A Century of ISSA

Categories: ISSA 100th Anniversary, ISSA Insights

By Jeff Cross | January 27, 2023 << Back to Articles A Century of ISSA

All it takes is just one thought. One good idea. One germinating dream you just know will grow into something tangible and valuable.

Alfred Richter had that thought, that idea, that germinating dream, back in the early days of what we call the Roaring Twenties. It was a period in history of great social, economic, and political change. It was the time in which visionaries instinctively knew it was the right time to create legacies.

The legacy that is now ISSA was officially created by Richter in 1923, then known as the National Sanitary Supply Association, or NSSA.

“I realized there was a great deal I did not know about the business. I presumed that a conference of successful distributors, drawn from various metropolitan cities, would result in an exchange of ideas that would be beneficial to all,” Richter said many years ago.

Was he right? If you walked into the room where NSSA had its first meeting Richter called together in St. Louis in 1923, you might have thought you stumbled into a business lunch and wondered what was on the menu. You would quickly find your assumption a little misguided, as those seven sanitary supply distributors were on the cusp of something great.

What Richter did at that moment in time was launch NSSA and create history. John Opie served as the first president of NSSA, with Richter taking the role of vice president. The only other person at that meeting besides the founding fathers was Ed Kratsch, editor of Brooms, Brushes & Mops, which subsequently became the official publication of NSSA.

It is unknown how many industry professionals or companies Richter invited to that first meeting in July of 1923, but the six who positively responded to him are now a solid part of ISSA history.

NSSA becomes ISSA

Those early founding fathers focused on distributors in the United States. That wasn’t going to be sustainable in subsequent decades as the world became more connected with communications and progress. Enter Gordon Bodek, who served as president of the association in 1967. “Recognizing the growth potential of a worldwide organization, we changed the name of the association to the International Sanitary Supply Association Inc. (ISSA),” he said in the July/August 1988 issue of ISSA Today magazine, now the association’s official member publication. “Time has proven this vision prophetic as our association continues its worldwide growth.”

It’s not often you use the word “prophetic” in a business publication, but when you look at ISSA and how quickly it grew over the years, with some 10,500 member organizations right now, you would agree it is a fitting term. Bodek was right.

Bodek, who was president of Bobrick Washroom Equipment from 1970-1985, is recognized as key to changing the name of NSSA to ISSA and was instrumental in attracting international distributor and manufacturer members. “Gordon’s foresight drove decades of the ISSA’s growth and expansion into international markets worldwide. And the rest is history,” according to Alan Gettelman, the vice president of external affairs with Bobrick Washroom Equipment. Bodek passed away on September 10, 2010.

In 2005, the association changed its name and tagline to simply ISSA — The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association. For the purpose of clarity moving forward, we will use the name “ISSA,” although that name wasn’t adopted until the Bodek era.

Steady growth

Since its founding, ISSA has steadily grown from the seven founders to now represent several member classes with more than 10,500 members. But the backbone for the association was mainly distribution, the link from the manufacturer to the end user.

The late Sidney Bockstanz, a founding member who served as the second chairman of ISSA in 1924-1925, said this (excerpt from ISSA Today magazine, 1988): “The (ISSA) can rightfully claim a good share of credit for improved sanitary conditions. It has been a valuable link between the manufacturer and the ultimate consumer… the manufacturer has been able to educate the distributor on the proper use of his product. In turn, the distributor is equipped to pass on to the consumer his improved knowledge of the products he handles.”

With COVID-19 and the pandemic, it has become evident how vital education on proper product usage is from both member classes, not to mention those using the products, such as building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house facility cleaning professionals.

Bockstanz continued, “The association has accomplished much for the betterment of the sanitary supply industry and the general public, but it cannot rest on its laurels. It must go forward continuously and with strong young leadership that has been developed within the organization.” Interesting words, as that philosophy has only picked up steam, not lessened, as ISSA focuses on young leaders and serving its members and the public.

Yes, while some of those early founders of ISSA were manufacturers, all were involved in distribution, and it was those suppliers who have brought us to where we are today as a worldwide cleaning industry association.

As mentioned, ISSA has more than 10,500 members and values each one of them. During the year, we will spotlight as many of them as we can and tell their stories, how they were founded, how they grew, and how they overcame challenges. For this article, we will share just a few examples to whet your appetite. You will see how much of an impact ISSA member organizations have had on the cleaning industry and how being a member has helped them on their journey.

Built on distribution

At its inception, memberships to ISSA were limited to distributors and manufacturers. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that end users were brought into the ISSA fold.

EBP Supply Solutions in Milford, Connecticut, was an early supporter of ISSA, and from that relationship has spawned partnerships and collaborations that have changed the industry and the world.

“EBP was founded in 1918, and we have been a very strong member of ISSA”, said Meredith Reuben, the former CEO of EBP, now a division of Imperial Dade. “We have participated in the ISSA Scholars program, an ISSA Charities signature program. We also took advantage of the ISSA Young Executive Society (now NextGen), which became an important part of developing our managers and senior executives in our company.”

Reuben has also had a critical role with the ISSA Hygieia Network. “It has been an amazing experience where women in our industry come together to learn from each other, help each other, and network. It has been a wonderful experience.” She served as chair for two years, helping build Hygieia into what it proudly is today, under the watch of program director Dr. Felicia Townsend. The Hygieia Network was founded in 2016 by Ilham Kadri, now the CEO of Solvay, based in Belgium.

Daycon is another early supporter of ISSA, with an 80-year history as a member of the association, dating back to 1942. That’s also the year Daycon, a third-generation company, was founded by David Cohen, an inventor and innovator and an ISSA past president.

From the beginning, Daycon stood out from the competition by being innovative and looking at new ways to approach the market, taking advantage of its ISSA membership and networking opportunities, in addition to other member benefits. Daycon’s philosophy has always been to listen to customers and provide products and services to help them to better operate their companies.

In 1977, David’s son, Bobby Cohen, took over the company. In 1990, Bobby’s son, Howard Cohen, joined Daycon. Howard Cohen has been leading Daycon for the past 12 years. 

Since it was founded, Daycon has been very active in ISSA. In fact, Howard recalls that when he was a child, Daycon was producing training videos in conjunction with ISSA. “In today’s world, ISSA has become an invaluable resource where customers can see all the best products before they hit the market,” Howard said. “I believe ISSA brings high value to the market because it provides an opportunity to network, share ideas, see old friends, and build strong relationships with business partners. At ISSA trade shows, the manufacturer, distributor, and end user are all at the same location, which cultivates idea-sharing and collaboration.”

Bobby Cohen Howard Cohen

Daycon joined Envoy Solutions in 2021 because the specialized distributor and solution provider is integrating regional distributors in an innovative way to serve associates associates, suppliers, and customers alike. Cohen said Envoy Solutions gives Daycon a great new platform to build upon its long and storied history with ISSA.

WAXIE Sanitary Supply, an ISSA member for 78 years, dating back to 1945, has long supported the association.

Harry Wax, a World War II veteran, purchased San Diego Janitor Supply in 1945. Shortly thereafter, his brother Morris, also a World War II veteran, joined the company as Harry’s partner. These two brothers, along with Morris’ sons Charles and David, grew the company, WAXIE Sanitary Supply, with the slogan “The Most Trusted Name in Clean,” to be the largest family-owned business in the industry. 

Harry Wax Morris Wax Charles Wax
with his wife Randi

Through the years, WAXIE, a west-coast distributor that has expanded to the Pacific Northwest, has grown to more than 800 dedicated employees in 24 locations. Today, as part of Envoy Solutions, it’s a major part of a nationwide organization. Along the way, WAXIE was continually recognized by customers, suppliers, and employees for raising the bar in the industry through its commitment to diversity, sustainability, cutting-edge technology, and employee well-being.

Charles Wax, mentioned earlier and who started working for his father at the age of 12, has been an integral part of the company’s success. At a young age, he quickly grew a passion for improving the business. Under his leadership, WAXIE grew to the success story it is today.

Charles Wax is the former chairman of WAXIE, but he is still extremely active in the industry. He is now serving as the current co-chair of the board of directors for Envoy Solutions. David Wax, formerly executive vice president of the company, and a strong supporter of ISSA Charities, has retired.

Early manufacturer members of ISSA

One of the first manufacturer member companies of ISSA was State Chemical Manufacturing. The company was founded in 1911 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Jay Zucker, and he started up with no orders, no products on the shelf, and no customers. But he did have a plan and US$75 in his pocket.

His product brainchild was a floor-sweeping compound, and his idea of offering first-class, simple answers to the challenges facing the cleaning and maintenance industry was widely accepted. Zucker felt the best way to achieve his goal was to build a product line of innovative, high-performing, yet safe products.

That belief led to State Chemical Manufacturing becoming one of the charter members of ISSA in 1923 and has proudly remained a member ever since. Immersing itself in the industry not only helped build State’s expertise but allowed State to be an integral part of growing with other like-minded entrepreneurs.

“My great grandfather’s vision in 1911 remains a cornerstone of our organization in 2023,” according to Seth Uhrman, the CEO of State Industrial Products and the great-grandson of the founder. “It includes continually developing unique solutions for our customers and participating in the stewardship of our industry through ISSA. I am very proud of the organization we have grown for 112 years and of our association with ISSA for 100 years.”  

Spartan Chemical Co. Inc. is another noteworthy manufacturer member of ISSA, with more than 65 years as a member. The company is family owned and operated since May of 1956, and has grown, under the leadership of three generations of the Swigart family, from humble beginnings in a 1,500 square foot building in downtown Toledo, Ohio.

The early days of State Industry Products.

Spartan now operates on a 135-acre campus in Maumee, Ohio, with a 725,000 square foot facility. Spartan products span across five continents, tapping into the strength of more than 500 national distributors in the United States and 61 international distributors and associates, with the support of more than 250 employees.

Today, Spartan is led by Steve Swigart, CEO and chairman of the board, and his son, John Swigart, president. Steve is Spartan’s longest-term employee with over 50 years of tenure. He served on the ISSA board of directors for six years, elected in 1996 and serving as treasurer, vice president elect, and then president. 

John joined Spartan in 2000, was appointed to the board of directors in 2007, and became executive vice president in 2009. He is now the president of Spartan and is responsible for the development and implementation of the company’s strategic direction and is ardent about growing a successful operation through strong company culture and a singular commitment to independent distribution. John has held various leadership positions for ISSA, including board appointments as well.

Spartan Chemical and the Swigart family consider ISSA the company’s principal trade association.

Another long-standing manufacturing member is the Tuway American Group, joining ISSA at its inception in 1923. The company is headquartered in Troy, Michigan, with manufacturing facilities in Rockford, Ohio. The family-operated company got its start the same year it joined ISSA. Founded by Otto Shaefer, a cleaning supply distributor, the company specialized in mops and all the accessories that go along with that type of product line. From its beginning, the product offerings from Tuway have become impressive.

Another ISSA pioneer, St. Louis-based Navy Brand Manufacturing Co., began operations in 1907 and joined ISSA in 1923. The specialty chemical manufacturer has more than 300 products, from cleaners, disinfectants, deodorizers, and many more the cleaning industry utilizes.

There are hundreds of similar examples and experiences from the distribution and manufacturing arena that make up ISSA. These are just a few.

Those who rep… connect the dots

Another member class that has been part of ISSA history for many years is the manufacturer representative (rep) group. This group of professionals works for manufacturers, representing and selling their products.

Wind Associates, based in Tukwila, Washington, is a manufacturer rep with a long history with ISSA. Started by Kenneth Wind in 1968, the company joined ISSA in 1971. Tim Wind, Ken’s son, joined the company in 1976. With a few challenging years in the beginning, the company flourished based on a strong reputation and using ISSA member benefits and networking opportunities. One fact Wind Associates is proud of is the very first company they signed on to represent was Golden Star Inc, a Kansas-based manufacturer of mops and accessories. To this day, 55 years later, that relationship is still intact.

John Beers joined the company in 1995, with Dave Morrison signing on in 1997. By this time, Wind Associates was one of the largest rep firm in the northwest. It was in 2002 that Beers started buying into the company, and soon after, he and Morrison bought all remaining shares and together now run the firm.
Beers serves as the president.

The J.J. Shearer Company is another example of a successful manufacturing rep firm. The company was founded in 1932 by John James Shearer in Minneapolis. Prior to this new venture, Shearer lived and worked in Janesville, Wisconsin, as a washing machine salesperson.

As a manufacturer rep, Shearer would travel his territory in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, all by train, getting off in every small town to sell his products to the local general stores.

Jay Shearer, John’s great-grandson, eventually took over the company. As an ISSA member company for more than 50 years, the J.J. Shearer Company is in its fourth generation of ownership. And, as in many cases, with success comes acquisition. In December 2021, Jay Shearer merged J.J. Shearer into Avision, the country’s largest manufacturer rep sales force.

“Being a part of ISSA and serving on the ISSA Manufacturer Representatives’ Council and with the privilege as current president of it has been such an amazing experience,” Shearer said. “Our industry has a history of building strong relationships that go well beyond the boundaries of states or territories. ISSA continues to be strengthened by passionate people, in an amazing industry that builds life-long friendships.”

Enter a new member class

For more than 80 years, ISSA members were distributors, manufacturers, and manufacturer reps. In other words, those who make products and those who sell and distribute them. Then, ISSA leadership realized there was another group that needed representation — facility service providers, often referred to as FSPs. It was in 2004 that the ISSA board of directors voted to open membership to FSPs, splitting that group into two separate classes of membership: Building service contractors, a voting corporate membership class, and in-house service providers (ISPs), a non-voting membership class. This took effect in 2005 following various state and federal regulatory reviews.

Janitronics Facility Services Inc., based in Albany, NY, was one of the first BSCs to join ISSA when membership opened to facility service providers. Founded by the late Jim Harris, Sr., Janitronics joined ISSA in 2005. The successful firm is now in its third generation of family ownership, with Jim Harris, Jr. as president.

Harris, Sr. was an influential leader, not only at Janitronics, but across the industry. He was influential in promoting the Team Cleaning concept and cleaning for health. He was one of the founders of the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) and left a legacy not only with his company but with those he served and cared about.

“Jim was an innovator in education,” according to John Downey, the executive director of CIRI. “He was a true expert when it came to cleaning processes, such as Team Cleaning, and a real advocate of cleaning for health. He built a company with staying power.”

BRAVO! Group Services is another BSC that joined in the early years. Seeing the value of ISSA and led by president and CEO Karen Martinez, the company joined in 2007.

The company got its start in 1996, a time when women owners and operators were rare. “Karen was a pioneer in the industry, breaking the male-dominated barrier and became a mentor to many women, especially minority women,” according to BRAVO!’s Chief Operating Officer Frank Wardzinski.

Martinez ultimately built BRAVO! into a $120 million organization, with more than 4,000 on the BRAVO! team, before selling the company in 2021.

Other notable facilities that have tapped into ISSA member benefits include the University of Notre Dame, Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, and Walt Disney World, all dating back to when FSPs were first granted membership.

And now, for the very first time in history, ISSA has a BSC president: Matt Vonachen, CEO at Vonachen Group, is your ISSA president for 2023.

The residential connection

If you are involved in any part of residential cleaning, then the name Debbie Sardone should be familiar. She is the founder of Cleaning for a Reason, an ISSA Charities program. Cleaning for a Reason has helped more than 33,000 cancer patients receive free home cleanings, making a real difference in the lives of those who need help the most. Just this past year, the program delivered more than $1 million in free cleanings to people battling cancer.

Besides her noteworthy philanthropy efforts and her work as a consultant, trainer, author, and speaker, Sardone owns and operates Buckets & Bows Maid Service, based in Dallas. The company employs more than 50 workers and serves hundreds of customers. Buckets & Bows became an ISSA member in 2004.

Associate members round out ISSA

ISSA’s associate member group includes industry professionals who publish media content, engage in consulting, and conduct training or education.

Steve Ashkin, founder of The Ashkin Group LLC, is an associate member with a focus on everything involving green cleaning and sustainability. He is often called the “father of green cleaning” and has dedicated his professional life to raising the bar of cleaning — with sustainability top of mind. One such way is his work on numerous technical committees, including the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) Green Building certification and the newly formed ISSA Sustainability Committee.

In addition, Ashkin has worked extensively with market influencers such as environmental and health advocates, labor unions, media, governments, standard setters, and others which have given him deep insights into how the marketplace can be used to drive health and environmental improvements. All of this fits into the ISSA vision, bringing together industry professionals to be part of the association, the leading resource for information, education, networking, and commercial opportunities. 

And now!

ISSA has more than 10,500 member companies and organizations and has become stronger in recent years by crossing borders and growing globally. Mergers and acquisitions have made ISSA stronger, with IEHA, ARCSI, working with the ISSA Pulire Network, partnering with Informa to produce ISSA Show North America, and more have broadened the reach of your worldwide cleaning industry association.

ISSA’s Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) division emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic following its merging into ISSA in 2019. GBAC provides the guidance and direction the industry needs to deal with all that we remember too vividly and what’s next in the realm of infectious disease awareness and prevention in the built environment.

Keep an eye out. Stay in touch. All year we will celebrate you, our members. Visit and bookmark and join with us in the ongoing celebration, all culminating in a special celebration at ISSA Show North America 2023 in Las Vegas, November 13-16.

For more on how ISSA members have changed the way the world views cleaning during the past century, see these articles:

About the Author.

Jeff Cross is the ISSA media director, with media brands that include ISSA Today, Cleaning & Maintenance Management, and Cleanfax. He can be reached at [email protected] or 740-973-4236.