June is often a time people start thinking about taking vacation days to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather that generally only lasts a few months of the year in the True North. But while many were mulling over how they’re going to savour (or beat) the heat this summer, Kleenway Services’ Bill Germanis was busy preparing to take on a new national cleaning contract for one of the world’s largest retailers while tending to the company’s existing clients that span multiple sectors and the country. Yet, even with so much on his proverbial plate, Kleenway’s president still made room in his schedule to take part in this year’s Autism Speaks Canada Walk in Toronto, which raised more than $338,000 for autism research, services and awareness initiatives.
“It’s important to take the time to give back to our local communities and support good cause organizations,” says Bill. “Kleenway prides itself on its culture of corporate social responsibility and the foundation of that culture is how we care for one another.”
In addition to Autism Speaks Canada, the company is a proud supporter of the SickKids Foundation; Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, participating in its annual Gutsy Walk; the Guelph Junior Storm, a Triple-A hockey team it sponsors; and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which is near and dear to Bill.
Kleenway gives monthly to the esteemed foundation in memory of his late father, John. While it’s been almost 15 years now since the company’s founder suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 49, Bill remembers it like it happened yesterday.
“It came out of nowhere,” he says with disbelief in his voice. “He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. Completely sudden.”
John’s untimely death in October 2003 left a void in the company that Bill, then 23 years old, had to fill. Though he had worked at Kleenway for seven years, three of which were in a managerial role, the responsibilities of running a business at such a young age were daunting.
“The first year was a bit shaky,” he recalls. “I didn’t understand what it meant to be a 100 per cent owner-operator. I still thought I could work three or four days a week so that I could go out with my friends, have fun and enjoy my young adulthood.”
With no other family members involved in the business to lean on, Bill turned to then account manager George Kakarelis for support. Twelve years his senior, Kakarelis, who was hired by John just one year prior to his passing, helped guide Bill through a difficult personal and professional transition. The two formed a formidable bond, one that remains to this day as Bill considers Kakarelis, now director of operations and process improvement, to be his right-hand man.
On his left is director of business development Louis Nickolaou, another company veteran that Bill brought on board in 2004. At the time, Nickolaou was looking to earn some money while in school, which struck a chord with Bill.
“An old friend of my father paid me a visit to see how I was doing since I was now living on my own, trying to run the company,” explains Bill. “He mentioned his son, Louis, was looking for work to cover his bills and it reminded me of myself, when I was in need of a job for the same reason, so I told him to send him in.”
Bill promptly put Nickolaou to work making telephone sales pitches and within six months his good deed paid off. Nickolaou’s foresightedness to contact companies outside Kleenway’s geographic market area helped turn four cold calls to Stratford, Ont., into hot sales.
“It showed me the potential of pursuing business outside the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which was saturated with cleaning companies,” says Bill. “From there, we looked further afield and began to pick up accounts in London, Windsor, Niagara Falls and Kingston.”
By 2007, Kleenway had established a foothold in Ontario, thanks in part to longtime client Canadian National Railway (CNR). Now with the facility services provider for 20 years, CNR awarded Kleenway a major contract for 85 facilities, many of which were located in the most remote areas of the province.
National expansion occurred shortly thereafter when Kleenway secured contracts with 35 big box retailers, a move many would consider smart yet risky. The benefits of looking beyond Ontario’s borders are obvious – broader customer base, increased revenue and new, qualified personnel – but the advantages are there only if growth is managed properly.
“I felt comfortable expanding into different parts of Canada because of the experience of breaking out of the GTA,” explains Bill. “We knew how to successfully set up the infrastructure and properly staff the facilities to meet our clients’ needs.”
Today, Kleenway has in excess of 450 employees that clean more than 10 million square feet across the country daily. The company’s offerings have also diversified with time. Though janitorial services, window cleaning, carpet and floor care are still at its core, Kleenway also provides landscaping services, including grounds maintenance, snow removal, power washing and sweeping, and line painting, as well as ad hoc services – non-structural mould remediation, lead abatement, decontamination of beryllium, waste audits/cross-contamination review, dry ice blasting and high-temperature painting – that are tailored to the specific needs of its diverse clientele.
Bill says the goal is for Kleenway to become a full-service building maintenance company.
“This will make our services more cost-effective for our clients while strengthening are customer retention rate in a very competitive industry,” he explains.
While the company has seen great success over the past decade, the road was paved by Bill’s father; without him, there would be no Kleenway.
John immigrated to Canada from Greece in the late ‘70s in pursuit of greater opportunities. It was while studying at York University that he was first introduced to the janitorial services industry by Denis Seliotis, who worked in the sector and would later become Bill’s godfather. John initially picked up a cleaning job to help put himself through school but by the time he graduated with a masters of business administration from the University of Windsor, he had decided to make a go of it as a career, opening Kleenway in Toronto in 1981.
From the beginning, John prided himself on providing total customer satisfaction, regardless of client size and scope of work. Key to this was being proactive, not reactive; listening carefully to customers’ needs; delivering reliable, quality services; making prompt responsiveness a priority; and maintaining a personal touch. These tenets are still very much a part of the company’s philosophy.
But despite John’s unwavering commitment to his clients, sales became stagnant over time. As Bill puts it, “My father didn’t need any more than what he had so he was content to keep things manageable. Pursuing new business was not a priority as overextending yourself, he said, was a mistake many business owners made.”
However, Bill thought differently.
“We’re from different generations and, as such, had divergent views on business,” he says. “In my opinion, you need to move with the times, otherwise you run the risk of becoming obsolete.”
As a Xennial, born between 1977 and 1983, Bill was ambitious and eager to take a more progressive approach that favoured innovation and development to propel Kleenway forward – traits that have served him and the company well.
To begin, he spent $4,000 on a new company logo, website and stationary while his father was overseas – John had established a second cleaning company in Greece in the late ‘90s, which required travel back and forth between his adopted and home countries.
“When he came home and saw (what I’d done), he couldn’t believe what I had spent. He kept insisting these were not things that would make Kleenway better or get us new business, and the money could be better spent,” he laughs.
Once Bill took over Kleenway’s reins and the company began to experience great growth, he invested in CleanTelligent software. The innovative mobile technology allows Bill and his senior management team to operate and manage workplaces efficiently, as well as communicate more effectively with clients. Through CleanTelligent, Kleenway can track performance and project progress, upload detailed inspections, schedule work orders, and much more – all of which clients can access at any time via a personal online account.
“The janitorial software combined with the use of key performance indicators, or KPIs, which we tailored into the system a few years ago so that we could continually assess the effectiveness of our processes, gives our customers a whole picture of their contract’s management, not just the quality of cleaning,” he says.
Around the time CleanTelligent was implemented, Kleenway voluntarily pursued ISO 9001 accreditation, a process that took eight months and resulted in certification in June 2013. Developed by the International Organization for Standardization, ISO 9001 is based on several quality management principles that include strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, using a process-based approach and continual improvement. Companies that are certified to the standard must provide products and/or services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.
“ISO 9001 accreditation (was) a major stone placed on the path toward Kleenway’s continued success,” says Bill. “Our focus has always been total customer satisfaction and complying with (the) standard ensures our customers get consistent, high-quality service and that we continue to inspire our employees and management to grow and support our goals.”
Recently, the company obtained CIMS certification. While similar to ISO 9001, it is the only standard specific to the cleaning industry in Canada and the U.S. Conformance demonstrates a company is structured to provide consistent, high-level janitorial and maintenance services. Kleenway underwent a comprehensive assessment conducted by an accredited, third party testing agent in August, resulting in the designation being awarded. At the same time, the company achieved CIMS-GB certification. 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.
Bill’s forward-thinking approach to business extends to the treatment of his employees. To retain the talent of middle and senior management, reduce turnover of frontline workers and attract suitable new hires, he invests in continuous employee training and development, offers competitive wages and makes a point of regularly rewarding staff that go above and beyond what is required. Every month, the company awards a $50 American Express gift cheque to an employee who demonstrates a single exceptional example of service. Once a year, Kleenway honours a nominated employee with the highest number of recognition “note of thanks” cards during the last four quarters. The annual award, named after Bill’s father, comes with a gift certificate in the amount of $250, a token of Bill’s appreciation.
“Regardless of the technology you use, the certifications you pursue or the risks you are prepared to take, the success of your company will always rely on the people you employ,” says Bill. “Investing in our employees has made Kleenway what it is today and what it plans to be tomorrow.”
Clare Tattersall is the editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance.
Photo by Robyn Russell.