Growing up in the small French village of Sainte-Anne-de-Madawaska, N.B., Steve Martin dreamed of owning his own business. But with the forest sector being the main employer in the picturesque region, Martin knew he would eventually have to part his parents and 10 brothers and sisters to forge his own future.
In 1979, he made the move, leaving the Maritime province for London, Ont., where he enrolled at Western University. Martin sought to first earn a bachelor of arts and then study law, with the goal of perhaps one day opening his own practice. But after just one semester at the post-secondary institution, he abandoned his plan.
“It just didn’t feel right,” says Martin, noting his mounting student debt helped him decide not to continue on with his studies. “I wasn’t comfortable sinking money into schooling when I wasn’t enjoying it and no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
In the winter of 1980, shortly after completing his first round of exams, Martin packed his bags and made his way to Toronto, where he settled in with extended family and immediately started to look for gainful employment. Over the next 10 years, Martin bounced from one job to the next, serving as a bank customer service representative, administrative assistant, graphic artist, retail store manager, marketing and sales representative for the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (his longest stint at eight years) and eventually a flight attendant. Then, in 1990, he was hired as a telemarketer for a local cleaning company, which provided a second source of income and kept him busy when he wasn’t flying high in the sky.
“You can only work up to 90 hours a month as a flight attendant,” explains Martin, who soon after starting with the cleaning company transitioned into the role of a full-time sales account manager when the airline he was employed with went belly-up. For the next four years, Martin was content and so was his employer – both had exceeded each other’s expectations, with Martin being crowned the company’s number one salesperson time and again. However, his career rise suddenly came crashing down in 1995, when the company drastically cut his commission.
“I tried to negotiate to return to what we had originally agreed upon in my contract but they wouldn’t hear of it,” says Martin.
So, he left and followed his entrepreneurial calling, founding Corporate Specialty Services that same year.
What started off as a company of three (Martin and two carpet and upholstery cleaning technicians) soon grew as its client list expanded, thanks in part to customer relationships Martin forged at what was now his competitor’s cleaning company.
“Since I had signed a non-competition agreement I couldn’t solicit past clients but it didn’t stop them from reaching out to me,” explains Martin, noting those who moved their business with him more than two decades ago are still with Corporate Specialty Services today.
Martin credits this to his commitment to providing exceptional, reliable service, which has kept customers loyal to the company.
“After every service, with the exception being janitorial (which gets regular inspections, not just daily), we are there the next morning to personally check the work,” he says. “If the client is not 100 per cent satisfied, for whatever reason, then re-servicing is immediately arranged at no extra charge. Clients can also cancel their contract at any time, no notice required.”
Not surprisingly, this hasn’t happened. In fact, the opposite has been true. Thrilled with the company’s high-quality standards, many clients have not only requested services beyond carpet and upholstery cleaning, says Martin, but they have implored the business to expand beyond its current service region of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). While Corporate Specialty Services has added post-construction cleanup, housekeeping, glass cleaning, janitorial, painting, specialty blind and solar shade supply and cleaning, and wood refinishing and refurbishing services to its list of offerings, Martin is reluctant to pursue Canada or even province-wide growth for fear of not being able to deliver on his promises.
“A lot of our competitors claim to be national organizations but they’re simply subcontracting the work to companies in other provinces,” he says. “I’m not comfortable doing this as you’re no longer hands-on and there’s a good chance customers will suffer as a result. Instead, I’d prefer to focus on the GTA market as there is still much business to be had here.”
The company’s exceptional growth in the past year is a good indication Martin is right. Despite the fact that the commercial cleaning industry in Toronto is oversaturated, making the prospect of landing new customers increasingly challenging, Corporate Specialty Services saw a 20 per cent increase in its business in 2018. The company now serves more than 300 clients across 600 locations, totalling more than 16 million square feet of cleanable area.
While commercial office buildings up to 300,000 square feet of space still form the bulk of Martin’s business, the company’s solid reputation has resulted in more work in the hotel and condominium sectors. What’s more, Martin is no longer spending all his time chasing down clients; facility managers now approach the company to quote on jobs because of its customized solutions, competitive rates and, most importantly, dedication to service.
To ensure that its clients receive customer service second to none, Corporate Specialty Services only employs technicians who have successfully completed the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification training program. More commonly known as the IICRC, the non-profit organization sets international standards, monitors educational programs and teaches people to operate at a higher level in the business.
Martin’s investment in his staff, through proper training and paying a living wage, coupled with his mantra, “treat others the way you want to be treated,” has created a loyal workforce comprised of many technicians that have been with the company for more than 10 years, and even some whose employment dates back to its inception.
“My vision when I started the company was to treat employees like family and watch them grow,” says Martin about the more than 90 staff that are the backbone of the thriving business. “They know I respect and value them, and that they can pick up the phone and call me whenever they need me,” he continues, adding the same goes for his clients, as he’s always readily available to address any issue or problem. “You’d be surprised by how many companies overlook the simple things like this. But that’s just what I do.”
And the company has been better for it.
Clare Tattersall is the editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance.
Photos by Robyn Russell.