Industry Profile: Bob Armbruster, Clean Team Inc.
By Dan Weltin
When you’re a small building service contractor, often you dream of becoming one of the big boys.
“I read about the BSCs who employ 1,000 people,” says Bob Armbruster, president of Toledo, Ohio-based Clean Team Inc. “I want to get there. I want to employ 10,000.”
Even though Clean Team currently has only 105 people on staff, the company is on the fast track to expansion. For the past three years Clean Team has reported 50 percent to 60 percent growth. Last year the company hit a milestone at 62 percent.
“We have a great work ethic within our company, especially our management team,” says Armbruster. “We do not like to lose an account — it’s like someone died. So we make sure that we keep our customers happy and we keep in touch with them. I have a saying: ‘Let’s not forget the people that got us to the dance,’ meaning let’s keep the business we have and opportunities will come.”
For a company to achieve such remarkable growth it takes dedicated employees. Armbruster wants Clean Team to truly be a team, and he wants everyone to feel like they have a crucial part to play.
“Clean Team is everybody’s company, not just mine,” he says.
While Clean Team may be a team effort now, it started with only Armbruster. Adding that first employee didn’t happen overnight.
“I started Clean Team out of my parent’s basement when I was 18,” says Armbruster. “I sort of fell into it.”
After graduating high school Armbruster started working as a magazine salesman, often on the road traveling.
“It was an ideal job for a kid right out of school,” he remembers.
But that ideal job was coming to an end. His company was restructuring and his current position was going to be brought in-house.
“I didn’t want a desk job,” he says. “I always wanted to do something on my own.”
The idea for Clean Team came after a routine sales call to a small, local janitorial company. Armbruster’s dad worked for a manufacturer of cleaning products, so he already was somewhat familiar with the cleaning industry. After making his magazine pitch, he started picking the owner’s brain about running a cleaning business. Armbruster thought it might be a good fit for a kid ready to make his mark in business.
Armbruster started out as most BSCs do — cleaning all accounts by himself, as well as performing the day-to-day business operations. But, after five years, he hit a plateau.
“Either I had to stop taking new clients or take it past a mom and pop company and turn it into a real business,” he says.
But to turn Clean Team into a real business venture would require hiring a staff, something Armbruster wasn’t exactly sure about.
“I’m a perfectionist — it’s hard for me to delegate tasks, I want my hands in everything,” he says. “I had a personal relationship with the customers, I thought I would lose business by having someone else clean.”
For insight, Armbruster turned to a mentor, a former owner of the cleaning manufacturer his dad worked for.
“He asked me to list the five most important things in business,” says Armbruster. “So, I said sales and customers. He replied, ‘Number one should always be employees. You treat them right, they’ll treat your customers right.’”
It was advice that changed the way Armbruster looked at his business.
“It was difficult in the beginning to delegate to someone, especially someone who wasn’t the owner,” he says. “Now, I get employees to feel that Clean Team is their company, too, and get them to want to serve the customer.”
Motivating the staff
How does a business owner get his employees to feel like they own the company, especially in an industry where it’s hard enough attracting employees in the first place?
“We are not in a glamorous business. I think it’s important for the owners of cleaning companies not to lose site of that,” Armbruster says. “They should try to stay in touch with the people that are the heart of the business: the cleaners, supervisors and managers. These people aren’t making the money that the owners are making, so their drive to do it quicker, better and cheaper for the same amount of pay is not motivation for them.”
Armbruster makes it a point to keep in touch with all his employees. He even gives out his cell phone number to all staff members. He wants employees to feel comfortable around their boss and routinely asks them what they like about the company.
“Bob says, ‘My door is always open. If you have a problem, come talk to me,’” says Dave Nowak, an area manager who has been with Clean Team for the past two years. “At other places you often don’t even know who owns the company. You just see your supervisor.”
Armbruster continually shows his appreciation for his staff in a variety of ways. He sends a personal letter along with raises to employees who have served the company for a long period of time; birthday cards are sent to every employee at their home address so their families’ can see the company’s level of care and devotion; when gas prices were high, the human resources department re-mapped all employees and placed them at accounts that were within five miles of their home.
Armbruster doesn’t want his employees to just feel appreciated, he also wants them to have fun and enjoy coming to work.
“It can’t always be business, you’re going to burn yourself out. If you don’t like what you do, you’re not going to do a good job at it,” he says.
Last year the company held a picnic where employees took part in a urinal screen toss and mop bucket races. At the company Christmas party, Santa Claus crashed the party and “roasted” the managers and office staff, including Armbruster. Perhaps the greatest indicator of Clean Team’s sense of fun is Armbruster’s own business card — posing in a batting cage holding a broom for a baseball bat. Customers love it so much they even ask for his autograph when he hands them his card.
A fun atmosphere can help to keep up employee morale, especially during times of fast growth. With so much happening within the company at once, employees may not always feel connected to each other. Company events such as the picnic or Christmas party let employees get reacquainted and feel a part of a team. Cleaning office buildings at night can be a lonely job and employees may not see another person during their shift. Bringing the entire staff together for fun events helps employees reaffirm they’re not the only one out there cleaning, says Nowak.
Armbruster hopes to continue to grow Clean Team at such momentous rates for the next five years through a mixture of acquisitions and organic growth. As he said earlier, he wants to run a company with thousands of employees — and be dedicated to every one of them.
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Smart Podcasts For The Commercial Cleaning Industry
Clean Team’s sense of dedication and fun isn’t limited to just its employees — the same attitudes are also extended towards customers. Listen to president Bob Armbruster share his examples of customer service and the opportunities they bring.