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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

Tradeshow Triumphs

Written by  Robert Kravitz

How to have the best experience at the ISSA Tradeshow


Back in 1923, Alfred Richter, who founded what was then known as the National Sanitary Supply Association, said the reason he formed the organization was to provide a meeting place of successful distributors, drawn from various metropolitan cities, [which allows them to] exchange ideas that would be beneficial to all. Now known as ISSA, the International Sanitary and Supply Association continues to provide an annual gathering place for JanSan distributors.

However, in the 1990s and early 2000s, things began to change. I worked at ISSA at that time and I witnessed first-hand some of what was happening.

Key members of the Association believed that for the organization to grow, prosper, and become more relevant to the entire professional cleaning industry, it had to open its doors to building service contractors (BSCs). I remember seeing the Association turn to advisory groups, both within and outside the organization, to help them with what was, at the time, a fairly agonizing decision. Many members of ISSA were very opposed to opening the doors to cleaning contractors. They wanted it to be for manufacturers and distributors only. Others thought it was in the best interest of the Association to open its doors.

Beginning in 2002, the Association decided it would open the annual convention if just for one day to all cleaning professionals, which included BSCs as well as in-house cleaning professionals.

Today, the show welcomes everyone in the professional cleaning industry every day of the show. Looking back, much of the agonizing about making this decision nearly 20 years ago appears to have been unwarranted. Those advocating that the Association make this change appear to have been correct. ISSA has grown as a result and the Association is now much more relevant to the entire industry than ever before.

See the show as a place for career help

As a former building service contractor myself, some of the things I find most valuable are the seminars and presentations that typically occur during the show as well as a day or two before the tradeshow floor opens. All of them discuss cleaning-related items and many are specifically for BSCs addressing cleaning issues, marketing, and the actual running of a contract cleaning company.

For instance, although I was no longer in the business, I remember attending one presentation that would have really helped me, as I am sure it helped many of those in attendance. Entitled, Improving Customer Retention and Employee Retention in Tandem, it was directed more to those in the residential cleaning industry, but it definitely applied to all cleaning contractors no matter if they served the residential or commercial markets. The presentation started out with some very thorny choices many cleaning contractors have to make at one time or another when building and operating their businesses. The presenters said in order for your business to grow and, more importantly, for contractors to love their businesses, one of the things you must do is fire your toxic customers and fire your toxic employees. The presentation then went into greater detail as to why these steps are important, the bottom line being: cleaning is subjective. Some customers are near impossible to please and some just like to complain. If your company is doing the job, you can't let these toxic clients sour your view of your company. Let them go.

Some of the things I find most valuable are the seminars and presentations. Robert Kravitz

And as for toxic workers, we have to view them like a virus. If you're not careful, everyone on your team will come down with that same virus and that virus can linger and take a long time to dissipate along with dealing with the damage it can cause. Let those workers move on and let your organization heal.

This is just one example. There are typically many important careerboosting seminars specifically for BSCs. However, according to Ron Segura, a leading consultant to large cleaning contractors as well as universities and major corporations, the ISSA tradeshow is now embracing many of the most important issues on the minds of many cleaning contractors.

For instance hiring issues have always been a big issue with cleaning contractors, says Segura. All BSCs, large and small, must grapple with how to select the best workers as well as worker retention. Fortunately, there are ways to hire [workers] more successfully along with advancing employee retention. These issues are often discussed at the show and can prove very beneficial to cleaning contractors.

Segura also believes many of the seminars dealing with marketing issues and preparing bids for customers can prove invaluable. I work with many large cleaning contractors helping develop their marketing and presentation skills. They absorb it like water because traditionally there have been few sources available to learn these skills. It is fortunate, especially for smaller contractors, that the ISSA show realizes this and provides training on these issues.

Floor Scrubber

He also notes that this year, there will be seminars in both English and Spanish on sustainability issues. This is an opportunity, according to Segura, for cleaning contractors to learn more about sustainability and its growing importance in our industry. In the future, our customers are going to turn to cleaning contractors to help them with such things as [ways to] reduce energy and water consumption and develop waste reduction strategies. Contractors not aware of how to implement these strategies are going to be left behind.

Changes in Cleaning Solutions

When Alfred Richter, the founder of what we now know as ISSA, was alive, the introduction of new cleaning solutions and equipment was relatively slow. There were only a handful of manufacturers and they usually just developed a few cleaning solutions, tools, or equipment items. If the product proved effective and was well-received, they made few changes to them for as long as possible.

However, 93 years later, things have changed dramatically, according to Terry Sambrowski, executive director of the National Service Alliance, a leading group purchasing organization for the professional cleaning industry.*

Our industry has never changed this much, she says. I guess the big tipping point occurred when more and more chemical manufacturers started embracing and developing green cleaning solutions. Then equipment manufacturers joined the bandwagon, developing, for instance, low-moisture carpet and floor machines, vacuum cleaners with much more effective filtering systems, and even introducing new products such as microfiber mops and cleaning cloths, all to make cleaning healthier with a reduced impact on the user and environment.

What Sambrowski says she expects to see at this year's show includes: new cleaning solutions that either address specific cleaning needs or multi-task, more green-certified products for more cleaning tasks, and greater transparency as to what is in these cleaning solutions.

It's an off-shoot of the growth of green cleaning. Contractors now want to know, and their customers are asking, what exactly is in the cleaning solutions being used to clean their facilities. This is something we did not see years ago. Expect more chemical manufacturers providing this information at this year's show.

She also advises contractors to look into pricing issues and ways to reduce the costs of cleaning solutions. For instance, she suggests whenever interested in a cleaning solution, ask the manufacturer how it can be purchased at a reduced cost. Purchasing in larger quantities, five-gallon instead of one-gallon containers for instance, will likely prove to be a cost savings. And ask if there are manufacturer rebates available. Not all contractors can take advantage of the cost savings of a group purchasing organization, but they still should be able to find ways to reduce supply costs.

Cleaning Products

New Innovations

One of the new innovations that cleaning contractors will likely see at this show at least at more booths and from more manufacturers than ever before are what are known as aqueous ozone cleaning systems. While we may still get away with calling these systems new, the reality is the technology is very old. Aqueous ozone has been used since the early 1900s to treat drinking water, to clean and sanitize food processing facilities, and even to clean fruits and vegetables.

However, their introduction into the professional cleaning industry has been a bit stymied until recently, according to Mat Montag, national sales director with Cleancore technologies, a manufacturer of these systems. First of all, many contractors had no idea what these machines were, how they worked, if they were safe or not, or how they could help them perform cleaning tasks. Now that more studies have been published, their value, safety, as well as effectiveness, has been demonstrated. This is why they are gathering considerably more attention.

In many ways, they are also an offshoot of green cleaning as well as sustainability. This is because these systems use no chemicals at all and in the cleaning process, the ozone reverts back to oxygen, according to Montag. However, they also reduce the amount of packaging materials needed for cleaning products, reduce transport needs, along with the waste typically generated by tools and equipment used in the professional cleaning industry.

What we are also seeing are big changes in floor care, and you can expect to see this as well at the upcoming tradeshow. Manufacturers of floor machines such as auto scrubbers, appear to be going in two different directions: getting bigger and getting smaller. Some are becoming mini-cars. And while their effectiveness has improved, as well as offering more bells and whistles, their costs have also gone up. Likely this is why alternatives have been introduced. These alternatives have proven to be as effective as the traditional auto scrubbing systems, and in some cases even more effective, but at a fraction of the cost.


The Personal Aspect of the Show

We would certainly be remiss if we did not mention that the ISSA tradeshow can be an excellent networking opportunity for cleaning contractors and one far too many fail to take advantage of. This is why Segura helps his BSC contractor clients to become skilled and comfortable with networking. "Many cleaning contractors are just focused on cleaning," he says. "Talking to people and taking advantage of a networking situation is simply not something they are used to doing."

Aware of this, Segura advices BSCs to do the following:

Plan ahead and find out who will be at the show; I encourage large cleaning contractors to get together at the show. Share ideas, thoughts, and perspectives on the industry and see if there are ways to help each other.

If the goal is to meet with specific people at the show such as suppliers, plan ahead and make appointments with them if possible.

Overcome the natural tendency to become nervous when meeting people in networking situations. One way to deal with this is to listen, learn about the person you have just met, Segura said. They will appreciate it and any anxieties you may be feeling will begin to dissipate.

Finally, Segura advises contractors to be purposeful about giving people your business card, a standard tradeshow activity. We all know where those typically end up, in some trash can when people are leaving the show. I have what I call the CBS formula when it comes to exchanging business cards. Only give your card out if the other person is a potential client, could help you with your business, or someone you want to see again. This is much more strategic and can save you a little money as well.

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries.


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