The 1980s are often remembered for big hair, synth music and power suits with over-exaggerated shoulder pads, but the decade was about more than just pop culture. It was a time of entrepreneurship, when people left their nine-to-five office jobs to run their own business. Some said goodbye to the security of a regular paycheque on their own accord, motivated to take the risk in order to be their own boss; others were pushed by company layoffs and mergers during the global economic recession of the early ‘80s. Then there were those like Albert Crimi who, from his earliest recollections, always wanted to launch his own company.
It was while Albert was in college that he gave starting a new business serious thought. At first, he contemplated opening a fast food franchise, which seemed like a natural progression having worked in the industry for four years. But upon greater consideration and some sage advice from then-girlfriend, now wife, Sandra, he set his sights on the cleaning industry.
“Sandra and I have always valued cleanliness and order, rooted in our strong beliefs that they aid in living a healthy lifestyle, so it made sense,” he explains.
In 1986, one year after graduating from Humber with a diploma in business administration, Albert combined his interest in improving people’s well-being with his passion for entrepreneurship and launched Whiterose Janitorial Services Ltd. By day, he worked as an accountant for what’s now the world’s largest package delivery company, UPS. At night, he handed out business cards in the hope they would drum up interest in Whiterose and eventually land him an account. Albert’s dedication and perseverance soon paid off. Just two months into his new business venture he inked his first contract with Amerella of Canada Ltd., a leading importer and distributor of fashion apparel. To mark the occasion, Albert bought a key ring “to hold all the keys of the properties I’d soon be cleaning,” he says, adding he still has it to this day, stored away in a lockbox at his house for safekeeping.
“I told Sandra about the key ring and she thought I was a bit of a dreamer back then,” he continues with a laugh. “But I was serious. I was very ambitious.”
Within two short years, the key ring was full – thanks in part to Albert’s partner in life and work, who not only supported his business aspirations but worked closely with him to keep the company going in its formative years. Today, Sandra serves as the company’s vice-president of operations, overseeing the day-to-day operations to support Whiterose’s growth and add to its bottom line. Albert remains focused on the company’s big-picture goals – a strategy that has worked for him for more than three decades, though it was a juggling act in the beginning.
“I spent my evenings and weekends managing sales and marketing whilst cleaning in the commercial sector,” reminisces Whiterose’s president and CEO. “I’ll never forget the countless days I’d spend driving around with my kids’ car seats in the backseat and cleaning supplies in the hatchback.”
By the early ‘90s, the company had grown to a point that Albert was comfortable enough to stop straddling two jobs and plant both feet in his blossoming business. Around this time, he stepped away from his role as sole cleaner, hiring someone to fill his shoes so that he could focus on running and further developing the company. Then, in 1997, he received a phone call that unbeknownst to him at the time would change the course of the business.
“A condominium requested a quote for a cleaning contract, which was a first because Whiterose was focused on the commercial, retail and industrial markets,” explains Albert. “We got the job and our reputation for providing top-quality cleanliness led to another and another. The company took on new life and has seen successive growth year after year for the past 20 years.”
Today, Whiterose’s core business involves providing cleaning and live-in/live-out superintendent services to the condominium sector. The company maintains numerous condos in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area (totalling millions of square feet of cleanable space), including the two tallest in Canada – Aura, which rises 79 storeys in Toronto’s downtown core, and the nearly completed and partially occupied One Bloor (previously One Bloor East) located in Yorkville, one of the country’s most exclusive shopping districts.
The Secret to Outstanding Service
Like all successful cleaning companies, Whiterose’s commitment to delivering topnotch customer service has been key to its longevity. For Albert, excellent client care involves being proactive, not reactive; listening carefully to customers’ needs; ongoing communication; and providing proper instruction to, and supervision of, its workforce.
“I have always seen myself and each employee of Whiterose as part of a team, where the company as a whole is only as strong as each individual working in it,” he explains. “With this in mind, I have focused on improving training and supervision amongst staff.”
Early on, supervision involved weekly site visits to ensure the job wasn’t just done but it was done right. While regular inspections are still an integral part of the company’s quality assurance program – Albert himself routinely walks through the properties the company maintains and even personally performs the ‘white glove test’ for dust as part his hands-on approach to the business – Whiterose recently implemented a customized software program that provides real-time GPS tracking of employee movements, including attendance, hours worked and time spent on specific tasks. The cloud-based platform is also a crucial operational tool that assists with inventory control, processing work orders, personnel management and worksite scheduling.
“We customize work schedules for every site and regularly review the needs of each site, updating as required, so it’s going to make us more efficient,” says Albert about the software program. “It’s also going to strengthen our relationships with our customers.”
Soon to be accessible through Whiterose’s website, the platform will be an information and communication hub for clients. It will allow them to monitor their portfolio 24-7, providing complete transparency of contract service delivery, and, with mobile integration, enable clients to directly contact a supervisor/superintendent, if the need arises.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Now in its thirty-first year of operation, Whiterose has come a long way since the company was a one-man show run out of Albert’s home in Woodbridge, Ont. Today, it boasts hundreds of employees, including seven supervisors, and an office in the heart of downtown Toronto. Whiterose also now offers a full range of turnkey cleaning and building maintenance services, though Albert consciously chose not to diversify the company’s offerings beyond its area of expertise because “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” However, it does provide its customers carpet, garage and window cleaning as a convenience, upon request.
“I strongly believe that it is our obligation to alleviate the day-to-day cleaning tasks so that our clients can focus on what really matters to them,” says Albert, who acknowledges that this commitment to putting customers’ needs above all else couldn’t be achieved without the company’s dedicated staff.
“The strength of our business is our people,” he adds.
To maintain a positive work environment, Whiterose provides competitive compensation and benefits. Albert also makes a point of recognizing and rewarding employees for their hard work, often handing out prepaid gift cards.
“It’s a small thing but it goes a long way,” he says. “That’s one of the three (pillars) that make a business successful … If you treat your employees with respect and dignity, remember where you came from and are humble at all times, then everything else will fall into place.”
Clare Tattersall is the editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance
Photos by Robyn Russell