ABC Sales & Services

The mark of an excellent cleaning company is a commitment to always improving, always learning. It’s an allegiance to offering your customers the best you have, even if that means uprooting old systems and making big changes.

At ABC Sales & Services, this commitment to self-improvement is baked into the company culture, and it’s one of the main reasons owner Saul S. Strain says ISSA membership has been so important to him. “The value of being part of ISSA is tremendous. From meeting fellow colleagues, business owners, creating relationships with fellow distributors, vendors—it’s a great resource to find whatever you’re looking for to help assist you with your business plans.”

For more on ABC Sales & Service, tune into this recent Straight Talk! interview

Humble beginnings

ABC Sales & Services is a cleaning service provider and product distributor operating in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The company was originally established as ABC Janitors in 1964 by Gil Alstead. In the late 60s, Strain’s father, a teacher who needed additional income to support his family, was hired by Alstead as a part-time janitor. On one of his first cleaning jobs, Alstead sent Jon B. Strain into town to polish a brass doorknob. He did such excellent work that when Alstead needed to travel, he offered Jon Strain a managerial role in the company, and the two became partners.

Together, Jon Strain and Alstead grew the company, branching out into the distribution of cleaning products with a second business, ABC Sales. Eventually, the two companies merged into ABC Sales & Services with a commitment to provide both excellent cleaning and disinfecting services, as well as top-of-the-line cleaning products, to their valued customers in the Virgin Islands. In the early 1980s, Alstead decided to relocate to the mainland United States and sold his interest in the company to Jon Strain, who ultimately handed the reins of the family business down to his son, Saul.

The impact of ISSA

Strain says he grew up knowing about ISSA because his father always traveled to the annual ISSA Show North America. As Strain took an interest in the business, he began attending the shows and officially joined the company in 2007. Once in charge of ABC, one of the first ISSA programs Strain took advantage of was to become CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard) certified.

Strain learned about the certification at the ISSA Show North America and made it his goal to get his company certified within one year. He acknowledges that the changes needed to meet the requirements turned out to be more involved than he realized.

“We were a very verbal organization,” Strain says of his company at the time. “Transferring to CIMS, everything is documented.” Though it was a significant change to their operating procedure, Strain saw the value in certification and was determined to put in the work. “It took me until 2013 to earn that certification,” Strain says, and his company has been recertified every year since. “It’s a learning curve; it’s a culture shift,” Strain explains, “but it was extremely beneficial to our organization to how we operate today.”

More recently, the pandemic highlighted the importance of proper cleaning and disinfection. So, Strain took advantage of another ISSA program: GBAC certification with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC), a division of ISSA. Strain says the GBAC certification has been instrumental in not only marketing the expertise of his company to clients, but also “for our staff, knowing that when we send them out, they are using the best practices and keeping themselves safe so they can go home safe to their families.”

In addition to CIMS and GBAC certification, Strain has also made use of ISSA’s online resources and workshops, attended the annual ISSA Show North America, and formed long-term relationships with vendors and other industry professionals thanks to ISSA membership.

“Our membership with ISSA is extremely valuable to our organization to understand our industry from a global perspective,” Strain says, noting this is particularly important given their location in the Virgin Islands. “And that keeps us innovative, being able to provide the best to our clients.” Among these innovations, ABC has grown in its use of new technology, especially related to documentation of services, becoming more efficient.

“You’re doing yourself a favor by joining [ISSA],” Strain asserts. “Being able to associate yourself with other members in the industry, you realize you’re not alone.” Strain explains that at times, it can feel isolating to run a business and try to solve problems on your own, but then you realize, “there’s a whole industry that’s having a similar situation. And you find ways to address the same situation—someone’s done it before; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel in many cases.”

ISSA membership connects you to the global cleaning industry, where you can find camaraderie, share knowledge, and encourage and inspire one another. “If you are not a member, there are many resources that are to your benefit,” Strain says. “If you are a member, take advantage of as many programs available that will challenge you and your organization.”

Back to basics

When asked what advice he has for others in the industry—aside from joining ISSA—Strain suggests it all comes down to remembering a few basic principles of good business: “Be kind to your employees. Understand that without them, you won’t be in business. Show up every day.”

Strain observes that we are living in unprecedented times with the pressures of the pandemic, so it’s important to adjust your expectations as you work with vendors, clients, and your team. “You just have to have a greater sense of empathy and understanding in order to be effective in this business market environment.”

Strain goes on to note that thanks to the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for all industry professionals to continue representing the cleaning industry well. “We are making a difference. We are valued.”