In the time between the early reports of a mysterious virus surfacing at a Chinese seafood market in December of 2019 to the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic the following March, the world was turned upside down. Almost overnight, CleanMark was on the front line.
To say life changed with the arrival of the Coronavirus is an understatement.
Global supply chains slowed down, leaving businesses with no merchandise. Hospitals scrambled for masks, gloves and ventilators. Businesses shut their offices.
Despite the global chaos, some good emerged from the pandemic. Respect grew – especially during the early days amid uncertainty over how COVID was transmitted – for the hard work of those essential workers often taken for granted, professional cleaners.
For CleanMark, the pandemic validated the company’s tried-and-true methods, cleaning products, uncompromising procedures, and ongoing investment in technology. Especially to their clients.
Maybe the reason for the seamless manner in which CleanMark took on the challenge was their preparedness. “There wasn’t a significant adjustment to the business,” says CleanMark’s Chief Executive Officer John Vavitsas. “A lot of our processes in the back office and front office were already in place to adapt effectively to a COVID environment.”
Disinfectant products, disposable gloves for handling chemicals and cleaning, and other precautions that made the news were being used by trained staff before the virus emerged. Mask-wearing, of course, was new, and immediately mandated across all North American sites.
Vavitsas notes that while many of the core services performed remained unaltered, it was the swift implementation of high-touch, enhanced hygiene protocols coupled with clear client communication about cleaning, sanitization and disinfection that provided the necessary reassurance for clients, employees and their guests. As the situation developed, technologies such as electrostatic fogging were implemented swiftly to provide a further layer of protection.
And although recent research indicates that we are less likely to catch COVID from surfaces than was originally thought, optics matter. “Our customers were 100 percent focussed on the need to keep everyone safe in what were the most uncertain of times,” says Vavitsas. “Where I think our teams excelled from the outset was the consistent manner in which they communicated, coordinated and cleaned. We made sure we had the facts. We thought about every potential pathogen eventuality for each of our sites, and we did everything possible to ensure the scope of work was executed in a manner that provided peace of mind.”
For years, cleaning was sometimes considered an anonymous kind of job – but COVID-19 changed all that. “Since the pandemic, the focus has shifted and all eyes are on our Service Personnel,” says Stella Kyriacou, Regional Vice President, Central Canada.
“They are receiving the recognition they deserve,” she says. “It’s positive to see the praise and gratitude that everyone in this industry is receiving during this difficult time. It is wonderful to see the definition of essential workers extended to include cleaning Service Personnel, who are most certainly essential during this pandemic.”
With such a keen focus on workplace safety, one of the biggest industry shifts has been the emphasis placed on compliance and accountability. In short, clients expect the highest levels of clean and innovative ways to prove it. Launched over a decade ago, CleanMark’s CleanSmart system is at the heart of its advanced, automated service model – giving clients real-time information and analysis on the go. From the cleanliness of surfaces to staff schedules, CleanSmart has become an invaluable tool.
At CleanMark, accountability starts at the top. John’s strong values, business acumen, and passion to be the best facility service company in the industry have helped build CleanMark into a Pan-North American operation with an outstanding organic growth rate.
“John is a natural leader – takes risks and doesn’t hesitate to jump in when needed,” says Soula Bougiotis, Vice President, Client Experience. “He’s motivated by new challenges: to keep things fresh and ahead of industry. John encourages everyone to learn and grow. By modelling this behaviour from the top down, the entrepreneurial spirit permeates throughout the organization, and CleanMark has experienced significant growth in the last number of years driven by this spirit.”
Today CleanMark serves a wide array of single and multi-site clients, including well-known retailers, shopping centres, fitness centres, cinemas, automotive dealerships, daycares, pharmacies, medical clinics, and leading North American electronics retailers.
Although the business has expanded considerably, cleaning millions of square feet daily, CleanMark’s values remain constant. “The CleanMark community is bound by our values: service, passion, collaboration, and integrity,” says Bougiotis. “These values are at the forefront of any recruiting or promotion activity. Our industry is a relationship and people business. Regardless of background, these values coupled with an individual’s desire to learn and grow contribute positively to our community.”
And it shows. Living their values every day has led to double digit annual growth for close to three decades realized through an outstanding client retention rate and impressive organic growth in Canada and the United States.
But rather than rest on its laurels, CleanMark continues to improve all areas of the business, including technology and automation. This investment allows the company’s territory leaders to focus on the delivery side of the cleaning industry rather than administrative tasks. The results: greater efficiency for teams, who can spend more time engaging with Service Personnel and clients. By freeing up time, staff devote more time to the field, and less to tasks that have now been automated.
“For the vast majority of businesses, technology is not an option but rather a requirement of daily operation, survival, and growth,” says Dr. Peter Androutsos, Vice President, Information Systems and Technology.
“Unlike canned reports and data that are provided by individual service providers – employee timecards and human resources portals – CleanMark has taken steps to take information from multiple third-party platforms so as to generate meaningful reports that offer insight into aspects of the company as needed by the target audience,” he says.
Some examples of the many benefits of technology include automatic assessments of employee eligibility for health insurance under the U.S. Affordable Care Act; streamlining supply orders; and refining processes and accuracy for the company’s purchasing agent.
“Finally, using technology we have become 95 percent paperless,” says Androutsos. “CleanMark is always looking for ways to minimize waste and become more environmentally friendly. We have been Eco Certified for the last 10 years and continue to improve our processes at the worksite and at our back end.”
According to Jeff Ku, Vice President, Finance and Administration, automation has allowed CleanMark to make many strides, including scaling with no additional back-office overhead; reducing errors, allowing quicker response to clients, scaling quickly and efficiently, and more.
“Automation has also allowed front-line staff to view reports and gain access to data that was not available in the past which, in turn, allows decisions to be pushed out to those who can action them rather than waiting for a central response empowering everyone,” he says.
Another way CleanMark ensures customer satisfaction and peace of mind is through their own take on “checklists” and “audits.” Tailored specifically to each client’s scope of work, the company began mandating weekly/monthly inspections with each customer to provide a face-to-face, one-on-one experience in real time a decade ago.
“All that has changed now is that it is real-time, automated, and interrelated with other platforms that we utilize to ensure that the CleanMark brand standard is delivered,” says Sophia Harris, Regional Vice President, Atlantic Canada.
Using a third party form-processing system that offers CleanMark the ability to define forms however it likes, the company creates generalized questionnaires that are completed by site auditors when visiting service locations. Since these audit forms require all sections to be completed, they also act as indirect checklists for the audit process.
Along with assigning a general grade to the quality of the work performed at service areas, site auditors can also embed photographs of areas needing attention, highlight exceptional work, supply comments, and capture signatures and sign-offs.
“Upon completion of each site audit, all information is immediately pushed to the Cloud where the data is assembled into a standardized document that can be sent to a client either on demand, or in some cases, automatically on submission,” says Androutsos.
“Lastly, by taking advantage of our provider’s remote API (application programming interface), we can collect audit information to facilitate analyses such as service performance over time, audit frequency, and equipment compliance, as well as help us identify and potentially act upon subjective differences in scoring that can exist between auditors.”
For years, CleanMark has been acknowledged as a place to grow and succeed. As CEO and leader, John Vavitsas has formed many key relationships internally and externally, and plans to continue to grow with existing clients, backfill some markets where the company has capacity, and continue to invest in people.
“One of the greatest benefits is watching some of our people grow over the years,” he says. “Sophia Harris is an excellent example. She is currently a Regional VP, having risen up the ranks through a desire to develop and a passion to go the extra mile for every client. She is an invaluable member of the senior executive team who knows every aspect of our service – giving her a unique perspective.”
Appreciative of her mentorship, Harris says John’s entrepreneurial spirit is just as strong in the company today as it was when she first started. “We have a motto at CleanMark – treat your book of business as if it were your own,” she comments. “By empowering our managers to think and act this way, it allows them to feel the sense of ownership.
“For the past 20-plus years, when making decisions that impact my team and clients, I always ask myself, ‘What would our CEO do?’”
Intrigued by the industry and realizing she wanted to do more than answer phones and prepare proposals, Harris approached the company’s Chief Operating Officer who then spoke to John about giving her a chance for advancement.
Even today, Harris remembers his words to her: “We have finally found someone that can work the front desk and our clients, staff and management have commented on CleanMark finding the right person, so if I decide to have you work in the field that will leave us with a gap at the front desk. But if I don’t give you this opportunity, I would be holding you back, so I guess finding your replacement just became my priority.”
That, she says, is CleanMark – helping people grow and providing them with opportunities. “In the many years that have followed, strong, talented individuals have continued to join our organization, demonstrating that as long as our values and leadership qualities are aligned, CleanMark provides opportunity to all.”
CleanMark continues to invest in automation, its people and servicing its clients North America-wide. The company has grown significantly since its inception in 1997 but its founding values remain.