Recessions can be extremely difficult, especially on cleaning companies as orders for budget cuts usually mean a decrease in service requests. We got to the bottom of how one company managed to turn things around after 2008 and is weathering the storm of the pandemic.
About This Guest:
Certified Maintenance Services, Creative and Executive Director - Max Defense
Guy Harris works for Certified Maintenance Service (CMS) and is the Creative and Executive Director for Max Defense, a company created by CMS following the 2008 economic recession. Max Defense consists of a five-step process, a training program, certification in Max Defense, and marketing materials to promote the service.
We sat down with Guy to discuss how his company approached economic hardship and pivoted to find new business 11 years ago and why companies might become a service provider to something like Max Defense in order to aid their own company recover and grow.
Halie Morris 0:00
Hello everyone and welcome to the Business of Cleaning podcast.
My name is Halie Morris, and I am your podcast coordinator and host.
Today we have Guy Harris. Guy Harris is gonna go ahead and start us off by telling us about his company and what he does there. So Guy if you don’t mind?
Guy Harris 0:48
So at the company I work for I’m the sales manager. It’s a Certified Maintenance Service. We’re based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We have a subsidiary company called Max Defense Antimicrobial Service.
Our parent company is a Certified Maintenance Service. We’ve been in business for 25 plus years and our Max Defense Antimicrobial Service has been around for 10 years.
So, yeah, we’re a commercial janitorial company. We’re in Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Huntsville, Alabama, a little town called Cleveland, Tennessee, and Dalton, Georgia. On the janitorial side of things, and we’re nationwide, the Max Defense side of things.
So yeah, glad to be here. Appreciate it.
Thank you for coming on. It’s great to have you.
So what I wanted to start off first with is, when we talked before, we mentioned a lot of what you do with Max Defense started after the 2008 recession.
So I just wanted to kind of go back a little bit since we are in a period of recession right now. We’re starting to, to kind of lift back up again.
But it’s still a struggle for many. So I want to go ahead and jump back a little bit to 2008 and start there where your business, Mac’s defense, started.
So if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about what happened in that recession.
Yeah, no problem.
So in 2008, the economy took a little downturn and I remember when I opened up the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which was our newspaper here. I was reading the business section, I like the business section.
It said how to save money if you own or manage a company and it said, cut out your security, your landscaping, and you’re janitorial. I read it and I thought, Oh gosh, this is terrible for us.
We had a lot of customers that went from five days to two days of service or five days to one. In the 25-26 years, we’ve been in business, we’ve generally had growth every year. And that year, we started to see like, we’re kind of flatlining here. And you know, he took a dip in revenue. So, we thought, “Well what can we do?”
So, at the time, we had never bid on federal jobs before. And I thought, well, let’s give it a crack here. We’ve discovered a website where we could go on, and a lot of the listeners here probably are familiar with it. Or you could go on and get basically wherever the federal janitorial bid was bidding.
So we started doing that, and we started winning some of them and we ended up getting about 30 or 40 federal accounts. That was nice, but the deal is that the margins are slim on them, and the buildings kind of a headache.
So we ran across one. I wrestled in high school and in college. And at the time, I was referring to the community here. A big thing in the wrestling world at the time was skin, you know, staph (infection) and fungus type skin issues.
So I ran across this federal bid and it was at West Point, Military Academy. It said to deep clean their combat training rooms, which are essentially the wrestling rooms. Clean and disinfect them and apply an antimicrobial coating.
That was a durable coating that wouldn’t just wipe off and then do swab testing before you know before and after. Then they presented a treatment report, you know, to the military.
So I read that, and I thought, “this is me, this is interesting,” the antimicrobial coating part of it interested me too because I wasn’t really familiar with it at the time.
And so I researched around and found a company that manufactured the coding and had a service providing a team that did what they wanted. I contacted them and we arranged a deal where basically, they went out and did the job for us.
We billed the government, we made money, they made money. And when it’s all said and done, I said to them, “Hey, can you teach me what you guys just did”?
They said, “Sure, are you gonna pay us? and so, we paid him. We paid him for the training and then created our system based on that. That was kind of the nuts and bolts of it. It was how it all got started and everything.
So here we are 10 years later. It’s been nice, you know, this COVID-19 thing, we had a system in place. Our system, the Max Defense Antimicrobial System is CDC compliant for COVID-19. Cleaning and disinfecting, it goes beyond really what the CDC requires.
So when COVID-19 hit March, we hit the ground running. We didn’t have to create marketing materials or invent a disinfection process.
So we were kind of ready for that. And for 10 years we’ve serviced our markets.
But outside of our markets, we realized that we couldn’t get to all those places. We’ve sold our training to other janitorial companies and allow them to use our branding, our marketing materials, and our training procedures.
We give them a way that they can buy directly from our manufacturers that we buy from. We don’t mark it up or anything. So we essentially sell our training to them. And then, of course, we assist with marketing and lead generations and jobs and, and that sort of thing for our service provider.
So, that’s how we got started. And here we are, 10 years later.
It’s really impressive to see. A company, especially within the cleaning space, took somebody who could have easily been in a bad situation with the 2008 recession and turned it into an opportunity.
It wasn’t like, boom, it happened. It was a little bit of a process. It sounds like getting there. But you did eventually get there.
It was, yeah, definitely. It was a process.
When I talked to a guy that owns a small janitorial company in the Carolinas and he’s interested in becoming a service provider, I’m like, “Listen, you can do what we do, but it’s taken us 10 years to fine-tune it.”
“You can go out, create your own brand, create your procedures and processes, figure out where to get the chemicals from, and all this,” I said.
We’ve spent over $100,000 getting this system in place over the years. Or you can just pay for our training. You get everything and we have you ready to roll, offering disinfection services to your clients in probably a week or less.
So that’s the benefit. It’s a turnkey system.
There’s a lot of janitorial companies that may not be part of a franchise because the franchises have got things locked down. They’ve got their systems in place. They’ve got their marketing materials, but for the independent janitorial companies, it costs money to get a graphic designer, build a website and figure out the SEO stuff on it.
So here we are. We can help them and level the playing field, I think, and get them offering that service to their clients. It’s a good business. It’s a good, profitable business.
We’re fair with our pricing to our clients and they appreciate that because people know when you’re gouging them. In a time like this, we’ve had a lot of our clients just really appreciate that we give fair pricing on our service because people will remember when the dust settles. People will remember if you took advantage of them.
That’s true, it’s very true.
So kind of going back to the idea of just the franchise versus the service provider, to kind of nail home, what is or how would you define the difference between a franchisee and someone who’s a service provider for something like Max Defense?
Yeah, so I get that question frequently. People ask us, “Hey, are you selling a franchise?”
No, we’re not selling a franchise. We’re just selling our training, our knowledge, and our marketing materials. So, when we sell our training and a company becomes a service provider, they go and get thrown jobs.
They can put a link on their own website to our Max Defense System website. The jobs that they get, we don’t take anything from it. There is an annual renewal fee, of course, and it’s modest, but the training is very affordable.
So it’s not a franchise, we simply sell the training. Now, if we bring them a job, if we’re doing Google marketing and, through one of our leads, we secure a job and a contract it will give them the job.
We take a piece out of that action because we have to pay for Google and Google’s not exactly cheap these days.
Then you’re also kind of acting as a lead provider at that point, too.
Yeah, exactly. Actually more of, instead of a lead provider, it’s a job provider. When we call them, we’re not saying “hey, here’s a lead, go run it down.”
We’re saying, “here’s a job. This is a job and we need you to do it.” It’s in your marketplace. They’re still there. It should win.
The service providers still win when we provide them a job. Yeah, of course, we take something out of it, but that just covers our marketing costs really.
Now, CMS, do you guys still act as your own service provider for Max Defense?
So when we created this, we created the system then we became a service provider of our system.
So in our market, we’re Certified Maintenance, you know, is an authorized service provider of the Max Defense system, which we created.
So, yeah. And that’s, so we’re the only service provider exclusive in our area, but that’s because we don’t want to sell the training general competitors locally here. Sorry
Does it make a little sense to not drive away your business?
So when I was looking over the website for Max Defense, I noticed that it was a five-step process. Would you mind going over those five steps for us?
So it’s clean, kill, coat, swob or test, and then a document. Basically, the CDC requires that you manually clean the touchpoints, right? Then disinfect them.
A lot of our customers don’t know that when we get a call for COVID-19. A lot of our clients will say yeah, can you guys just come in with the electrostatic and spray. We had someone test positive.
You kind of have to educate the client on Alright, the CDC requires that you clean those touchpoints first, and then you then disinfect.
So we use Victory electrostatic sprayers. We have a great relationship with the local distributor here.
So we use the Victory backpack and handheld sprayers. We clean the surfaces and then we apply the disinfect. Of course, it has all the proper kill claims on it with the electrostatics.
Then we put the antimicrobial coating on. Then we do swab testing. We actually do the swab testing before and after. So it gives us pre and post-treatment numbers and we use ATP meters.
The last thing is documentation. I tell clients the documentation is super important because in the safety world if you don’t document it, you didn’t do it.
So they get a post-treatment report from us that tells them what chemicals were used, what services were done, how long the chemicals were down, and what technicians were on the job.
It takes us about a day to get it to them after the job is done. They get a certificate and a window sticker and all these things. So, that’s the five steps.
It’s a “clean, kill, coat, test, and document.”
It’s nice that from your side, you’ve done your due process.
If any questions arise, you can come back and say exactly this has happened. But just for future tracking, if you want to make a change, you also already have a basis for starting.
Some people, when they institute a new process, they forget what that basis is for starting so that when they measure it later, they can actually compare and see, is this effective? Is this something we want to continue to evolve with or not?
Guy Harris 15:57
Yes, and so the swabbing part of it is really cool.
Here’s the thing with ATP meters, they’re measuring based ATP, which stands for adenosine triphosphate. That’s basically the energy source for bacteria.
So viruses host that energy. They don’t have ATP. The ATP meter is, you know, it’s not the silver bullet, it doesn’t tell you if there’s, you know, the Coronavirus on the surface.
But what it does do in a lot of food and service and medical use ATP meters is kind of, you know, a benchmark for cleanliness. It gives you a good idea of, “Hey, how clean was the surface before and after”. We can then show our clients like, “okay, when we came in, you know, this desk, it’s swobbed, 500, and when we finished, it swobbed a 5”.
And of course, you can’t use the word sterile…but zero is the lowest reading. So our clients love it. They absolutely love swabs because people like data.
Especially with COVID-19 going on, they don’t know if we’re spraying water on the surface, you know? So, there’s obviously a trust factor. But the data of the swabber, they absolutely love that.
Even though it’s limited, it gives you the ATP for bacteria. Clients love data. Now, what we’ve seen is our clients that sign up for monthly or quarterly services, we see a trend of those ATP swabs pretreatment going down.
This is a biased but unbiased thing here. Our clients, where we do the cleaning and we do the Max Defense, get our lowest swab numbers. It’s something that if they sign up monthly and they do it for a year or two years, we can really track those numbers, and even give them a readout of those.
The ATP is a nice piece of that. I’ll say this, none of the fives, nothing here is rocket science. I think what we’ve done is we’ve put together a really nice system, and we’ve packaged it and put a bow on it. You take one piece out or you divide this system up.
It’s not terribly complicated! But it all wraps together with our marketing and everything.
It’s just a nice, nice system.
It’s very interesting, too. It’s like you said, we have you now have that data. It’s really cool to see that people are consistent with the use. With your cleaning, you see that decrease over time of, you know, how much is coming back?
Which is cool because it goes into that question of how long then does this cleaning last? Like how long do they reap the benefits, so to speak by using your services?
So you can say “well, actually, they’re long term, especially with continued use and you have that proof.
Guy Harris 19:28
Yeah, I’ll say this, one thing it really does is it identifies like if we’re going in and doing a Max Defense service and this is not one of our regular cleaning customers.
Well, when we went we did a bank and in the check, the counter was pre swabbed in less than a 30 which is really good.
The meters are generally set at like 100, pass or fail, or 150 or whatever. They sometimes come preset or you can, you can set your own pass-fail. And it kind of depends on what you’re doing. Your pass-fail needs to be 10 or less, and so on.
In a commercial building like a bank, we did a pre-swab, and it was a 30 or less. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was low. Then we went behind the counter and we did the telephone that the tellers use when the people are driving through, and it was in the hundreds or whatever number it was.
So we’re able to go back to the client and say, “Listen, you guys are doing a great job cleaning the check-writing counter but you need to pay a little more attention behind the counter. That telephone back there, it’s pretty nasty.”
Anyway, so we can identify those areas that may get neglected.
It goes back to a couple of sources I’ve seen have said, “Remember with the everyday person, the precautions that we have to take for COVID-19 is cleaning our own surfaces around us”. I kept seeing a couple of things like don’t forget your cell phones, right?
Guy Harris 21:15
It makes me think that nobody thinks to clean a phone and yet pick it up all the time. If you wash your hands and then you pick up the phone, which hasn’t been cleaned, you put all that gunk right back on your hand, all the bacteria and viruses that may be clinging to it.
So it’s those touchpoints that people aren’t thinking of that are actually high contact.
Guy Harris 21:40
So we’re able to identify that with each service. We usually do about three or four random spots and the swabs. The swab meter we buy is from Hygiena and I think the swabs cost us like $3 a swab.
For us, the larger the job we’re doing, we’ll do more swabs, but if the customer wants to get a bunch of swabs done then they pay a little more.
But generally, we do about three or four random spots, which ends up being six or eight swabs because if you’re doing four spots, you’re doing a pre and post swab but the meters are really simple to use.
You just have to take care of it. You can’t give it to your guys that are gonna throw it in the back of all the equipment. Even the electrostatic sprayers, you have to have to take care of it.
We’ve got our director that oversees all of our jobs. His name’s Dan Sandoval. He came from the IT industry and actually owned an IT company.
He sold it and then he was working for another IT company and he retired from that from the IT world. And so we brought him on when COVID-19 hit. This guy is so meticulous and everything’s a step by step process. He oversees everything. He oversees the equipment.
If you don’t have a guy that’s really caring for your equipment, even electrostatic sprayers. Those Victories are high-quality sprayers, but you still have to take care of them. The guys can’t just throw it in the back of the truck, you know.
It’s important to have someone in your company, whether you’re a service provider for us or doing it on your own, that really takes ownership of this disinfection process. We’ve done 275 jobs since March just in our area here. That’s CMS as a service provider.
You’ve just gotta have someone in your kit because I can’t do it. If I’m busy. We’ve got a guy and then he oversees the crews and he’s there. Dan is there with a stopwatch when he sprays down the disinfectant. He was an old college wrestling teammate of mine, too.
So we go back a little bit. He’s like a coach out there. They spray down the disinfectant, he’s got the timer on him because the disinfectants have to be down for a certain dwell time.
Anyway, it’s important to have the right equipment, but you got to have the right people. Business is still done with people. One day this cleaning business will be done by robots, but right now, it’s still human beings that are doing it. They still need to be supervised and you need to make sure they’re doing the right thing.
It goes back to what you’re talking about: why be a service provider? Why would you want to be a service provider versus starting your own process yourself?
Part of it you already touched on, which is the idea that it takes years to develop a really well-thought-out process and practice and actually be able to support, implement, market it, and make it a usable part of your company.
Another reason would be the training aspect of it. You’ve got the training down. You already know the pitfalls and the best practice for everything. So you can come in and train. It cuts back on that implementation time considerably, I would imagine.
Guy Harris 25:32
Oh, yeah. When we first started. When we first started doing this, a job might take us 20 man-hours, but after we’ve got our procedures down, that same job now done right takes us eight to 10 man-hours.
I’ll go back to Dan when he goes into buildings. How he gets out of his truck. How he unloads the truck. More importantly, how he loads the truck. The loading of the truck and unloading, getting in the building. What’s the first thing you do?
It’s just boom, boom, boom. If you follow those procedures, it almost cuts our labor in half. Because otherwise, you end up doing a 20,000 square foot office building with cubicles everywhere and you have a crew of three or four people and they’re just fumbling around and crossing over.
So that’s another benefit of the system is it will say, look, you bid the job, right. If you bid it and typically it’s a 20-hour job, but because you’re so efficient, you do it in 10 hours, that’s more profit for the service provider the job is still being done and the steps are followed. Good for that service provider.
I guess what I’m saying is, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Halie Morris 27:03
I was gonna say that it’s already there, why recreate it?
Guy Harris 27:07
Halie Morris 27:09
All right. Another one of my questions for you is, what plans for this do you have going forward?
Guy Harris 27:17
So, my plan is really just to continue what we’re doing and see how it goes. We have plans, we have goals for our company, but I’ve never been one of those guys, where it’s like, “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I always hated those types of questions.
I’m the guy that Okay, today, we’re gonna do things right. Tomorrow we’re going to do things right. Then by doing those things, and focusing on executing and doing what you’re saying you’re going to do. Good things naturally happen.
So we’ve been blessed in our janitorial business, it’s very strong. The Max Defense system is going great!
We just want to continue to do this. We’ll have to tweak it as we go. You never know, there may be another pandemic that comes out and we might have to modify what chemicals are in the system.
Right now, it’s pretty basic, just a disinfectant that’s used for the killing of germs. But you never know. If another pandemic comes, we might have to change chemicals, but that’s the good thing about our system is that we can tweak it. We have to add in a sixth or seventh step down the road. We’ll do that if we have to.
Right now, Our five-step process is working really, really well for us.
Hopefully, we don’t see another pandemic shortly…
Guy Harris 28:59
I know. I always say it’s like working for a fire, a remediation company and someone asks you, “How’s business?” “Well, fortunately, it’s good”. It’s kind of a weird feeling.
I’ll give the analogy of if you’re in athletics and you’re running a race, and it’s you and the other guy, and the other guy or gal blows out their hamstring and you win the race. Well, you won the race. You feel good that you won. But you also didn’t quite want to win it like that.
So this is really, for us, it’s a really unusual time. We’re happy about the business we’re happy to help. We’re glad that we can help our communities around us and that they can call us in a panic and say, “Hey, we had someone test positive. Can you guys help us?”
Yes, we can. We got you. Don’t worry.
So it’s kind of a weird time. It’s not like we’re running around just high fiving each other. It is unusual. I am glad and thankful to be in an industry that’s needed. I feel for those people that maybe we’re in an industry that was not a critical industry during this time and got laid off.
I mean it’s really heartbreaking in a way.
Oh, history! That was 100 years ago when we had the last one.
So hopefully if we have another one, it’s in 3020, that way we were prepared because now we document things a lot better than we did back then.
Guy Harris 30:48
Yeah. So do you know, when we first started this, this was kind of a hard sell, like, I would go to our clients and be like, “Hey, we got this great System called Max Defense Antimicrobial”. Since that was 10 years ago, there was no pandemic, right. So it was a hard sell.
But then you had the swine flu and all these other things come up. So sometimes it’s busy and then sometimes it may go down. But what we noticed was, it became part of our repertoire, you know, part of our services offered.
When we’re out pitching janitorial contracts. And we’re able to say, “well, commercial cleaning service! We do stripping, waxing, carpet shampooing, and Windows, blah, blah, blah.” We also have this.
They’d be like, “Oh, you could,” it’s our clients and our prospects that like to see you think outside the box a little bit. You’ve got an extra service there…they may never buy it from you, they may never need it. Right?
But I really think it has been a critical part of our regular janitorial side of things and our parent company at Certified Maintenance, to help grow our company, and help us, you know, help give us these years and years of growth. So, it’s kind of like one helps the other you know.
All right. Well, thank you for that.
It’s been an enlightening conversation, being able to talk about the steps. Also what it does for not just you, but anybody else who may choose to do it or work with it.
Especially during a time where keeping clean is kind of a must more than ever before.
So, with that, I have one last question. That is, what advice would you give to a business listening right now?
Guy Harris 32:58
In regards to that, kind of help me narrow that down a little bit, if you don’t mind?
So when it comes to maybe keeping up with crazy workbooks, I think some of you know, with some more businesses migrating back to the office and more people wanting the Max Defense level of service, how could a business potentially manage that?
Should they be looking at Max Defense?
Should they be maybe exploring their own processes a little bit more?
What advice can you give somebody who’s kind of, you know, throwing out their feelers at this moment?
Guy Harris 33:36
So I am really territorial. Especially with our clients, like I don’t, on the janitorial side of things. I don’t like it when another company comes in and says, “Hey, you know, they have this,” something special, whatever service it is, right?
So I’ve always kind of been like that. I am just really protective of our customers. I want to serve our customers. We don’t try to be all things to all people we know where our lanes are at.
I remember the owner of our company, his brother in law. He needed a job and he said, “well, we’ll just start a painting division in our company”. Because we’re in buildings, we see buildings that need painting. And you know what, we weren’t that good at it. We tried landscaping. We weren’t that good at it!
So we know our lanes, but anything that’s in our janitorial lane, I considered and I think now the game has changed, and disinfecting is going to be part of it.
Everyone is now adding it. Where before when you didn’t do a janitorial, because I do all of our estimates on the janitorial side of things. You wouldn’t put in sometimes, disinfecting the doorknobs are all the touchpoints. Of course the breakrooms and in the restrooms. But sometimes doorknobs were not part of the package. But now people want to see it. That you’re disinfecting all those touchpoints every night.
So, I would say to me, we nation ships with really hundreds in our market that were not cleaning clients of ours. Now they call on us for this and we’ve been able to deliver and down the road that might pay off into a janitorial contract.
So I would say definitely you’ve got to look, if you’re not doing this disinfection for COVID-19 cleanups, then it’s definitely something you want to look at because you could end up you know, you could end up someone sneaking in there and getting your account from him and so yeah, I would say for sure.
All right, well, thank you for that, Guy.
This is where we’re gonna wrap up for this week’s episode. I really want to thank you for coming on. I’ve enjoyed having you and going through our discussion today.
I want to thank everybody who’s tuned in and listened or watched our episode. And I also want to remind you to go ahead and give us a follow wherever you’re listening to us now, and leave us a review so that we can continue to provide great content.
If you have a question or a particular need within the cleaning space that we can also look at addressing that in an episode. So that’s it for today. Thank you!