CleanMark Group Inc. is driven by the goal of becoming North America’s premier facility services company. Founded on the core values of Integrity, Service, Collaboration and Passion, the company continues to grow and expand its list of satisfied clients through the time-tested practices of innovation, hiring the best talent, operational excellence, and dependable, quality service that comes from working closely with customers and listening to their needs.
CleanMark Group works for a wide range of clients including many of Canada’s best-known retailers, car dealerships, drugstore chains, hotels and resorts, casinos, fitness centres, electronic retailers, cinemas, corporate offices, hospitals and educational institutions. It often grows with its clients, gaining new customers through its reputation for quality work.
“Our growth as a business has been predominantly built on starting with a client at a single location, doing great work and then progressing up to a second location. As the client relationship and trust grows, before long, we’re working regionally, within a division, then ultimately at a national level,” says John Vavitsas, founder and chief executive officer of CleanMark Group Inc.
Prior to founding the CleanMark Group in 1997, Vavitsas spent many years in the industry. The child of immigrant parents, Vavitsas was raised to be hard-working and humble and to want to better himself. When his parents purchased a small Toronto-based cleaning company in 1978, John and his brother spent many weekends as teenagers helping the family business.
John went on to study accounting and finance. Vavitsas had an entrepreneurial spirit and, to pay for his education, ran several businesses including a printing business that created promotional flyers for a pizza shop.
Much later, Vavitsas was approached by his father and asked to take care of the family business for a few weeks while his parents took their first vacation in years. “That’s when I discovered how much I love this industry, because it’s a people business, a relationship business, and that’s my natural strength.” Although he was working in the accounting and finance department of a national car rental company, he discovered that he was “a better salesman than an accountant” and took the bold step of quitting his job.
“Given my accounting and financial background, that resonated and made a lot of sense to me,” he says.
When his father came back from vacation, John, realizing he did not have enough capital to buy his own business, asked if he could build a portfolio of accounts utilizing the family brand, vendor relations and line of credit at the bank. His father agreed.
The company grew and was sold around 1994. Vavitsas was now well-prepared with experience, capital, industry knowledge and the passion to get back into the cleaning business. With the lessons he learned from his parents on how to conduct business, he launched CleanMark in 1997 and hasn’t looked back since. CleanMark has grown to become one of North America’s most recognized cleaning enterprises.
“In our business, it truly is all about the people you employ and the business community you create, and that realization comes from my early days,” says Vavitsas. “I have a soft spot for the human element – delivering service, embodying values, showing passion and integrity and making sure that we do the right thing every day – not just for clients, but also for our fellow CleanMark employees. It is critical to our ongoing success.”
Striving to bring out the best in its employees to better serve all customers, the service delivery company hires people who fit with its core values. About fifty percent of the company’s labour force are on the payroll; the other fifty percent are certified service providers, local micro companies that partner with CleanMark to deliver the scope of work.
“We provide the equipment, the chemicals and the training and certification, and they provide the local labour, local supervision and take care of the business,” states Vavitsas. This arrangement works very well for the business and its service partners, particularly in remote locations such as Thunder Bay, and allows for greater flexibility of the service delivery model. Today, the company has a total of about 2,000 part-time employees and certified service providers who provide cleaning services to a wide range of industries, from schools and corporate head offices to major retailers and institutions. CleanMark is responsible for cleaning over forty million square feet every day.
CleanMark Group recognizes the potential environmental impact of its work and does everything possible to mitigate harm by making its operations lean, green and clean. Through careful research, evidence and ‘economic common sense,’ the company has developed a series of systems to reduce its carbon footprint in every way possible. For example, to reduce harmful carbon emissions that come from driving long distances, CleanMark’s territory managers and team leaders have employees work on sites closer to home, saving considerable traveling time, fuel and money while increasing productivity.
CleanMark is committed to being a responsible corporate citizen through a number of other initiatives, including education and training, conserving water and energy, complying with all relevant industry standards and legislation, eliminating phosphates and aerosol products, using products which can be diluted in cold water rather than hot and using products packaged in recycled materials. The business is also committed to using environmentally-friendly products certified by EcoLogo, North America’s most recognized and respected certification of environmental leadership.
“A lot of companies today talk about being eco-friendly and environmental stewardship, but we were EcoLogo-certified in Canada years ago,” says Vavitsas. “And what that really means is we have always been mindful about the chemicals in the processes that we use and our impact on the environment.”
At present, CleanMark is proud to obtain about ninety-five percent of its cleaning products from respected supplier Sealed Air’s Diversey, a trusted, long-standing provider of eco-friendly cleaning products. The products benefit not only workers for the company, but clients whose workplaces are cleaned with environmentally-friendly products.
CleanMark Group continues to expand its services as it grows into new territories. From its headquarters in Toronto, the company has a coast-to-coast presence across Canada. It has regional operating offices in Toronto, Ontario; South Surrey, British Columbia; and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It also has a presence in the Southeast United States in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, with its American head office in Boca Raton, Florida.
Vavitsas says the company expands its services to meet the growing needs of its customers, some of which are expanding into other provinces and states. “The formula is simple. Single client with multiple locations plus brilliant service equals the opportunity to clean more of their sites. Our strategy for many years has been about deeper penetration with existing clients. That has been at the foundation of growing the business from day one.”
The considerable growth of the company has also happened through word-of-mouth from satisfied clients. Another part of the company’s growth strategy is to seek targeted opportunities, such as car dealerships, which are community-based and present growth with neighbouring businesses.
CleanMark’s compound annual growth rate for the past four years has been twenty-six percent, with the company growing at an impressive thirty-two percent in 2014 alone. It has seen considerable growth in a number of sectors, including retailers, corporate head offices, and some private schools.
The company’s core business is daily janitorial services. Two-thirds of its clients are major retailers and grocery stores and the remaining third of the business is committed to commercial and industrial customers, such as corporate head offices, insurance companies and car dealerships.
CleanMark has the equipment and staff to provide other services, such as snow clearing, exterior landscaping, power washing, window washing, exterior building maintenance and even changing light bulbs. “Once we have them as a client, we ask, ‘What else can we do for them as a client?’” explains Vavitsas. For customers, using CleanMark to handle additional services simply make sense, as it eliminates the need to create another vendor profile, arrange insurance or create a separate invoice for yet another service provider.
The company maintains a keen focus on client engagement and audits all of its locations every week to ensure satisfaction. CleanMark managers examine the scope of work, check equipment and look for opportunities to offer additional services or any improvements that can be made. Additionally, they conduct random quarterly surveys, asking clients for feedback, measuring service delivery and service recovery. It is another way CleanMark remains open, honest and transparent with customers.
“Highly engaged clients are typically highly satisfied clients,” states Vavitsas. “Our clients expect that type of philosophy – we like to think of it as a partnering philosophy – and one that we and our clients succeed with. If you look at our client profiles, you can see those are the type of clients who believe in partnership relationships and working with vendors. And this includes some of the biggest companies in Canada.”