Tuesday , December 11, 2018

Cleaning Up Town

Kenneth and Sam Ayers knew a lot about buildings long before they got into the cleaning and maintenance business. Both trained engineers, the father and son duo began working together in 1999 when Kenneth joined his father in his custom home building business in Columbia, S.C.


In 2006, they decided to diversify into building maintenance, buying a franchise of Kansas City-based City Wide Maintenance. By 2008, they had City Wide Maintenance of Charlotte up and running, covering the Charlotte metropolitan territory of Rock Hill to Statesville and Gastonia to Kannapolis.


Timing could not have been more fortuitous. “God was looking out for us,” says Sam. The construction industry, among the hardest hit by the 2008-2009 economic recession, was just beginning to reel from the loss of business that would continue to decline over the next few years.


“We had been thinking about integrating vertically, opening a cabinet ship,” contributes Kenneth, “but were lucky to get out of the building industry when we did and into a recession-resistant business.


The Cleaning Solution


City Wide Maintenance of Charlotte is a building maintenance management company that specializes in janitorial and maintenance services primarily for commercial buildings.


“Working through our network of service partners, we help folks that outsource their cleaning and maintenance needs,” explains Kenneth. “Anything that makes a building and property look better, we can do.”


Each City Wide customer utilizes janitorial services and can access as many as 20 other services as needed, including painting and dry wall repair, parking lot services such as asphalt sealing and striping, lawn care, window washing, carpet cleaning, lighting services, floor refinishing, concrete coating, pest control, pressure washing, carpet and tile installation, restroom remodeling, handyman services, picture hanging, and more.


City Wide maintains numerous types of facilities from single and multi-tenant commercial businesses to medical offices, schools and faith-based organizations. “Our target building is a 25,000-square-feet, single tenant owner-occupied building,” says Kenneth.


Area customers include Britax, with its 500,000 square feet of building space, Tindol Ford, several Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates (CEENTA) locations, Precision Steel Warehouse, Piedmont Plastics, US Leisure, The Goddard School, and Dilworth Child Development Center, to name a few.


“By partnering (sub-contracting) with small to mid-sized companies that do not have their own sales and management teams in place, we are able to provide services to customers and deliver professional management of each vendor,” says Kenneth. “It’s a win-win-win for us, for the contractors who need help in developing business, and for the customers who no longer need to manage building maintenance. It’s also a huge benefit in terms of convenience, efficiency, and financial commitment.”


“We got interested in this business because our background was in construction and the business model of City Wide was similar to what we were used to in the building business,” shares Sam. “Plus, one of the appeals of this was that it is, if not recession-proof, recession-resistant.”


City Wide Maintenance, the parent company, offers franchises in the 76 largest markets in the U.S. With the growth experienced by the Charlotte metropolitan area, both Kenneth and Sam were confident building maintenance services would be in high demand. “The opportunity is so great within the market here; the potential for growth is unlimited,” says Kenneth.


Indeed, City Wide Maintenance of Charlotte has averaged annual growth of over 52 percent each year since 2009, so much so that Kenneth and Sam are willing to entertain the possibility of acquiring another market, although they insist that the Charlotte market will sustain them indefinitely.


“Our 10-year goal is to continue to experience the growth we’ve achieved during the past several years,” says Kenneth.


The Father-and-Son Connection


City Wide Maintenance was started in 1961 by Frank Oddo in Kansas City. Also a family business, Frank’s son Jeff has continued to move the company forward, transforming it from directly providing janitorial, landscape maintenance and painting services. Today, the company operates as an extension of a client’s facilities management team, vetting contractors who provide those services City Wide previously offered directly.


Then City Wide provides leadership, mentoring and business development to ensure that its contractors provide seamless service to clients. In 2001, the company began franchising its concept and today there are 40 City Wide franchises around the country.


Kenneth and Sam both say that the fact that City Wide itself is a father-and-son venture helped to bring them into the franchise fold.


Kenneth says City Wide Maintenance of Charlotte mutually benefits from relationships with other City Wide franchises, particularly along the I-85 corridor, such as those in the Research Triangle, Greenville/Spartanburg and Atlanta.


“We work closely with them, sometimes talking weekly about challenges and opportunities. We also partner with them to share customers who have buildings in different markets,” says Kenneth. “We’re prospecting one right now from a Raleigh business that is opening a building here in Charlotte.”


In some ways, the company operates more as a family business than a typical franchise.


“Above and beyond the janitorial services, we have autonomy to decide what we do,” says Kenneth. “In our business model, the core of the business is the janitorial and represents 75 to 80 percent of our revenue. That leaves room for us to decide what additional services to provide and how to distinguish ourselves.


“Some of that is dictated by geography. For instance, we don’t do a lot of snow removal.”


The One-Contact


Work with the customer begins with a detailed needs analysis, describes Kenneth. That is followed by identifying the most appropriate service partners for the work involved, determined by expertise and geographic location.


“Most importantly,” says Kenneth, “each customer is provided with support from a designated facilities service manager with whom they can communicate and who will be watchful of current and upcoming needs. The facilities service managers catch things before they become big problems—for instance, frayed or damaged carpet.”


“Customers like to have someone they trust—someone that already knows the building—to call upon,” adds Sam. “This is a huge service to companies that, in many cases, have office managers trying to keep track of the needs of a huge building. Our strengths are the time savings we offer through managing services and the ability to put the right people on the job.”


City Wide boasts a retention rate of over 90 percent according to Kenneth.


“We mostly work with service companies that don’t have the staff, time or expertise to go out and market their services and negotiate contracts,” explains Kenneth. “We become their sales team and are a catalyst for their growth. A lot of these companies may not exist or be at the size they are without us.


“We feel responsible, in part, for the 125 employees that are associated with our service contractors who specialize in all the areas we might be called into.”


Since contractors are always looking for business and City Wide is always looking for contractors, the company holds an open meeting for potential contractors every four weeks or so. “We also run ads on Craigslist and get recommendations from existing contractors,” says Sam.


City Wide requires that the contractors conduct full background checks on their employees and provide that information to City Wide management. “So many people reach out to us,” says Kenneth. “We have to be very aware of their capabilities. We can’t just put anyone in one of our buildings.”


“We’re pretty proud of our Performance Plus Program,” admits Kenneth. The proprietary program outlines six steps and strategies to optimize cleaning time and focuses on preemptively attacking dirt before it comes into the building. With a commitment towards indoor air quality, the company uses high efficiency chemicals and equipment to ensure a deep clean.


City Wide considers itself to be environmentally friendly. “We don’t use toxic chemicals,” states Sam. “Everything we do is green where applicable,” says Kenneth. “All of our cleaners are green-sealed certified.” Kenneth says that they are also careful to train all workers in the proper use of chemicals and how and where to dispose of chemicals and dirty water.


The company is also guided by state regulations and OSHA requirements, particularly in settings such as schools, food distribution areas, day care centers, and ambulatory surgery centers. For instance, in day care centers, there are requirements regarding carpet cleaning, air returns and vents, and how toys are cleaned. With food distribution, there are requirements around the use of safe disinfectant cleaners. Regulations also are applied for personal protection equipment, such as steel toed shoes and safety glasses, in certain environments.


All in the Family


City Wide Maintenance of Charlotte has six management employees divided between sales associates, facility service managers (FSMs), and operations support staff. Each FSM is responsible for a number of buildings and manages a rotating schedule for visits to the property. Sam also serves as an FSM. Kenneth’s wife Catherine serves as the company’s part-time financial coordinator.


“Our office doesn’t get a lot of telephone calls; not a lot of people knocking on the door,” says Sam. Existing customers will call Kenneth, me, or their FSM directly. For prospective customers, we do the calling and door-knocking.”


“A lot of our efforts are simply out on foot canvassing buildings, stopping by or making calls and sending emails to building owners or tenants,” remarks Kenneth. “Often information regarding ownership or property management will be posted on the door.”


City Wide staff is constantly reviewing Google maps and drilling down into Hoover’s data to gain information about buildings of interest. The company maintains a current listing of building permits to stay abreast of new construction underway. “New buildings become prospects for us for construction cleanup and beyond,” says Kenneth.


City Wide has established specific metrics for their outreach, aiming at 2,000 contacts or “touches” each month. Typically, that number of contacts will generate three to five new customers. New buildings are steadily coming onto the Charlotte metro market and Kenneth anticipates bringing in additional people in operational support in the new year.


A native of Columbia, S.C., Sam earned his degree in electrical engineering at Clemson University and went to work with General Electric. He then obtained an MBA and went to work for Phillips Components. Enjoying the part of his work that was business management, he became interested in home building and built a few small homes during the 1980s.


Over time, he grew tired of working with large companies and went full-time into the home construction industry in 1991 where he remained until the City Wide opportunity presented itself. Commuting from Columbia, Sam is aware of the significant business growth in the metro area.


Raised in Columbia, Kenneth helped his dad in the home construction business as a teenager, discovering an affinity for project management. He went on to earn his degree in civil engineering from Clemson University. After working for a time with a company in Atlanta, he returned to Columbia and to the family business in 1999. Kenneth, now living in Fort Mill, sees the business growth first-hand.


Sam’s eventual retirement will be a real issue for Kenneth and the business, and the pair are beginning to work on a succession plan. “Every business partner has to plan on how to replace himself,” remarks Sam.


“Being involved in a 24/7 business means occasionally getting calls during the night. Fortunately, we have people out at night who can handle most issues,” says Kenneth. “Sometimes Sam and I get calls, but unless there is a true complaint or problem, we’re not as involved at night.”


Asked if they have any horror stories, Sam recalls, “The worst thing that has happened was one of our contractors was on his way to clean a building in Belmont and had a heart attack. As concerning as that was, it demonstrated to the customer the benefit of working with a management company; we were able to send somebody else in to clean the building.”


“We’ve been very fortunate,” Kenneth says nodding. “The only times cleaning could not be done on schedule was due to inclement weather.”


Overall, Kenneth and Sam say they have enjoyed working together and have managed the inherent kinks of working alongside family members.


“The great thing about it is that I know I can trust him at all times; I don’t have to worry about it,” says Kenneth.


“We’ve been working together now for 15 years and we haven’t choked or kicked one another,” laughs Sam. “It wouldn’t work with every father and son but we’ve managed to get along so far and it’s working out well.”


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