I just got back from the annual ISSA/Interclean show in Las Vegas. What an experience! In 29 years of attending, this was the first time I had a sense the whole industry was coming together under one roof – both literally and figuratively. It was the International Sanitary Supply Association’s biggest convention ever in Las Vegas.

While the show has been open only to distributors and manufacturers for nearly eight decades, building service contractors and in-house cleaning organizations have been able to attend for the past few years.

Last year’s show, in Orlando, came on the heels of the September 11th tragedy and attendance was down. This year was a different story. More than 16,500 manufacturers, distributors and end users packed the convention center to visit more than 700 booths. Final figures show that this event had the largest gathering of cleaning companies and in-house professionals in the entire industry, with nearly 4,000 in attendance.

I visited with several BSCs who remarked, “I can’t believe how big this convention is!” Some were weary after two days of trying to walk the entire show. They’d never seen that many products, that many companies, that many colleagues in one place.

What’s it worth?
In an era of tight budgets and uncertain security concerns, you may have decided to forego trade shows and conventions. But if you still like getting information and learning what’s happening in the industry, ISSA is the best value.

Cleaning contractors who attended the show realized it was a tremendous value to their company to be able to shop the universe at one time. Not only can you see everything that’s available, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity to network with suppliers, competitors, consultants and professional associations from the U.S. and around the world. It’s truly the best educational value in the cleaning industry.

“It’s the most comprehensive industry show I’ve ever seen,” says Larry Abrams, CBSE, CEO of San Diego based GMI Building Services Inc. “The seminars and break-out sessions were well thought out with excellent speakers.”

In our competitive society, the biggest benefit you can provide your customers is your knowledge of the industry. Abrams says attending the show enables him to provide his customers with cutting-edge technologies and cleaning techniques.

What’s different now?
This year’s show featured an exceptional line-up of speakers, including Ken Blanchard, the author of Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships and The One-Minute Man-ager®, and Harry Paul, co-author of Fish! A remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results.

Some rooms were so packed they had to turn attendees away, and in others, they stood two-deep in the aisles.

“The overall quality of the education programs with all the speakers was just outstanding,”says Ron Goerne is CEO of Service Resource, based in Bloomington, Ill. “Their handout information to take home was information you could incorporate into your daily operation to improve custodian training and educate everyone.”

In the “Train the Trainer” seminar I conducted, about 95 percent of the people in the room were attending the ISSA show for the first time. When I asked the group how many were contractors or other end users, the percentage remained almost the same.

This is the first time I’ve ever conducted a presentation at an ISSA show where most of the audience were end users. And what a strong group of end users they were!

Goerne also was impressed with the diversity of cleaning professionals at the show.

“The quality and number of BSCs, school people and hospital people, that had come for the first time to learn — their reactions were so positive,” he says.

Goerne gained some good ideas by listening to school cleaning professionals who had been successful in getting a board member to sit in on a monthly meeting where custodians swapped success stories and helped each other solve cleaning problems.

Hot Items
While I used to pride myself on visiting every booth, the enormity of this year’s show made it almost impossible to see all of the exhibitors. But here are a few things that did catch my eye:

• Hands-free touchless dispensers for virtually every fixture in the restroom drew quite a bit of attention. Bay West and Georgia Pacific appear to be the leaders in this category.

• Flat mops and microfibers are catching on like never before. Unger introduced a new, smaller and even more lightweight bucket to accommodate flat mops for restroom cleaning.

• ISSA introduced the newest version of the Easy Trainer book. Color illustrations and technology updates make this the best basic training handbook in the cleaning industry.

• Tennant Trend showed a three- in-one machine that sweeps and scrubs floors.

• Abrams was very interested in the Steamin’ Demon high-flow extractor. Marketed by the John Downey Company, it’s a light-weight, powerful extractor that literally taps into the custodial closet water source and drain.

• Pro-Team and the American Lung Association announced a three-year partnership to promote education about indoor air quality. It’s a national effort that’s designed to help people learn what they can do to improve indoor environments. Pro-Team will be allowed to use the ALA’s logo on their products and promotional materials.

“It’s probably one of the most significant accomplishments to improve the health of commercial buildings, schools, hospital,” says Goerne. “It proves that manufacturers can grow and be successful by providing education to the end-user and to the custodian that’s doing the job.”

Team approach
While ISSA’s invitation to building service contractors is a relatively new development, it’s definitely growing in popularity. Distribution and manufacturing representatives noted that while the change has been a long time in coming, the open format makes it a much more beneficial show for everyone.

John Walker is a regular Contracting Profits columnist. He is a veteran building service contractor; owner of ManageMen consulting services, Salt Lake City; and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.