By Jamie Wright, Managing Director at Incentive QAS
I suppose it is fair to say that cleaning is in my blood. When I was 10 years old my dad set up his cleaning business in our kitchen at home and woe betide us if we didn’t answer the phone professionally saying. “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 and after a short ‘rebellion’ when I worked in banking, I was back in the family firm when I was 20 learning the business from the ground up.
In 2009 Dad sold the business to Incentive FM Group, the UK’s leading independent facilities management company, that was looking to extend the range of 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 cleaning best fitted into the equation.
I became Managing Director at Incentive QAS in 2016 by which time I felt I had really earned my stripes. Anyone who knows the senior team at IFM Group will know that I wasn’t a shoe in for the role because of my dad, in fact I had to work harder to prove my worth. Although little did I know that it was now that the hard work would really begin!
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?
The most obvious thing, but possibly the hardest, was that we had to retain and increase the contracts we already had. We did lose a couple as unfortunately we operate in a very price sensitive market and often clients think that the grass is greener elsewhere. In 2016, just after I took over as MD, our two largest contracts were up for re-tender. This was a worrying time as both contracts equated to almost half our turnover and they were crucial to our business. Luckily, we were able to not only retain them both but also increase our remit substantially, which gave us both the confidence and a strong foundation from which to move forward.
We recruited a Commercial Director and implemented a proper sales strategy for the first time. This involved taking grown up decisions to walk away from some long-standing contracts that just weren’t profitable. We also stopped cold calling and basically bidding on absolutely everything that was out there. Instead we sat down and worked out what we were good at which was quality service, so we took the decision to focus on high end buildings and locations, particularly in London. Our ongoing partnership with managing agents and large prestigious properties proved to be a good reference point.
We also looked at broadening the range of services we offer to include specialist cleaning and started to introduce more technology and eco products. The Group also acquired two successful window cleaning companies – SWC and ARL – which were integrated giving us another string to our bow.
Of course, 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 the senior managers tend to be seconded to specific buildings and/or locations, therefore operating in silos. They rarely see anyone other than their direct line manager, so we implemented regular get togethers, both for training and for social events and have encouraged the team to share problems and successes and learn from each other. This has been incredibly successful and completely changed the way we operate. It also supports our approach to employee engagement which follows that of the IFM Group in embracing “freedom within a framework” which is designed to empower our people.
This year we have a number of great opportunities in the pipeline with both new and existing clients. We have set ourselves ambitious targets and are committed to meeting them. We are also aware that traditionally cleaning has been viewed as the poor relation in the FM World – often provided just as a bolt on to the main event. We are determined to change this perception.
Incentive QAS is the contract cleaning arm of the Incentive FM Group, with annual sales in excess of £18 million and employing 800 staff around the country.