Many building service contractors are diversifying services to take on new challenges such as grounds care, window-cleaning and graffiti-removal. Contracting Profits asked three exterior care experts about the top challenges and trends in their fields.

Graffiti Removal: Martin King, technical advisor on disaster restoration, Association of Specialists in Cleaning and Restoration (ASCR).

Q. What is your advice for contractors who are doing graffiti removal?
First, offer absolutely no guarantees. And if possible, get a hold-harmless agreement signed because graffiti removal is not a precise process and you may measure success in terms of how much better it is rather than whether it has been completely remedied. ... I think the best advice is to protect yourself contractually because before you started to remove the graffiti, the problem [belongs to] the owners of the building. Once you start to remove it, it’s your problem, so whatever the result of it, if the result is less than satisfactory, it still has become your problem — not the building owner’s problem. So one has to be very careful in letting the responsibility shift that way because the exterior of a building is a major component of its value.

Q. Has the incidence of graffiti grown even as the number of specialists who remove it has dwindled?
No question, it’s grown tremendously… [yet] not too many people do [removal]. For one thing, it’s very difficult to charge what it’s worth to do it. There are a variety of methods but almost, really, none of them are very cost effective. It’s never going to be a profit center for everyone. It’s too bad but it’s hard to get paid for the skill it takes to do [graffiti removal].

Window-Cleaning: Kynan Wynne, president of the International Window Cleaners Association (IWCA).

Q. What are the top challenges facing professionals in the window-cleaning industry?
There are two. First, the ANSI-IWCA 14.1 window cleaning safety standard — it’s a consensus standard that was put together by all parties that are affected in the window cleaning industry. … It was first published and passed in December of 2001 and because there’s a lot of buildings out there not in compliance with the proposed regulation. There was a 5-year grace period to get the buildings in compliance. That compliance window expired this past December, of 2006. There’s still many buildings out there that have failed to heed the recommendations and get themselves into compliance. As an industry, it’s a real struggle because window cleaners are faced with the prospect of having to walk away from buildings that are now considered not safe to clean windows on, knowing that there’s still competitors out there that will turn a blind eye to these regulations or claim that they can still operate safely. And the fact of the matter is, there’s tremendous exposure and risk, not only to building owners, but also to window cleaning companies. We all get cited by OSHA, or if there’s an accident, it could be costly litigation — and the standard’s crystal clear in what we can and can’t do and if you’re not compliant, it wouldn’t bode well for the defendant in the court case. …

This subject is particularly important to janitorial companies who subcontract their window cleaning to window-cleaning contractors. When [BSCs] don’t do it in-house, they possibly aren’t educated on the standard and probably don’t take the steps necessary to ensure that they’re hiring a quality qualified vendor that is following all the proposed regulations in the I-14 standard. … They need to take the time to get educated to make sure they’re obtaining the assurances from their window cleaning contractor that he does a number of things; for instance, that he properly trains his employees and documents his training.

The second issue is an [unrelated] issue called fabricating debris on tempered or heat-treated glass. What’s happening is primarily during the post-construction cleanup process, where window cleaning companies come in and try to clean the glass, they use razor blades, which have been the industry standard for decades, and when they scrape the window, it causes that fabricated debris to be dislodged and it scratches the window. Fabricating debris [is only an issue with] tempered glass. After a regular piece of glass is created, to temper it, it has to be reheated in a separate process and then rapidly cooled. What happens is before that glass goes back to the heat-treating plant, tiny glass particles and glass dust and chips have settled on the glass [during] the storage process and the fabrication process. When that glass is heated again, those microscopic and tiny glass particles are fused into the surface of the glass, and create imperfections that when a razor blade runs across it, it dislodges those particles and drags them across the glass, scratching it. It’s costing builders and window cleaners millions of dollars each year to replace this glass. So we’re waging an education campaign with the glass manufacturing industry and builders that this is a problem. It’s gone to court over and over again and more often than not, the window-cleaners win the battle because they can prove this was an actual defect in the glass.

Grounds Care: John Gibson, past president of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

Q. It seems that grounds care is a growing area that bscs are adding to their arsenal of services. What would your advice be for these contractors?
The advice I would give them is to make sure that they separate themselves as a professionals in what they do — that they’re not just Joe Landscaper. As the consumer gets more educated, they’re doing a much better job of picking a professional business to work for them.

Q. So does that mean there’s more competition between those offering lawn care?
There’s more competition for people who are offering lawn care; it’s interesting — there’s competing companies, that everybody’s competing for the labor to actually get the work done. So that makes it a challenge to try and stay at the highest level of professionalism when we’re all fighting for the same resources. The biggest thing that I would say our industry is going to become about, is people. Identifying and getting great people that have a career mind towards our industry. The turnover rate in our industry is pretty significant and that makes it difficult to continue to provide good customer service, so focus on the people and focus on the systems that allow you to function in that world [of lawn care]. Keep things as simple as possible and as well documented as possible for training and that will assist in the turnover issues.