Why it pays to be different
26 August 2015
Cleaning is a basic and fundamentally simple service. But not all service providers are the same. Carl Robinson, marketing manager of cleaning specialist Nviro, explains the value of being different in a competitive and changing cleaning market
To say that the contract cleaning industry is competitive is something of an understatement. Competition has always been intense, and all the more so since the 2007-08 global financial crisis. Essential though cleaning is, the value of the UK market for cleaning services shrank by more than 5% a year for a couple of years, according to the best estimates.
Now that the economy has crawled out of recession sales of cleaning services overall may be creeping ahead, but cost pressures have not been left behind. Contracts are still won and lost on price, especially where clients are choosing between interchangeable provision of standard cleaning services. Successful contract cleaning companies must therefore be efficient, but we are not all competing just on price.
As leading contractors show, cleaning is no longer a ‘commodity’ service when you differentiate and add value to the services you provide. At Nviro, we believe this divergence – between ‘standard’ and ‘enhanced’ cleaning services, for want of better terms – is set to continue as the priorities of building owners and facility managers change.
So what else are clients looking for?
More want to see a ‘strategic fit’ with their corporate culture. This is not touchy-feely, management speak. If a contractor truly understands and shares a client’s commitment – to corporate responsibility, sustainability, safety, employee wellbeing or other values – then they’re far better placed to meet these expectations and retain the business by adding value. We believe these cultural values are increasingly influencing procurement decisions even though they may not yet feature as formal criteria in tender documents.
Sustainability is the most obvious example. Market experts maintain that despite greater interest in cleaning contractors’ ‘green credentials’, sustainability has had limited impact on the value or amount of their work. Yet a commitment to minimising environmental impacts not only helps a cleaning service provider to differentiate themselves from the herd – it can also make a compelling business case for some clients.
An employer concerned about staff wellbeing – as many increasingly are – will be interested in avoiding allergens through chemical-free cleaning, or enhanced cleaning to combat bugs and microbes. When it comes to the bottom line, reducing or eliminating chemical use with eco-friendly substances, microfibre materials and alternative technologies can be more efficient as well as ethical. There’s also a financial dimension to reducing energy and water consumption, avoiding packaging and other waste, and recycling.
We can also add value by integrating our core cleaning activities with complementary services. Niche specialists already offer washroom services (such as feminine hygiene or air fresheners), and they clean carpets, ducts, windows or incident scenes, or even look after landscaping, security or building maintenance. But they often lack the economies of scale of a major cleaning company. That buying power means a specialised service can be delivered at a substantially lower premium.
However, to deliver specialist services effectively, the provider must also invest in the best equipment and training to industry-recognised standards such as BICSc.
Another advantage over niche providers is the ability to integrate service delivery, using people already on site who know the building and how it is managed, to provide a seamless service. For the client there is comfort too in knowing that a trusted, reliable organisation is taking care of these specialist tasks.
Indeed training in itself has become a driver of the greater professionalism that sets leading providers apart from contract cleaners focused on the (admittedly, still larger) generic cleaning market. By investing in an in-house programme to develop and certify the skills of our people, we empower cleaning operatives and can offer a full periodic service to clients, including for example, floor stripping and resealing, and carpet deep cleaning. This regime means that training for both routine and specialist tasks is constantly updated, and cleaning operatives are monitored and assessed as part of an annual health and safety review.
Doing the right thing by the environment, developing staff, widening the range of specialist expertise we offer – these initiatives make a difference to clients and make us different. This is how to enhance the value of cleaning in a competitive and changing market.