Merging together

Those that felt the slight rumble underneath their feet sometime over the last couple of months needn't worry — it was just the tectonic plates of the cleaning industry rising up, grinding together, and settling down into something entirely new. The recent merger of Las Vegas-based BradyIFS and Glenview, Illinois-based Envoy Solutions is more than a simple market consolidation; it’s a signal to the rest of the industry that they've got their sights set on forging an entirely new and bold path.  

The two industry giants merging creates a company with roughly $5 billion in annual revenue and over 6,000 associates in the field. To some, it’s just a repeat of a familiar tale: big company ‘A’ acquires big company ‘B’ and suddenly there’s less variety, less customer service and less excitement than before. But the vision for BradyIFS + Envoy Solutions, now to be known as BradyPLUS, is to be even closer to the customer and provide a broad assortment of products and solutions. 

Two men tasked with helping these two giants blend seamlessly are Ken Sweder, chairman and CEO of BradyIFS, and Travis Brady, president of BradyIFS. In interviews with Sanitary Maintenance, both recognized the challenge they now face from a perception standpoint — to essentially grow the company in size, but also in scale, and make 1+1 equal something more than 2.   

“We want to be getting better than expected out of both businesses. We think we have the right platform and a strong model, along with the best team in the industry, and we want to continue to build,” says Sweder.   

He also emphasized that this move is a top-to-bottom leap. There’s no component of these companies that won’t feel the impact of having access to more resources, information, and data as they move to bring the standard up across the country.   

"I came up in the industry, learned to drive forklifts in the warehouse, made delivery runs, etc.," says Brady. "I eventually came back in a sales role, and as the company grew, we made more and more contacts until we got to where we are today." 

Moving Forward 

Things are well beyond the days of bulk pallets and dusty mail-order forms. BradyPLUS isn't just about selling more mops; it's about building towards a digital ecosystem that redefines how distributors and customers interact — and not just to sell more mops, for example, but more types of mops, and more sizes and shapes of mops, and more ergonomic mops, and mops made of better materials, and on and on. 

This shift in the DNA of both businesses isn't just about convenience, it's about survival. End users are getting used to streamlined procurement, data-driven insights, and personalized service. The distributors who embrace technology and become data-driven, customer-centric solution providers, will have a head start. This sits at the very core of this merger: capturing what customers currently love about the best versions of both companies, and offering that on an even greater scale than before.  

"We want to help create cleaner, safer facilities with more efficiency and more sustainable operations," says Brady. "We view our role as helping to address the unique needs of each customer, and not just in a product sense." 

It’s not too outlandish to picture a work environment where custodial managers access personalized dashboards showing stock levels, usage trends, and predictive maintenance schedules. A world where distributors leverage data analytics to anticipate customer needs, personalized recommendations, and deliver targeted promotions. In fact, in some ways it's the blueprint for the new BradyPLUS.  

This type of merger could not just signal a seismic shift in the power dynamics of the industry, but a continuation of the trend of distributors becoming educators and consultants helping solve such challenges as becoming greener, improving efficiency, or reducing costs while becoming more sustainable. It’s a challenge that involves building long-term partnerships, not just pushing products. 

Laying the Groundwork  

There will unquestionably be challenges, and likely naysayers. Integrating technology and digital systems, navigating cultural differences, and upskilling workforces is the type of thing that can’t be done overnight. But the long-term vision is clear — a unified, simplified, and integrated platform that elevates the entire cleaning supply chain, from manufacturers to distributors to end users.  

"If you go far enough back in time in our industry, it was all about the product. You'd go out and do a floor demo and if it was shiny, great — you delivered," describes Brady. "But the customers have evolved, and needs have become more complex. We made the decision a long time ago to provide a full solution in addition to just products."  

Prior to the merger, both BradyIFS and Envoy Solutions were well known for their outstanding customer service and forward-thinking initiatives. Now, as one entity, these strategies are supercharged.   

“We're laying out a vision that we think is inspiring, empowering, and growth-centric — creating more opportunities for our associates. We'll tap the gas commercially, get more density in certain areas, invest in our supply chain, invest more in our products,” Sweder describes. “There's investment to be had here. Look at how we've built these two businesses; they've been investment centric. Now we can do things at a $5 billion scale that we simply couldn't do before.”  

What does this mean for other distributors? It's the type of move that could strike as a wake-up call. If investment in technology and innovation hasn’t been a priority lately, it’s time to invest in digital capabilities, and embrace the move toward data optimization.   

“I think Envoy has shined in areas of training, empowerment, and alignment across our associate base, supporting our customers, working with suppliers, and working with educators in the industry. We'll continue to emphasize that,” says Sweder.  

A Look Ahead 

It’s unavoidable that distributors have had to become adept educators, and the access to more information, resources and product/process options will certainly pay dividends when it comes to innovative ways to share messaging and build cultural consistency.   

While the combined entity boasts an impressive financial muscle, the true power lies in the vision. In a sense, it signals a shift from the analog past to a digital future, a future where distributors shed their order-taking skin and emerge as data-driven, value-adding partners.  

Think beyond overflowing, backed-up warehouses. Tools like artificial intelligence (AI)-powered inventory management can ensure seamless restocking and dynamic pricing platforms, as well as real-time cost optimization, and user-friendly online ordering portals that help streamline procurement.    

These are opportunities that loom on the horizon for BradyPLUS, and they are the kinds of things that having more capital to make investments with can provide.   

More resources can mean unlocking insights that optimize cleaning efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance sustainability. It's about not just becoming, but remaining trusted partners for end user customers, driving core values throughout the cleaning supply chain, and boosting efficiency via more field agents.   

“One of the risks when companies get larger, is that they can get further away from the customer. We believe in a high-touch, high-solution, field-based model. We're out there every day, and we want to stay closer to our customers as we grow,” states Sweder. “If you think about the heritage of these companies, both Envoy and Brady had been very acquisitive. But the vision is to provide customers with one process, and one integrated and national experience, and a lot more consistency.”  

As an example, Sweder points out that BradyIFS, over the last three years, has acquired roughly 20 different businesses — but they've fully integrated 18 of those. Meanwhile, even though it has been over a longer period of time, Envoy Solutions has acquired over 30 distributors. 

These strategic moves give the joint entity a truly national reach, which should speed up access to products and offer more variety, too.   

“It's sort of a radical simplification, bringing different incredible brands together,” says Sweder. “The customers should be excited for more points of distribution around the country, for a broader product set, for enhanced data and digital capabilities, and more and better coverage from our team.”  

Merging systems, navigating cultural nuances, and upskilling workforces requires meticulous planning and unwavering commitment. However, the long-term benefits are undeniable. The unified platform of BradyPLUS holds the potential to revolutionize the entire ecosystem, from manufacturers to distributors and ultimately, to end users. 

Jackson Silvanik is the managing editor of Sanitary Maintenance, Facility Cleaning Decisions, and Contracting Profits magazines, as well as