In the world of retail facilities maintenance, few areas are as fundamental or as fragmented as the cleaning industry. John H. Barrett, CEO of KIMCO Corp., explained that the contract-cleaning industry, which has only been around about 40 years, is a $40 billion industry comprised of thousands of small entrepreneurial companies and with relatively few corporate leaders. “A $100 million company is easily in the top 10 cleaning-service providers,” he told Chain Store Age senior editor Connie Robbins Gentry, when they discussed how the industry is becoming united through the development of much-needed cleaning standards.
Can you tell us about the new standard developed by the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), the worldwide organization that represents the cleaning industry?
The Cleaning Industry Management Standards (CIMS) is the first bona fide attempt to certify companies across meaningful management standards, and it’s also an indication that the cleaning industry has matured. ISSA asked test companies, of which KIMCO Corp. was one, to help prove the validity of the standards. When we achieved certification in 2007, there were only about 16 CIMS companies, but now there are 27 and the number keeps growing.
Why did you feel it was important for KIMCO to be a part of CIMS?
ISSA is a highly credible organization and we believed the certification would have great meaning to our clients, who would come to recognize it as significant in the industry. This has proved true, but what we did not anticipate was the positive impacts within our internal organization. The certification process pointed out so many opportunities to further improve our business.
Can you share examples of internal business improvements?
Certainly. CIMS touches every facet of the business—it demands a greater process orientation and forces companies to be more disciplined. CIMS helped us examine the way we communicated with employees, and we discovered a great opportunity to document processes that were part of our oral tradition. When we enter a new market, we now have documentation so that all the processes are consistent.
How have the associates in your company responded to the disciplined and defined processes?
They are huge proponents of the program because it makes their jobs easier and they don’t have to work as hard to get the tools to do their jobs. Communication was one of our greatest challenges, so we created a Web-based portal and a manual that corresponds with all the information on the portal so they can easily look up whatever they need.
Are these tools available in multiple languages?
Everything is in English; almost all of the information is in Spanish; and wherever we could manage it, we’ve also provided the information in Polish because many of our associates are from Eastern Europe. Our corporate trainer speaks five languages.
There is such a huge focus on sustainability—does CIMS address sustainable cleaning practices?
CIMS does not prescribe what a company must do; it just states that a company must validate its sustainable actions through documentation and consistent practices.
What is KIMCO doing to promote sustainability?
We incorporate it at every level possible. We use green chemicals, green equipment and some equipment that cleans effectively with only water—and we used as many green materials as possible in our new headquarters building. We’ve found that being green does save money and increases employee satisfaction.
Is there an additional charge for cleaning “green”?
No, and the vast majority of companies in our industry are green. At KIMCO, sustainability is the standard—we use green products exclusively in our cleaning unless the client has specified other expectations. For instance, some industrial sites require disinfectants that are not green.
Are there other emerging trends in the cleaning industry?
The industry can be defined in three phases: First, there was cleaning for appearance, but many of the practices used in cleaning for appearance were potentially detrimental to the environment. This gave way to the second phase: green cleaning. Now we are entering a third, and even more exciting phase that takes cleaning to a whole new level: cleaning for health. The way we do that is by removing harmful bacteria from surfaces. There is a real science behind cleaning for health and there are tools available that measure the presence of bacteria on surfaces. Increasingly, there is much greater attention on processes, chemicals and tools that are not only green but that actually promote health and this is the future of our industry.