It was 1963 in Rochester, NY, and medical biological photographer Frank De Rosa was at a career crossroads. Unhappy with his position, he had left his job at a local hospital to seek out better opportunities. Also a skilled musician and songwriter he started playing music on the night club circuit in Upstate New York, while looking for his next full-time job.
“Music pulled me through some tough times,” De Rosa says. “But more importantly than helping me pay the bills, playing those clubs allowed me to network and get my name out through the area, letting people know I was looking for a new startup business.”
Sometimes a man finds his business, and sometimes a business finds its man. In De Rosa’s case, his next opportunity came to him through a catchy local advertisement. “I saw an ad for a cleaning service franchise, and I’ll never forget the headline—‘There’s Gold in Dirt,’” he says. “So I figured I would look into it more. Next thing you know, with the help of a few investors, my brother Joe and I purchased a franchise from Sanicare Building Services of America.”
While he had next to no experience in the jansan industry, De Rosa was a quick study. “When I started out, I didn’t know one end of a mop from another,” he says. “I leaned on my family members who had done custodial work and learned the ropes. My contacts from my nightclub days helped me secure accounts with local businesses. Little by little, our franchise grew, adding staff as its client base expanded.”
Delivering the Goods
As his business grew, De Rosa realized he didn’t need a parent company to assist him any longer. Within a few years, he struck out on his own, buying out his franchise’s investors and starting Tidy Up Building Services. The company continued to expand in Rochester during the 1960s, but always the forward-thinking businessman, De Rosa started planning his next big move. “As the company added accounts, I started building relationships with the facility managers,” he says. “In addition to the cleaning services Tidy Up was providing, the managers started asking me to acquire equipment and supplies. It started out with getting them little things—some light bulbs here, a box of soap there. They appreciated the service and paid me a little bit extra so they didn’t have to run around.”
Tidy Up continued to provide cleaning and janitorial services, but before De Rosa knew it, he had a full-blown distribution business on his hands. To meet the growing requests from facility managers for supplies and equipment, De Rosa started Advance Maintenance Supply (now known as Advance Paper & Maintenance Supply, Inc.) in the early 1970s. The venture proved to be so profitable that De Rosa soon sold Tidy Up off to one of his employees and turned his focus solely on distribution.
While he was building his distribution operation, De Rosa was always looking for new ways to expand the business and also for some support from within the industry. A colleague suggested he attend the ISSA trade show. “I was amazed with not just the trade show, but the association as a whole after making that trip,” De Rosa says. “To this day, I am impressed with what ISSA does and what it offers its members. The publications that ISSA provides, the website, all the information the association provides keeps the members involved with and informed about the cleaning industry.”
His distributor business began to take off, but De Rosa saw some changes in his region in the early part of the next decade and started eyeing a hotter climate—both in terms of temperature and business. “By the middle part of the decade, there was a big economic decline in Upstate New York in general and Rochester specifically,” De Rosa recollects. “Businesses shut down, including many of my accounts. I saw the writing on the wall and knew my time there was limited. Arizona had always been on my mind so I took some trips to Tucson, both for vacation and to look for new business, but nothing struck my fancy. Then, I was back in Rochester in 1976 and saw in a local New York newspaper that there was a janitorial supply distributor for sale in Mesa.”
De Rosa wasn’t about to buy a new company without doing his homework. He engaged his son Kevin to do a bit of on-site research at the company, then known as Mesa Janitorial Supply. “I took Kevin down to Mesa with me and had him hang out in front of the store for a day,” he says. “Kevin watched the foot traffic for a whole day and said the place was doing great business. I looked at their product lines, and it was almost exactly what I was selling back up north. So I made an offer right then and there. By the summer of 1977, I had packed up the family and was running Advance out of the store front in Mesa.”
In the 1990s, De Rosa saw the landscape for distributors changing. To survive, he had Advance shift towards a more consultative sales approach. “The distributor market as I had known it for the last 30 years was going by the wayside, mergers and consolidations started becoming the norm,” he says. “So I told my staff, we can’t just sell products, any big box store can do that. To prosper, Advance needed to sell products and the education that goes along with the products. We have to educate our clients—explain the mechanics of the products, the where, when, and how to use them. Today, this is all a service industry. If you’re not taking time to offer education along with product, you might as well just shut your doors.” Thanks to this change in philosophy and tactics, Advance continued to flourish.
Industry & ISSA Dedication
As De Rosa’s business grew in Mesa so did his relationship with ISSA. By the 1990s, he had begun participating even more with the association by becoming part of the ISSA Board of Directors, serving on the board as a director (1990-91) and again as secretary (1994-96). “I was extremely happy to be part of ISSA’s board,” he reflects. “Not only did it give me a chance to provide input, but I also got the chance to see how other distributors and manufacturers ran their businesses. I got along great with everyone on the board; we were a rather tight-knit group. I enjoyed working with people of that caliber in the industry who cared for the industry as much as I do.”
De Rosa is extremely passionate about the cleaning industry and ISSA, and recommends all members get involved with ISSA. “If I’m talking with a member, and I find out s/he is not actively involved as an ISSA member by participating the board or other functions I ask them flat out—‘Are you making income in the jansan industry? Why not get involved in the industry and have a voice in what’s going on?’” he says. “I’ll tell any member that anybody can complain about the issues facing the cleaning industry and go cry and pout in the corner. It takes courage and brains to get out there and participate. Get involved and make a difference in both ISSA and the cleaning industry as a whole.”
As he enters the second half of a century in the cleaning industry continuing to head up Advance, De Rosa has nothing but fond memories. “I can’t believe I will have been in this industry for 51 years,” he says. “Sometimes, I don’t know where the time has gone. It is an amazing industry, and I consider myself blessed to be a part of it. The cleaning industry is very close to me, and I’m glad to see my sons carrying on my legacy.” With De Rosa’s guidance and wisdom, his sons Kevin and Marc are poised to keep advancing Advance for another 50 years, if not longer.