the future.

Some say that carpet will have resurgence, but personally I don’t see any indication or reason for it. If people want a soft surface, it will be an area rug over a hard floor. In my opinion, wall-to-wall carpet in the residential market is taking its dying gasps. It will be interesting to see how the use of wall-to-wall carpeting plays out in commercial properties over the next 10 to 20 years.

Slowing Economy
Rising fuel costs are having an impact. It’s a trickle down effect. Petroleum cost impact everything. Housing starts are off; remodeling projects are on hold or scaled back. The war is sucking money away from everything else and it appears the government has ramped up the process of printing funny money.

I think everyone here is pretty much ready for a new administration. Bush has had his time and it’s pretty bogged down in war and back door business deals. I smell a change in the wind.

Holding Contractors Accountable
The old model of contractor vs. customer is broken. It simply doesn’t work when you have two groups with opposite goals competing for the same limited dollars. Some how we need to get both parties around the table and focused on the same goal of providing quality cleaning services at the lowest possible cost.

One innovative approach I’m looking into is staff and management leasing under the co-direction of the customers custodial management team. Other components include the use of the Green Seal and ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) both supported by a management and quality assurance software program.

The contractor’s payment would be based on a set hourly billable rate for different job classifications, with the management fee tied to inspection results, which could result in a reduction or bonus on monthly fees paid.

Money Making Opportunities
In my travels I continue to come across new, interesting and profitable specialty services. When people say there is no money to be made in the cleaning industry, they simply don’t know what they are talking about. I find people making $25.00 to as much as $500.00 an hour or more providing unique specialty services. Some example include:

  • Wood refinishing and repair
  • Laminate repair
  • Color repair and feather blending of carpeting
  • Hard surface, carpet, fabric, odor and mold inspection
  • Consultant
  • Coaching/advisor
  • Expert witness
  • Training/certification specialist
  • Stone repair
  • Auditor

Every time I come across one of these money making specialties it renews my belief in the fact that anyone can carve out a good living in the cleaning industry if they are willing to find a niche, get the needed training and fill it.

Change is in the wind at the IICRC, I don’t even know if upper management realizes it, but the days of the old guard are numbered. The IICRC is facing unprecedented growth beyond its wildest dreams due to a number of new certifications categories that have been established over the last five years.

In the next five to ten years expect employee certification to first become common place and accepted and finally required by building owners and managers in the mainstream janitorial industry. As this happens the face of the IICRC committees that oversee its operations will change dramatically and the old guard will loose control. In my travels I am seeing a growing interest in training and certification from health care, education, building service contractors and governmental agencies.

Another long over due change we are seeing at the IICRC is a movement towards a requirement that certification seminars contain at least 40% to 50% hands-on training vs. all lecture and presentation. All I can say is “about time”.