NETWORK Services: 50 Years Strong

Categories: Member Profiles

By Graeme Golucki | June 11, 2018 << Back to Articles NETWORK Services: 50 Years Strong

NETWORK® Services Co. hit a milestone this year that few organizations of its kind do—50 years of being in business. The sales and marketing group celebrated this achievement at its annual NETWORK Supplier trade show, which took place in late April in Las Vegas, NV. The event brought together hundreds of suppliers and NETWORK partners for four days of networking opportunities and to celebrate the positive impact the organization has had on the cleaning industry.

Time to Team up

NETWORK was formed in 1968 by seven New England-area distribution companies. At the time, these companies were in competition for both territory and customers. Through their relationship in a local paper trade association, these firms got to know each other and found they shared many of the same clients. Deciding they all were better off operating as friendly competitors instead of enemies, these seven distributors pooled their resources to form a company. This new venture—NETWORK—would handle the contract attainment and then assign individual companies to provide the day-to-day service to the customers.

Almost immediately after NETWORK’s incorporation in November 1968, the organization began expanding into other regions of the United States. Over the course of the next three years, NETWORK’s footprint doubled in size. Walt Dethlefsen, Membership Development at NETWORK, attributes the organization’s rapid growth to its founding tenets.

“NETWORK began as a member-owned organization with each member having one share of stock and one vote in company decisions,” he says. “That concept of each member, regardless of size or tenure, being considered a shareholder with one vote is something that drives our success to this day. It sets NETWORK apart from other groups as we stand together to sell collectively. We take pride in not just being member-owned but member-driven.”

This concept of equality propelled NETWORK nationwide in its early days. “Because there were not many groups for distributors in the late 1960s, our concept was extremely desirable to the major players,” Dethlefsen says. “It was not a difficult sell when recruiting new members. NETWORK offered distributors access to major corporate accounts as well as the ability to negotiate with key suppliers across the country. We never focused on having the most members, just the best. A massive head count has never been our goal; achieving complete and competent coverage so we can sell together has been what drives us.”

Best of Both Worlds

From its inception, NETWORK has played a vital link in the janitorial supply chain, bringing together manufactures, and end customers in the corporate space. “From an overall purpose point of view, we were born and raised to service corporate accounts,” says Alan Tomblin, CEO of NETWORK. “Our corporate clients are always looking for centralized control of services like billing and reporting. But these same clients also want the flexibility of local expertise and service. NETWORK uniquely provides the perfect balance of those two. We have a unique ability to offer corporate accounts compliance nationwide, but when something goes wrong locally, we have the best members in those markets that can solve those problems at the street level.”

Dethlefsen agrees that NETWORK’s two-pronged approach has been instrumental in its long-term success.

“NETWORK has a field sales team that secures national contracts, which we then assign to local members,” he says. “The beginning of a corporate relationship, such as contract processing, and the end results, tasks like reporting and billing, are all handled by our headquarters in Schaumburg, IL. But that middle part—the servicing and support of an account—is handled by local NETWORK members, providing our customers with a one-of-a-kind, high-touch approach.”

Confronting Challenges

During the past five decades, NETWORK has faced and met its fair share of challenges. “It seems every few years, there’s a major new entry into the market, a disruptor, who wants to get into the jansan industry,” Dethlefsen says. “But while these disruptors might have branch managers, NETWORK has member-owners. Our members work where they live. They take their service personally, so it’s a different level of service. Our people don’t just punch a clock; they’re always on the job for their customers.

“Even taking into account the number of mergers and acquisitions the industry has seen throughout the years, NETWORK has maintained a high standard of service. We might not have the same members we did 20, 30 years ago,” he says. “We still have the same quality of members.”

In addition to a dedicated membership base, NETWORK has been able to confront an always-changing marketplace by embracing the latest technology.

“We’ve always been committed to investing in the newest developments,” Tomblin says. “For decades, NETWORK has leveraged technology to create efficiencies for our members, customers, and suppliers. By keeping our eyes locked on the wants and needs of the manufacturers and end customers, we’ve been able to stay at the forefront.” 

Connecting Globally

Another rung in NETWORK’s ladder of success has been its long-standing relationship with ISSA, specifically its participation in the association’s annual trade show.

“I’m old enough to remember when there were only a handful of venues for the industry to meet up, and ISSA was one of them,” Dethlefsen says. “Today, there is only one—ISSA. There is not an event of any consequence in the industry that measures up to the ISSA show as the one place you can go and see all the major supplier and distributor partners. It is by far the most economical way to get a lot of business done in a short period of time. If you schedule it properly ahead of time, you can see as many partners and customers in that three- to four-day period as you would flying around the country for months.”

According to Tomblin, the annual North American trade show is one of many valuable facets of NETWORK’s relationship with ISSA. “Of course, NETWORK focuses a lot of time around the show because it’s a great value, but that’s just one of the many assets ISSA provides to its members,” he says. “ISSA’s website provides a wealth of information and helps us keep up to date on industry news and what sort of product innovations are out there. Since it is a worldwide association, being a member provides NETWORK with the opportunity for recognition of the globalization of the industry marketplace. Our customers are becoming more international, and ISSA provides us with a much-needed connection to fulfill their needs. Not a lot of groups can say they’ve got the reach we do. We have service representatives, fleets, and distribution centers in more than 50 countries, and are always looking to expand that footprint.”

NETWORK might be celebrating a half-century of being in business this year, but the sales and marketing group is already looking towards the next 50 years.

“I feel that our future is extremely bright,” Tomblin says. “We have the technological infrastructure designed to service the customer exceptionally well with the support of  employees that are highly engaged. And speaking of employees, we’ve refined our efforts to attract and retain what we feel are the best and the brightest, both at our headquarters and in our membership base. And finally, I feel we are agile. For 50 years we’ve adapted with the times and continue to lead in the marketplace. We’re able to face disruptions head-on and develop solutions that enable our customers, suppliers, and members to thrive. NETWORK is five decades strong, and getting stronger.”

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.