Strategic planning, clear communication and a strong workforce are essential tools for building a long-term, successful account with a new client, according to industry experts.

Marketing for new business, bidding for new clients and signing new contracts is an exhausting and time-consuming effort. However, the account start-up process is where the real work begins for successful building service contractors.

Getting familiar with the customer’s cleaning needs is a critical part of the account set-up process, says Joe Schulman, president of Gold Bond Building Services Inc., in Jackson, N.J.

“Once we sign a contract and get the details on when the client wants us to start, we go in and do a thorough evaluation to see what we need to do to get the building up to our standards,” says Schulman. “We make a checklist of everything the client wants us to pay attention to as well as the items we discover during our walk-through,” he says.

Although the account start-up process typically takes three hours for one employee to complete on-site, Schulman says the actual length of time and effort required can vary, depending on how well the former building service contractor did the job — if at all.

For example, Schulman faced a huge undertaking last month when he signed a contract with a local fragrance manufacturer. Before he could even schedule the first routine cleaning service, the BSC spent 30 hours stripping floor tiles, scrubbing walls and dusting baseboards, door trim and light fixtures.

“Because of how the company before us operated, our new client’s manufacturing and office facilities experienced a great deal of neglect,” Schulman says. “When we walked through the building last month, it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in over a year. It was just filthy on the inside.”

Schulman said the previous BSC failed to dust furniture legs and picture frames; wipe down bathroom and kitchen fixtures or adequately clean the floors.

Before it terminated the contract, the fragrance maker started to question the building’s design and worried that developers used the wrong materials to construct the company’s office space, says Schulman.

Vendor help

BSCs can turn to their jan/san distributor to assist with the account-startup process. Distributors can provide a wealth of resources for BSCs and help determine the type of equipment and amount of supplies they need to complete a particular job, says Barbara Casse-Bender, president of BCB Janitorial Supply in Hackensack, N.J.

“We have contractors come in here all the time and tell us they just got a job and they need our help,” says Casse-Bender. “For example, they will tell me they need to clean 10,000 square feet of floors this weekend and they don’t know what kind of cleaner works best for the floor they have or the exact amount they need.”

Typically, distributors will volunteer to meet BSCs at the job site so they can see firsthand exactly what the contractor is responsible for.

At BCB, the company’s sales reps also give out their cell phone numbers for contractors to contact them on weekends and evenings if they have a question or concern.

Assembling the team

Once BSCs complete the initial walk-through and have a clear idea of what the client wants, they typically hire new workers or recruit from the company’s current roster of trained employees to handle the new account.

Contractors like Schulman prefer to line employees up for the job almost immediately once they receive confirmation the deal is closed. This gives BSCs time to train workers to complete the tasks in an organized, efficient and safe environment.

“After I figure out where the new client is, I look to see if I have any employees in that region who are currently looking to add more hours,” says Schulman. “If I don’t have anyone on staff, I’ll hire new employees to handle the job.”

Unless a new client has a unique and rare circumstance that requires fast solutions, BSCs typically have up to 30 days — an industry standard — to transition into the new contract.

Allan Berkowitz, sales manager Scrub Inc., in Chicago, uses the time between contract signing and first day on-site to hire, train and start new workers. He also uses this time to get familiar with the client.

“We’ll review the scope of work that is required, make sure our employees and the client have a contact list of everyone associated with the account so they can reach each other for any reason,” says Berkowitz. “As part of our start-up process, we also make sure we go to all the department heads and introduce ourselves so they know who will be working in their space.”

Account start-ups are not without challenges. A frustrating problem contractors encounter during the early phase is misplaced equipment and supplies, says Berkowitz.

“You just learn to deal with people borrowing your equipment and supplies when you’re not around,” he says. “It usually doesn’t happen that often, but it’s frustrating if you’re the one that has to track down the stuff you need before you can get started.”

For Schulman and Gold Bond Building Services, another challenge is learning what the client’s cleaning preferences are.

“Some of our clients don’t want us to touch the desktops and personal workstations,” says Schulman. “We need to know that so we can adjust our cleaning routine. For the person that works in a particular spot, that is the most important space in the whole building and we treat it like it is.”

For example, one client, a dental manufacturer, often leaves trays of burs out as part of an on-going project. That means Schulman’s workers have to be extremely careful about how they navigate around the office furniture.”

“It would ruin an entire project if we moved something out of place,” he says. “Our job is to make sure we give our clients the cleaning service they need without disrupting their environment.”

Many BSCs believe preparation has significant payoffs. Some managers will even do a mock run-through before the first official day so workers can ask questions and address concerns.

And during the first week, managers are usually on-site to ensure the job is done correctly.

“The first official day on the job is not the last day of our introduction and set-up,” says Schulman. “After about a week, we meet with the client and do a review of the first week and make sure we’re doing everything they want us to do.” cp


Start-up Staples

A successful account start-up should include some of the following:

  • Alarm Systems: Because building service contractors are usually responsible for the cost of a false alarm — typically around $100 per incident — contractors need to make sure they spend ample time training workers how to operate the monitoring devices successfully. It’s also important to teach employees what to do in case they accidentally set it off.
  • Safety: Employees should know where the fire extinguishers, emergency exits and telephones are located in case of emergency. Workers should also use the initial walk-through and job introduction time to discuss with their employer specific emergency contacts. At Gold Bond Building Services, workers are required to carry a small card with emergency contact information on it.
  • Key Management: Many BSCs recommend — and even require — that workers wear pants with pockets.

    “When you take the trash out and the door automatically locks behind you, you’re stuck,” says Joe Schulman of Gold Bond Building Services.
  • Building Tour: BSCs should walk employees through the new account, going over their cleaning responsibilities. Employees should know where all the supplies are stored and make sure they can access them before the actual job begins. Allan Berkowitz of Scrub Inc., stresses the importance of covering rules and regulations so there are no surprises when employees show up for work.

    If work begins on a Monday, the weekend prior is a good time to schedule tours since no building occupants will be present. BSCs’ distributors can also accompany the tour to provide additional insight for cleaning challenges.
  • Janitor’s Closet: Every BSC should have an organized, functional work area to store supplies, materials and tools, says Schulman, who uses the time during the account start-up process to set up a designated spot.

    “The janitorial area speaks volumes about the company’s image,” he says. “It speaks to the quality and level of care we put into our jobs and our clients.”


Becky Bergman is a freelance writer based in Mooresville, N.C.