The Front Line

Categories: Building Service Contractor, ISSA 100th Anniversary, ISSA Insights

By Jeff Cross | August 18, 2023 << Back to Articles The Front Line

100 years ago, at the birth of what is now ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, the focus was on distribution, with a side helping of manufacturing.

Things have morphed, and things have changed. ISSA is a highly diverse organization that represents each and every aspect of cleaning. From homes to high rises, hotels to hospitals, and classrooms to campuses, members of ISSA all pull together to advance clean, drive innovation, and really change the way the world views cleaning. Just look at the recent “Rethink Clean” campaign that reached and impacted consumer awareness of all we do as a profession.

What is the focus of ISSA? To impact cleaning awareness and empower our industry to constantly improve what it does best—protect public health.

Now, at 100 years, ISSA celebrates its centennial anniversary, and we want to honor two member classes that are on the front line of cleaning: Building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers (ISPs). This includes the companies, the organizations, the managers, the technicians, the support staff … all of whom are responsible for front-line cleaning and are the responsible guardians of health. It is time to honor and recognize all that you do.

While it’s true that technology and innovation often take the spotlight, the professionals who quietly work behind the scenes are the real heroes. They ensure that proper cleaning is performed according to industry standards and are proud to protect those they serve.

In this article, ISSA reached out to a select number of organizations that provide cleaning services and invited them to share their thoughts on how they impact those they serve, how they have endured challenges, what differentiates them from others, how ISSA has helped them over the years, and much more.

The differentiation factor

All of those interviewed had their own “elevator pitch” that demonstrates how they stand out. Whether a BSC or ISP, in the industry for profit or to serve others in-house, each organization has a unique methodology for operations and setting itself apart.

Marcelo Essabba is the senior director of housekeeping for the Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium, a GBAC STAR® accredited and ISSA member organization. He sees a laundry list of how his facility stands out in the industry.

“First of all, I credit our solid core of employees,” he explains. “We have more than 75 employees that have been with us for over 10 years, and they are seasonal/part-timers. These are amazing metrics for our industry in the stadium/arena world.”

A focus for the Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium management team is to help staff feel part of the ongoing guest experience vision of the organization. This allows all employees who do the cleaning and maintenance to embrace the visions and values that are part of the organization.

On top of that is training. “We use many training programs, from safety to job function, equipment, guest experience, recognition, leadership, and forward focus training,” Essabba says. “And when we are working, we keep it to smaller groups or sections to better understand, full circle, all assignments and job function goals.”

And then there is “plenty of planning and focusing on quality assessments and checklists, using past successful events as defaults, and constantly altering to simplify, using many metrics collected from past events.”

Essabba also knows that providing leadership where all are focused on end results is a key component to a successful operation.

For BSCs, this differentiation factor really matters. Standing out from the crowd is not just a matter of preference but a strategic necessity for success. Being different allows a company to carve its own niche, attract customers’ attention, and build a strong brand identity. Differentiation creates a unique value proposition that sets a company apart, fostering growth and gaining a loyal customer base.

“This year marks our 50th anniversary as an organization, something few companies enjoy celebrating,” says Laurie Sewell, president and CEO of ISSA member company Servicon, with headquarters in Culver City, California. “Some of our clients have been with us throughout our entire existence, and we are proud to say that we have many employees that have been with us for over 30 years.”

While no one wanted the COVID-19 pandemic over than Sewell, she recognizes it was a moment for her company to shine. “We played an instrumental role in keeping our communities safe, and now that we can put that era behind us, we are focusing our energies on providing new services and opportunities designed for a post-pandemic economy.”

Some BSCs don’t have the legacy that Servicon enjoys yet have expanded rapidly. That’s the case with Rozalado Services, an ISSA member company based in Chicago. Ricardo “Ricky” Regalado is the company’s founder and CEO, with the added title of chief visionary officer (CVO). He’s passionate about the company’s success.

Rozalado has been in business for just eight years, yet we have expanded into 24 states, offering more than 20 services, all by more than 300 team members,” he explains. “We pride ourselves on being a single source solution for all commercial cleaning needs.”

Regalado values the fact that “we are not just a cleaning company” but a partner in maintaining a clean, healthy, and productive environment for those they serve. “Our innovative approach and people-first mindset with everything we do within our company culture and in facilities, day in and day out, is what differentiates us within the industry. We approach the cleaning industry with a creative and can-do attitude.”

Then there is Elite Facility Systems in Dallas, another ISSA member company. With a 45-year history, founder Tricia Holderman is proud of what she’s built and the legacy created by her successful company.

“I started Elite at 17 years old. After a lengthy hospital stay, resulting in several infections, I realized I wanted to concentrate on health care environments,” she explains, “preventing infections and controlling outbreaks.” She is now proud to hold the branding of “The Germ Girl” and holds a Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention (CMIP) with a passion for protecting others from disease. “Elite has taken its expertise to health care facilities, natural disasters, NBA and NFL facilities, and arenas, as well as airlines and ambulances. I served on the advisory board of Proctor & Gamble for developing new commercial products, helping by providing end-user knowledge.”

The competitive angle

Whether a BSC or an ISP, the word “competitive” might have a different meaning to some degree, but to all, it just means doing better.

“Thinking of the advantages of being in-house for now is the camaraderie that is built with all in the organization and being able to get buy-in from ownership to share the same vision,” Essabba says. “The support for being fully integrated with all the staff and to be able to participate in building the department and running as a full business with my vision and team.”

For Elite, it’s staying within the parameters of infection prevention that can expand to any type of facility. “With a hands-on approach and a diverse team of experts, we implement the necessary processes and protocols to achieve disease mitigation,” Holderman explains. “Our clients trust us with the entirety of their facility. We assist our clients in everything: Water and indoor air quality, creating policies and procedures, selecting products, equipment, and even type of paint and floorings, to ensure the building is safe from spreading germs.”

Servicon has reached its golden anniversary, while many of its competitors have shuttered their doors. Sewell cites her company’s unwavering commitment to its purpose: To elevate the industry and provide healthy environments for people to thrive. “Over the course of the past 50 years, we have established a reputation as the premiere experts in providing services rooted in compassion, demonstrating that doing right by your clients and your people leads to doing well in business,” she says. “We’re innovators, pathbreakers in sustainability—both in sourcing supplies and implementing green cleaning practices—and can execute on our promises because of our investment in training, learning, and development, and providing pathways to a career for our employees.”

Sewell is proud of how agile and communicative her team is and how Servicon tailors its services to each client’s unique needs and circumstances.

Regalado sees his technology company, Route, as being instrumental to the success of Rozalado Services. “Route has been around for almost three years now. We are an ecosystem that is helping cleaning companies connect, build, and grow their cleaning businesses. Our platform helps cleaning company owners with every step of growing their business, from finding and winning contracts to creating more profitable proposals and streamlining their operations.” Of course, his cleaning company takes advantage of the Route system to grow, proving it works.

Building a team

Finding and retaining talent is a constant challenge that seems to have found a permanent home in the industry. But many have figured out a way to beat it.

Essabba cites complete transparency as one strategy. “We develop orientation with descriptions of expectations for job functions,” he explains. “We want no surprises for new hires. Then we focus on team members, on-the-job training, and cross-training as well. We embrace a ‘keep it simple’ theory from the start, culminating it all with internal and external recognition programs.”

To get and keep the very best employees, how they are treated and compensated has proven to work for Servicon. “We have the highest employee retention rate in the industry,” she explains, “and at half a century into our run, we are still an expanding business that went from a regional Southern California organization into what is now a national company.” None of this would be possible with a mediocre team. She is proud of her staff.

The ISSA advantage

As part of the equation, all cited in this article tap into ISSA in some similar and some different fashions. For Essabba and the Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium team, some of that is the Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS®) certification. “It’s great training,” he says, “and has helped tremendously to understand full resources for increased knowledge of business in the janitorial and other business functions.”

Being a member of ISSA has helped an already successful organization reach the next level of success. Essabba explains, “I’ve had an opportunity to meet so many people by networking and dealing with many professionals in the industry, all of whom have tons of experience. This has helped me in my career to pursue more and more to keep achieving the highest outcomes and to help others in my journey. I am very proud of my staff who have helped me with all we have taken away from ISSA and incorporated it into the very successful team we have here.”

Holderman sees her many ISSA training sessions as critical to her success. “I have updated my knowledge on the newest technologies, standards, and regulations,” she says. “For example, I attended a two-day indoor air quality symposium and learned from the experts and met fellow attendees from various industries that contributed to my learning experience. I also taught at ISSA Show and had members lined up for an hour afterward with individual situations to discuss. I loved the enthusiasm of seeing everyone wanting to do the right thing.”

Sewell sees being a long-time ISSA member as a key component to success. “We have been a member of ISSA since the mid-1980s, and we are six times the size we were then, now with 2,000 employees,” she explains. “I cannot imagine where Servicon would be if we weren’t active members throughout these years. We have relied on ISSA to stay current with legal issues, sustainability, training, and certifications. While we have grown significantly and have our own in-house legal counsel, a head of ESG (environmental, social, and governance), and a learning and development department, we still rely on ISSA. We are also proud to be CIMS-GB certified and value ISSA’s stamp of approval.”

Regalado echoes some of the same sentiments. His company has utilized ISSA’s Cleaning Management Institute’s (CMI) Custodial Technical Training programs. “It’s been incredibly beneficial for our team,” he says. “It has helped us standardize our cleaning procedures and improve the quality of our services.”

Memories from ISSA Show North America and other events

Essabba: “Being able to walk the floor and see so many cool toys as my staff tells me that I would love utilizing at our facility, plus meeting so many like-minded individuals.”

Regalado: “One of my favorite memories of the ISSA show is setting up my first booth for Route, my technology company. Up until then, I was always just an attendee. When we arrived to set up, I could see just how big the show really was from an exhibitor’s point of view. We had so much fun, from setting up to participating in a talking session for the Innovation Award program. That year I had both my Rozalado and Route teams there. We were called the ‘Men in Black’ and have earned the reputation of always standing out with our black and white slick-looking branded apparel.”

Sewell: “How do I pick when I’ve been to more than 20 shows? But here’s a funny one: It’s when the president of Servicon and I ended up being driven back to our hotel from an ISSA event in a police car. It turns out we got into what they referred to as a ‘gypsy cab’ that was out of district, and a police officer pulled us over. He then took us back to our hotel in his car. I am happy to say I haven’t been in the back of a police car since!”

Holderman: “I’ve been to many shows and have many memories, but my favorite memory overall is traveling to Washington, DC, joining other industry advocates and discussing with congressional and senate staffers what our industry is accomplishing and how we would like to go further. And at each ISSA show, I look forward to having my picture taken with Mr. Clean. I have quite a collection!”

Sharing words of advice

It’s one thing to start, manage, and successfully grow a company or facility team … it’s another to share with the industry how to do it. True pros look for opportunities to help others.

For Essabba and his team at Hard Rock Stadium, he considers the advantages of having cleaning services in-house and the camaraderie that comes with that. “It is important to get buy-in from ownership to share the same vision,” he says. “Success is getting the support for being fully integrated with staff, being able to participate in building the department, and running as a full business with my vision and team.” Essabba encourages all in-house operations to build their own vision that encompasses all that is important in facility operations.

According to Holderman, getting involved with communities in the areas served by a company is also key to success. “Be a wealth of information for keeping their environments safer,” she explains. “Be a true expert; hands-on knowledge is very valuable. In today’s world, it’s not enough to just be a cleaning company; you have to be an expert and prove it each and every day!”

Regalado sees pivoting and adjusting to changes and trends as important. “Stay adaptable and always be ready to learn and grow,” he says. “The cleaning industry, like any other, is constantly evolving. Embrace change, invest in continuous learning, and always strive to provide the best service possible. While some may say this is not a glamorous industry, the cleaning industry is pandemic and recession-proof. This is a lucrative industry, a fun industry, and it has changed my life!”

For Sewell, she sees this industry as critical to the well-being of others. “The work that we do is important and critical to people, their health, and the economy, as was most vividly demonstrated during the pandemic,” she says. “It is crucial that we continue to raise the bar and raise the flag for the cleaning and maintenance industry as a key to the industry’s success and the health of our communities. Stand proud and stand tall!”

Leading the industry

There are many more ISSA BSC and ISP member organizations that have their own story to tell, their own differentiation factor to brag about, and their own memories to share. The bottom line is that ISSA—at 100 years—celebrates all its members and, in this issue of ISSA Today, doing that with a focus on the front line, those doing the work.

Keep up the good work. We need you out there doing what you do. 

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.