In Salt Lake City, the Olympic cauldron has been extinguished. The street banners are gone. The party is over. And the three men mainly responsible for keeping the XIX Olympic Winter Games looking good are long gone, but the lessons they learning during this once-in-a-lifetime job have stuck with them and they believe others can learn from their experiences.

Getting to the games
Brad Goertzen was responsible for planning and implementing custodial services throughout the sixteen-day event. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) hired him with just 18 months remaining until the opening ceremonies when other Olympics already had hired a contractor two years prior. After talking with hundreds of contractors, only 30 were interested in actually receiving a request for proposal. Of those, only eight responded. Renato Fuchs, vice president of operations for ServCorp International, based in Orem, Utah, and Paul Lovett, president of CleanEventUSA based in Atlanta, were two of the contenders chosen.

Goertzen and his SLOC colleagues agreed to bid each of the venues separately. That would allow the contractors to pick and choose which locations would work best for them.

SLOC selected CleanEvent to handle the ice rinks and ServCorp to clean the ski venues. A third contractor would get the contract to maintain Rice Eccles Stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies, but later lose the business.

CleanEvent specialized in venue and one-time event cleaning on an international scale with clients including NASCAR, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the U.S. Open. The Salt Lake games were the company’s third Olympics.

ServCorp, on the other hand, made the leap from a focus in retail cleaning to take on the Winter Olympics.

“We didn’t even hesitate,” Fuchs says. “It’s kind of our nature to take on challenging projects.”

Challenging would prove to be a major understatement.

Before the games, Goertzen estimated cleaning contracts would be worth about $2 million. By the time the numbers were in after the event, the cost had risen by an additional $250,000.

Super-sizing staff
Lovett started moving managers into Salt Lake City as soon as the paperwork was signed. But that only left the company about three months before the games to get ready.

CleanEvent’s strategy was to use the bulk of his existing management and fill in with local hires.

During the Olympics, roughly 300 people would live and work out of a portable location of trailers called Camp CleanEvent.

Besides establishing an operational base for managers and cleaning workers, Lovett assigned a cleaning manager for each venue. These managers worked closely with SLOC venue managers to oversee each location.

Fuchs, on the other hand, was concerned about maintaining quality for his regular retail customers while cleaning managers struggled with the additional work from the Olympics. His answer was to assign two assistants to monitor those accounts so he could concentrate on the games without disruption. Four out of nine managers then shifted to the Olympics project. ServCorp also adjusted schedules so that team leaders, supervisors and managers could cover the games.

But front-line labor was an issue everyone was worried about. Both contractors held local job fairs and each had different results.

ServCorp was so discouraged with its local recruiting efforts that it hired a Texas-based placement company to help recruit Brazilian college students to fill cleaning positions. ServCorp brought in 85 students on temporary work visas. The agency pre-qualified workers, making certain that all could speak English and pass a security check.

When housing for these workers fell through, ServCorp managers and office employees let the Brazilians stay in their homes.

CleanEvent had a better luck to the point where it had to limit hiring to just one day a week to handle the influx of interested workers.

“You have to be very creative,” Lovett says. “It’s all about having a local knowledge. You have to go in to communities and speak to the right people and make sure word of mouth is publicized.”

CleanEvent incentives included employees housing, laundry, a cafeteria, pool tables, big screen televisions, nightly movies and free transportation to and from work.

Beyond the physical comforts, Lovett says his managers made the difference in keeping the help happy.

“Our managers are motivators. They’re not scared of dumping a trash can and picking up a dustpan and broom,” he points out. “In the service industry, a lot of that has gone away.”

At the E-Center, home of the hockey events, CleanEvent executives successfully worked side by side with front-line workers to help make the first transition. The company had roughly 40 minutes to clean the entire arena before the next event started, but turned the building over in just under 15 minutes.

“It’s all about being hands on,” says Lovett, who claims his company retained 97 percent of its work force throughout the games.

Fast-track training
SLOC provided training for each venue on specific rules for staff check-in, meals and break areas. The contractors were left to train employees on proper cleaning procedures and chemical use and took different approaches.

Since many of ServCorp’s new recruits were from Brazil, they received a basic introduction to U.S. law their first day. The second day consisted of cleaning theory and hands-on practice with chemical use and machine operation. Day three consisted of a question/answer session, as well as certification to meet company cleaning standards. Workers were offered training in English or Portuguese.

CleanEvent workers attended a mass orientation that explained the company’s background and purpose. Then workers were divided into specific venue groups. Each group toured their site for a walk-through and explanation of cleaning requirements.

“We probably spent about 3,000 hours involved in training,” Lovett says. Besides the walk-through, training consisted of hands-on demonstrations, written documentation and oral presentations.

Laying out the logistics
Once the International Olympic Committee set the schedule of events, contractors began working with Goertzen and SLOC venue managers to determine cleaning schedules.

Almost every venue had slightly different needs. Some would be used heavily for several hours throughout the games. Others would only see action for two or three hours per day. Sometimes cleaning workers would have the luxury of an all-night clean; other times, it would simply be a matter of minutes before one event ended and the next one began.

Both contractors took on their venues several days before the games got underway. That allowed them time to pre-clean the venues, bringing them up to SLOC’s expectations. Test events at some of the venues gave them a chance to see if plans made on paper could succeed.

“It’s not about cleaning. It’s about logistics,” Lovett says. “You never know exactly how things are going to flow until the first couple of days of the actual event itself. It’s about having people in the right uniform with the right equipment at the right time with the right credentials.”

And those credentials were key; each worker wore a photo ID, along with a color-coded badge designated whether they were allowed in general admission, back of house or other areas.

Keeping job assignments consistent throughout the games definitely made the work easier, says Lovett. CleanEvent used a computer software program to track employees work location and hours. Each venue had a computer and all were linked to the command center. And there were back-up communication options if airwaves became clogged; venue managers had pagers, cell phones and two-way radios to communicate.

Each morning and each evening venue managers for the shift just ending would meet in CleanEvent’s war room to keep information flowing. Also, since venue managers had little or no contact with their colleagues, it gave them a chance to get updates on problems and solutions at other locations.

“Shared information is second to none,” Lovett notes. “It’s not good for venue managers to be caught up in their own little world.

Managers discussed how the day went, the size of crowds, the time it took to prepare the venue for the next event and whether or not they were on budget. Any transportation and staffing issues were also discussed.

To share information and SLOC compliments with front line cleaning workers, the company published a daily newsletter.

Game-day changes
In spite of all the planning, there were some adjustments during the games.

Cleaning at the Olympics held such high stakes that the contractor initially selected to clean Rice Eccles Stadium was fired just days before the games began. The venue manager just couldn’t get the staff to respond in a timely manner when it came to concerns and complaints, Goertzen says. CleanEvent took over the venue two weeks prior to opening day.

The company could handle the additional work because during the planning stage they had deliberately over-staffed. Operations managers routinely pad their employee ranks to cover for just such a contingency during such a large event.

Other changes included CleanEvent’s decision to move some worker drop-off points for security reasons and re-adjust staffing at entrances to better match peak guest flow times.

ServCorp abandoned carpet extractors for wet vacuums because they were lighter and easier to move within the venue. They also modified recycling locations for cardboard pick-up to a point that was more convenient.

Other problems for ServCorp, included typical labor issues. There were misunderstandings between the Texas placement company and the firm in Brazil that actually advertised for help.

“When the Brazilian agency translated the contract something got missed,” says Cristina Ishi, ServCorp’s human resources manager. Some employees were disappointed in the type of work they were assigned and expected more work hours then they actually received.

Placement company officials from Texas and Brazil eventually came to Salt Lake to address any worker misunderstandings first-hand. Because of their responsiveness, Ishi says she would use a placement agency again.

Creating cleaning workers from middle-class college students also was challenging. Most of the students had no prior experience as custodians. A strong in-house management team and effective student team leaders eased the transition.

Quality control
With thousands of spectators at each venue monitoring quality took on a new dimension.

“In the middle of the rush there’s no time for checklists,” says Fuchs. He relied on local supervisors and managers to monitor cleaning quality during the games. Half of his team leaders were already employed before the games so they understood the company’s expectations. Two-way radios helped keep employees on top of spills or other spontaneous cleaning problems.

Lovett says consistent work assignments helped assure quality cleaning. Workers were trained for their specific cleaning task and those tasks never varied. Before the games began managers had a two-day training session where they received operational folders containing venue maps, staffing plans, check sheets and charts.

With tight security, contractors were required to have all tools and equipment on site before the games began so security sweeps could make certain each venue was safe. Any deliveries of supplies after that sweep had to be coordinated and approved by SLOC security officials. If a delivery wasn’t scheduled in advance, it wasn’t allowed onto the venue.

Both contractors planned well enough that neither was caught without the tools or chemicals they needed. However, ServCorp did have one problem: A carpet cleaner scheduled to work couldn’t find the water hook-up and began scouting the venue. Police considered his behavior suspicious. When the SLOC site manager failed to show up and meet him, security officers insisted the worker leave.

Tools made an important difference in the speed and quality of cleaning. SLOC mandated contractors use pre-measured chemicals.

“It was easy to determine exactly how much we needed at each venue,” says Goertzen. “The cleaning workers could take what they need for an entire shift without having to make return trips to a cleaning storage area that might be half mile away.”

Fuchs had never used a portion controlled chemical system. It didn’t take long to become a believer. “It’s simple. It’s color-coded. It makes it easy for anybody to learn fast and use the chemical effectively.”

The contractors also used flat mops with micro fiber heads, backpack vacuums and riding auto scrubbers. All had time saving advantages that let companies stretch labor dollars farther.

To save time on laundry, mop heads and rags were discarded after use.

For maximum efficiency, Fuchs used team cleaning before and after events, but zone cleaning, especially restroom portering, during competition. Workloading was based on the number of spectators.

20/20 hindsight
Now that the games are over, what would these three cleaning experts have done differently?

• Pre-cleaning turned out to be more comprehensive than originally planned. It took more work to get the venues up to SLOC’s expectations.

“There were assumptions made as to how many days and we blew those out of the water at most venues,” says Goertzen.

That resulted in dozens of change orders contractors had to submit for SLOC to sign.

• Cleaning after the games also had some challenges. Fuchs says SLOC cut the power to one venue after the Paralympic Games which followed the Olympics, but workers hadn’t finished cleaning yet.

There was no heat anywhere in the building. Mop water froze almost as soon as it touched the floor, creating slippery conditions.

• CleanEvent would have preferred to have more planning time.

“We would have like to sit in and plan two years out,” Lovett says. Instead, the company got about 12 weeks, with Christmas in the middle, to get organized. Cleaning decisions that were made before the contractors got involved, such as the placement of bulk waste containers, cost contractors more labor time and dollars. Input on small things, such as the location of those containers, could have saved the company time and money.

• ServCorp would have developed more successful local recruiting. Fuchs was surprised how many locals signed on at the last minute. That surge was a big help. He would also have local site managers and team leaders take on more responsibility when it comes to scheduling, instead of leaving it all to the office. “We ran into problems there,” he says. “It was hard communicating.”

• Ishi says scheduling was complicated by the fact she tried to be fair. Knowing the expenses students had incurred to come for the games, she tried to spread the work as evenly among them as possible. In hindsight, she says it would have been much easier to worry only about what was easiest for the company, not the kids.

•Flexibility and responsiveness also is critical.

“When you’re looking after 1.7 million people issues are going to come up,” Lovett adds. “I think what impressed SLOC most is our responsiveness to it.”

For instance, there wasn’t any pressure washing in the contract but CleanEvent bought a machine just in case. It was a calculated risk that ended up paying off,says Lovett.

Overall, Goertzen says he’s pleased with the work contractors provided. “There was nothing major that we had to do completely different, just minor adjustments,” he says.

Though, he does have some advice for contractors considering cleaning contracts of Olympic proportions.

“Be prepared for an entirely different level of service than you’ve ever given,” he says. “The demands are high. The expectation is high. But there is a willingness to pay for that service. Don’t be afraid to bid what it’s going to take to get the job done. You never want to leave yourself exposed by bidding too low.”

And for all those contractors who doubt they’ll ever bid on something as large as the Olympics, just remember that each time you handle an account start-up, you could utilize some of the same lessons these contractors learned from their gold-medal cleaning experience.

Jennifer Jones is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.