Charlotte Products: Driving Innovation Through CollaborationBy Graeme Golucki | September 24, 2019 << Back to Articles
For more than three decades, Charlotte Products has been developing, formulating, and manufacturing solutions and products for the cleaning industry. The company was an early adopter of sustainability, something that is ubiquitous throughout the commercial cleaning landscape today.
Charlotte Products launched its Enviro-Solutions® line of green-certified solutions in 1994, a time when the sustainability movement was considered by some to be a passing fad. Today, hundreds of products in the company’s Enviro-Solutions line are being used by cleaning professionals across the globe.
Three ‘buckets’ for success
Matt Strano, CEO of Charlotte Products, credits the company’s long-lasting success to its carefully crafted corporate culture. “Over the years, we’ve created three pillars or—since we’re in the cleaning industry—‘buckets’ to our corporate vision,” Strano said. “First off, we pride ourselves on having a strong understanding of industry trends, always trying to be ahead of the curve. For example, when we released Enviro-Solutions to the market, most facilities didn’t even have recycling bins.
“Second, we have a philosophy of always going to market with best-in-class products,” Strano continued. “If our products don’t perform just as well or better than what we’re trying to replace, then we’re simply doing a disservice to our customers. And lastly, what we strive for is knowledge transfer. We always aim to take the knowledge we garnered when developing a product and pass that onto our distributors and end users. We want to educate our customers with a simplified marketing message paired with easy-to-use solutions. If we get all three of those buckets right, we know we’re serving the industry well.”
As any manufacturer knows, staying on top of the latest trends is often easier said than done. According to Strano, one of the keys is to ask the right people the right questions. “Almost all of our product innovations start with our customers,” he said. “If we didn’t have an established mindset of wanting to better our clients’ environment by making it safer for them and more efficient for them, we’d stagnate. Our product development team listens to the end users. After all, they’re the ones using the chemicals. We find out their challenges, then go back to the development lab and try to whiteboard solutions.”
Jim Flieler, vice president of sales for Charlotte Products in Canada, seconds Strano’s endorsement of the collaborative approach. “A vast majority of our product ideas originate from dialogue with the end user. The person that’s actually out there doing the cleaning is who we’re trying to reach,” said Flieler. “We’re always asking our clients ‘What are your pain points? What could we design to make your work easier?’ Then we develop and manufacture solutions and go back to the cleaning professionals to put the new products to the test. We need to see our solutions in action in the real world. All of our lab testing is great for formulating a product, but the lab can only teach you so much. It’s on the actual floor of a facility where you really find out if a cleaning solution is a true success.”
“We really view innovation as a total team effort across the industry,” said Strano. “We may be specialists in the formulation of chemicals, but the end user is the one that’s the expert on executing the application of the product. You need that total collaboration or, as Jim said, ‘What works in the lab will fail in the field.’ When you get that true collaboration, you build a natural synergy, and innovation can really take off.”
Charlotte Products has been a member of ISSA almost since its inception and has always been an enthusiastic supporter. “I love ISSA. It brings everyone together to accomplish one goal—make cleaner, safer, and healthier spaces for people everywhere,” said Strano. “To do that you need to work with vendor partners. Everyone needs to contribute. ISSA covers the whole industry from manufacturers, to distributors, to sales reps, to end users. We all have a purpose in the cleaning industry and ISSA unites us all to make it better.”
“And you can’t put a price tag on the constructive networking opportunities ISSA offers,” said Flieler. “We learn from other members as much as they learn from us. We have a lot of complementary partnerships that have been developed through ISSA at the trade shows and regional meetings. When we first started attending, there used to be an atmosphere of competition at the ISSA shows. Not anymore though. Now I feel more of a communal partnership on how we can make things better, not only in our industry, but the world as a whole. And the association has been crucial in fostering that feeling.”
Bending an ear
One product that Strano and Flieler said came out of Charlotte Products’ spirit of collaboration is Enviro-Solutions’ Terrazzo and Concrete Floor Care Program, winner of a 2018 ISSA Innovation Award in the Cleaning Agents category.
“With the Terrazzo Floor Care Program, we looked and saw a vast majority of what our customers were spending on was supplies and equipment,” Flieler said. “So, we asked, ‘What can we do to give our customers a bigger ROI?’ And ‘What can we do to make their job safer too?’ Our product development team listened to the customer, evaluated what’s out there, and came up with a new solution. We wanted to offer a way to reduce costs by using common equipment with the current skill set of the labor force, alleviating the need for outsourcing. And we wanted to make it safer and sustainable. We fine-tuned it in collaboration with end users over the course of two years to develop a new program.”
“The whole terrazzo program was Jim’s idea,” Strano said. “It absolutely hits on the DNA of our culture of making safer healthier spaces. When you look at the traditional way you finish and strip a floor, it can be hazardous. By asking, ‘How do we make a safer product that saves on labor costs too?’ we were able to develop something that really resonates with our clients. We’re proud to have developed a product that we can look our customer in the eye and say it makes their workday better.”
Strano, Flieler, and their team were so proud of their Terrazzo and Concrete Floor Care Program that they entered it in the ISSA Innovation Award Program. “Charlotte Products completely supports ISSA’s program because the industry always needs fresh ideas,” said Strano. “And ISSA challenges people every year to show off those innovations and up their game, so to speak, year after year.”
Back at it
One would think after spending two years developing their award-winning Terrazzo and Concrete Floor Care Program that the Charlotte Products team might want to take it easy, but that’s far from the case. “We’re back in the Innovation Award Program this year in Las Vegas with our new OptiSolve Surface Imaging Technology,” said Flieler. “And our team is already working on a product for 2020 that we believe will be our most amazing innovation yet.”
“It all goes back to our first bucket of understanding industry trends,” said Strano. “The Innovation Award Platform really pushes us. Our team is planning out years in advance what we want to launch. And we welcome attendees at this year’s show in Vegas to stop by our booth if they have any pain points that need to be addressed. We’re big enough to service any customer, but flexible enough to take on any challenge.”
About the Author.
Graeme Golucki is ISSA's digital strategy editor and can be reached at [email protected]; phone, 800-225-4772 (North America) and 847-982-0800.