Jamie Wright, managing director of Incentive QAS, discusses the sale of his family’s former business to the UK’s Incentive FM Group, and perceptions of cleaning within facilities management today.
It is fair to say cleaning’s in my blood. When I was ten, my dad set up a cleaning business working from a table in the kitchen, and I soon learnt the importance of answer phone calls professionally, with the words, “Hello, Quality Assured Services, how can I help you?” As I got older, in the school holidays I was roped in to help with telemarketing.
Despite a rebellious period when I worked in banking, I soon found myself back learning the family business from the ground up.
In 2009 Dad sold the business to lncentive FM Group, an expanding facility services company in the UK, which was looking to extend the range of ‘soft’ services it could self-deliver. This introduced me to a new corporate world, and I was lucky to be able to spend time in different areas of the business gaining valuable insight into the broader world of FM and, most importantly, how fits into the equation.
I was appointed managing director of Incentive QAS in 2016 after properly “earned my stripes”, despite the historic links between the business and my family. Little, however, did I understand that the appointment would signal the start of the really hard work!
View from the Top
Let’s just fast forward for a moment to the present day where our turnover has trebled in the last three years. Has it been easy? No. Has it been fun? Absolutely.
So how did we do it?
It became obvious to us very quickly that we had to retain and increase the number of key contracts we already had, in a price-sensitive market where attrition and commoditization of cleaning services, is very common.
In 2016, just after I took over as MD, our two largest contracts came up for re-tender which was concerning as they accounted for almost half our turnover. In the event, we retained both clients, with both even increasing our remit and providing a boost of confidence that provided a strong foundation for moving forward.
We recruited a commercial director and implemented a proper sales strategy for the first time.
We also took the grown up decisions to walk away from long-standing contracts that just weren’t profitable.
We also stopped cold calling and bidding on every tender that was published in favour of reviewing the business, working out our strengths, and focusing on high-end buildings and locations, particularly in London. Ongoing partnerships with managing agents and the owners of large, prestigious properties provided a good reference point.
We also looked at broadening the range of services on offer to include environmental cleaning, and started to deploy new technologies and introduce more eco-friendly products. The group also acquired two successful window cleaning companies, SWC and ARL, which were integrated with Incentive QAS and allowed us to expand our value proposition.
As with every business, getting the right people on board was important, but getting them to work as a team was more important. In our sector senior managers tend to be seconded to specific buildings or locations and find themselves operating in silos. They rarely meet anyone apart from their direct line manager, and we introduced regular training seminars and social activities to provide forums for team members to share challenges, successes, and learn from each other in doing so.
These initiatives have changed our modus operandi whilst supporting employee engagement initiatives introduced by the group as it promotes new “freedoms” within a framework that is designed to empower our people.
2019 has ushered in great new opportunities with new as well as existing Incentive QAS clients.
Notwithstanding, we have also set ourselves ambitious growth targets for the year.
We have also set out to change the widely-held perception of cleaning as little more than a bolt-on service that may be offered alongside higher-margin, “hard” building maintenance and engineering services.