Even though the American manufacturing sector has taken a hit in past years, with many companies moving operations to foreign countries to save money on production and construction of goods, the United States remains the world’s largest manufacturer.

Like other types of janitorial accounts, industrial facilities started to get outsourced in the ‘60s, when companies realized they could save money by hiring a janitorial contractor and dissolving their in-house cleaning crews. But unlike most other types of accounts, industrial facilities can be particularly dirty, dangerous and open continuously for 24 hours.

Those factors have made industrial cleaning a niche for a number of building service contractors, allowing them to build reputations as reliable, insured partners to that sector of the market.

Industrial expertise

“It’s an elite group, because a lot of it is specialized and the insurance requirements are a lot higher than they are on a commercial office building,” says Taylor Bruce, president of IH Services in Greenville, S.C., about the industrial market.  The safety, OSHA and worker’s comp requirements are much different as well, he adds.

“I think the biggest thing is that those type of jobs are typically higher-risk jobs. Higher risk for worker’s compensation, higher risk for turnover because some of the working conditions might not be as nice as they are in an office,” he says. “So you have to be very careful about what you agree to do because a lot of times people will farm out jobs that are high-risk for them. They want you to take the risk.”

Industrial accounts make up some 70 percent of IH Services’ business, from textile plants — the first type to outsource to the company some 50 years ago — to energy-related plants including nuclear and coal, and from food processing and auto parts to pharmaceuticals and high-tech production plants. A growing percentage of accounts are distribution centers.

“Probably 10 to 15 percent of our business is in distribution centers,” Bruce says. “And as manufacturing in this country has shrunk, distribution centers have grown tremendously because a lot of imported goods are coming in. I think we work at about 30 different types of distribution centers.”

Those buildings are a bit different from manufacturing facilities, since goods are coming and going at all hours, and don’t require much more than basic janitorial and floor work.

About 20 percent of Houston-based Building Professionals of Texas’ accounts are industrial — and all are related to one of the major industries in that area: energy. Oil and natural gas are dominant industries in Texas, and president Brad Klein likes working with his industrial clients.

“It’s a good market for us and one that allows us to grow our business,” he says. “We’re able to capitalize on that market down here because of where it is and what it is. We are really big fans of that market.”

Klein says it takes a bit more focus and attention to detail to service industrial facilities.  

“You can’t just go wandering aimlessly through these manufacturing facilities, where you’re not supposed to be. We get yelled at if somebody shows up without their steel-toed shoes or safety goggles or wearing a hardhat. We’ve got to make sure that our people understand that they’re not screwing around there,” Klein says.

Another difference between industrial accounts and other commercial cleaning accounts is that they can be relatively grimy in comparison, he says. On top of that, many of them have multiple shifts of workers, making it more difficult to develop a good cleaning schedule.

“So it’s a balancing act and this is where you have to be a good salesperson,” Klein says. “The funny thing is, I will walk into an office and I will talk to the facility manager, the purchasing manager and I will tell them, ‘My concern isn’t you. My concern are the guys out in the shop, because those guys are your profit centers. You are an expense. They are not. They are making you money. You’re costing money.’ So I want to keep the shop bathrooms clean, I want to keep the shop break room clean. I want to keep those guys happy.”

Keeping building occupants happy — particularly those on second and third shifts — can help them do their jobs well, and be more productive, ultimately making the client more productive as a company.


Competition for bids is as stiff as it’s ever been. Productivity is key to securing accounts, so having the most modern and efficient equipment and procedures are crucial, Bruce says, as is offering a green cleaning program and special certifications, such as ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard that verifies management policies, procedures and safety compliance.

The bidding process itself is a bit different from those for other types of facilities because it’s more complicated, Bruce says, making it harder to estimate the work. For example, a facility may have 50 waste baskets — or it might have 250, and that’s not always made clear to the contractor.

“Or they might want you to bale cardboard. You might not know if that takes bailing on one shift, two shifts, seven days a week, five days a week. A lot of times, these people won’t tell you, you just have to guess,” Bruce says. “So the bid is much more complicated and lends itself to more error if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Going beyond janitorial

Typical janitorial work — waste removal and management, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, restrooms, etc. — is done in many of these facilities. But because of the nature of the facilities themselves, additional, more intensive work is often required of a BSC.

“We actually do what’s called industrial scrubbing in the plant,” Bruce says. “We scrub the floors with sweeper scrubbers. We often have recycle-type operations in these facilities where we handle the recycling and the trash pickup. We sometimes drive forklifts, we clean machines, so where our typical plan might have five or six people in janitorial we might have 10 or 15 doing other types of work, real specialized work that’s not just your plain old janitorial crew picking up trash and cleaning up restrooms.”

That these facilities require more work and therefore, more janitors, is a good thing, he says, because it allows a contractor to afford a quality manager.

Specialty work in these facilities can provide additional revenue.

“Where the specialty work comes in is in the office. Because these guys are walking in and out of the plant all day and they’re tracking stuff in, it’s just an absolute train wreck in there, so now we’re getting a lot more floor work and carpet work and specialty work there,” Klein says.

And it adds up; in fact, the specialty work enables Building Professionals of Texas a little bit more pricing leeway on the front end because they know that work will be there on the back end.

Specialized cleaning issues also come up, what with the different types of equipment and chemicals that are used in industrial plants.

“You really have to know what you’re doing to know how to be able to clean properly in some of these industrial plants,” Bruce says, particularly with using chemicals such as degreasers and solvents.

Industrial accounts, because of the specialized labor considerations required, are good target customers for those BSCs dedicated to servicing a specific niche with high standards for safety and quality. Those that earn a reputation and a track record for performing well can establish themselves as leaders in the field of janitorial and special services, potentially securing more work and growing their businesses.