Nestled in the heart of the Niagara peninsula, Niagara College has become a leader in applied education, training and student satisfaction, consistently ranking among Ontario’s top colleges in this area. Since opening its doors in Welland, Ont., nearly half a century ago, the post-secondary institution has expanded to include three campuses in the region. Hundreds of thousands of students have passed through their doors throughout the years, many of which found employment upon graduation, albeit not always in their field of study.
In the spring of 1994, Chris Draayer left the college for what he thought would be the last time. With diploma in hand, he was focused on putting his construction engineering education to good use; however, the industry had other plans for the 23-year-old. After successfully landing a few small projects, business failed to pick up due to a lull in construction activity in the region. So, rather than waiting for a rebound in the construction industry, Draayer grabbed an opportunity that his soon to be father-in-law, Albert Mraz, offered, which pushed him toward a path that has proven to be quite fruitful.
“Albert asked if I’d join his business and I accepted,” says Draayer about Commercial Cleaning Services, one of the region’s leading janitorial service providers. “I didn’t know how long I’d be with the company but it would get me through the next year or two until the construction industry turned around.”
Within a few years, construction employment was on the rise and so too was Draayer at Commercial Cleaning Services. After starting out as a heavy duty project cleaner, he rose through the ranks to work in progressive operational and account management roles. By 2001, Mraz and Draayer had completed a formal succession plan, which included Draayer becoming a shareholder and business partner. Over the next 10 years, he assisted his father-in-law with general management duties until fully acquiring the company in 2011. Draayer is now president and owner of Commercial Cleaning Services but Mraz’s presence is still felt in the company’s St. Catharines head office.
“He’s an old school businessman who still likes to come to the office every day, seven days a week,” says Draayer with great admiration.
And it’s no wonder given that Mraz dedicated much of his life to building the business from the ground up.
A Higher Standard
Commercial Cleaning Services’ story dates back to 1953, when a 16-year-old Mraz started cleaning windows and providing janitorial services to local businesses. Beginning with his very first client — a cigar store in downtown St. Catharines — Mraz was committed to providing personal, consistent and quality service, which led to the company’s growth. By the time Commercial Cleaning Services became a second generation family business 40-plus years later, it had evolved into a leading janitorial service provider in the Niagara region, with more than 60 employees cleaning 1.5 million square feet of space. Its client list comprised many of the area’s largest employers in both the public and private sector, and spanned across multiple industries, including the office, industrial, education, retail and hospitality markets.
The addition of Draayer in 1995, brought renewed energy to the regional service provider as well as a new outlook. Draayer fondly recalls requesting a pager his first week on the job so that he could be reached 24-7. Since then, he’s traded it in for a smartphone but just like the pager, it remains on night and day, which is reassuring to clients that he’s only a call away.
Draayer’s focus on service has helped him realize his vision of growing the business outside the Niagara region. Today, Commercial Cleaning Services has in excess of 800 employees that clean more than 25 million square feet across the province daily. The company has expanded its service offerings, adding specialty services such as post-construction cleanup and high-level cleaning, as well as its client base, which now includes military bases, educational facilities, and food and manufacturing plants, among others.
“The company experienced significant growth starting around 2005, when two large corporate real estate and facility management clients — ProFac, now SNC-Lavalin, and Royal LePage Facility Management Services — invited us to bid on contracts servicing multisite locations across the Greater Toronto Area and Southwestern Ontario,” says Draayer. “Commercial Cleaning Services was successful in winning their business and with these contracts in place we expanded the geographic reach of the company.”
With a proven track record of delivering exceptional service and a loyal client base, Commercial Cleaning Services is looking to increase its market share once again. Dan Soucie, vice-president of business development, anticipates 50 per cent growth in the next five years, concentrated predominantly in the geographic areas and industry sectors the company is currently operating in. He does foresee the business extending its reach beyond the province’s borders, however, any growth will not be in the traditional sense.
“National expansion wouldn’t be on our radar if it wasn’t for some of our larger clients that have approached us about it. They like what we’re doing in our current service region and they also like the idea of having more quality options in addition to the few national companies currently in the marketplace,” explains Soucie.
“So we’re talking with other regional service providers across the country of similar size and with the same values to form a strategic business alliance. This will allow us to service our client needs and participate in request for proposals for cleaning services on a national scale.”
Of these values, one of the most important is that partnering companies be CIMS-certified, like Commercial Cleaning Services. Administered by the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), the Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) is the only standard specific to the cleaning industry in Canada and the U.S. It applies to an organization’s management practices, internal operations and delivery of service to customers. Conformance demonstrates the company is structured to provide consistent, high-level janitorial and maintenance services.
“It’s ‘the’ quality standard in the industry,” says Soucie, who notes Commercial Cleaning Services was the second cleaning company in Canada to obtain certification in 2009. “We’re extremely proud to say the company is certified with honours, which is a huge accomplishment given there are many contractors that haven’t yet achieved certification, let alone that degree.”
To obtain certification, a contractor must undergo a comprehensive assessment conducted by an accredited, third party testing agent. Prior to this, the contractor must conduct an internal review to be sure it meets CIMS certification requirements. This is an extensive task that can take quite some time. In the case of Commercial Cleaning Services, it took a year to prepare for the three-day audit. After achieving certification, an organization is then subject to reassessment every two years to keep the designation in good standing.
Cleaning contractors can also obtain CIMS-GB. The ‘green building’ component of the certification establishes the contractor is capable of providing an environmentally preferable cleaning service and assisting clients in earning LEED EB:O&M (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) points. Commercial Cleaning Services has achieved this designation as well, again with honours.
Further, Draayer, along with other members of the company’s senior management team, is a CIMS ISSA Certification Expert (ICE), which means he is capable of providing training and consulting services to other cleaning companies interested in complying with, and preparing to be certified to, the standard. The company is also currently working toward CITS (Cleaning Industry Training Standard) certification, which it expects to achieve this fall. CITS is a new ISSA initiative that measures the quality of a company’s existing training programs and verifies that they adhere to a strict set of standards. Those who obtain the designation have the ability to certify frontline cleaning professionals within their organization.
Coming Full Circle
Commercial Cleaning Services’ commitment to quality has certainly been key in keeping the company in business for more than 60 years. Its staff has also played an important role.
“Our employees are the most important part of Commercial Cleaning Services,” says Draayer. “We have staff that have been with the company in excess of 40 years, which is rare in an industry known for its high turnover rate.”
Draayer attributes high retention to the positive work environment and team culture the company fosters, with staff appreciation and employee engagement being a key focus of management.
He adds that on-going training and opportunities for advancement have had a positive impact on job satisfaction and, consequently, employee turnover. Like him, most of the company’s senior managers started out cleaning before transitioning into supervisory roles. One such person is vice-president of regional operations, Dan Huinink, who joined Commercial Cleaning Services just two years after his long-time friend, Draayer. Neither predicted their career paths when they were studying together at Niagara College, nor did they expect to be back on campus 20 years later at the school that prepared them so well.
Clare Tattersall is the editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance
Photos by Robyn Russell