INTERVIEW WITH WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE 2018 -
From humble beginnings, you have built a tremendous success story. Share with us some details about your journey.
I was born into a traditional Catholic family in Orpington, Kent in 1954. One of five boys, my childhood was happy, though it wasn’t a privileged upbringing; my mother was a chef and my dad an engineer. The stand-out attribute I showed from an early age was a very outgoing personality:
I would talk to anyone, which led me to my first sales job, aged 10. My auntie Ellen, a seamstress, made bags for clothes pegs, that were designed to fit on a coat hangar. I had no problem selling the bags door to door.
When I finished school with above-average grades, all I wanted to do was go into a sales environment. I started selling chefs’ whites and linen into London hotels and restaurants for a laundry company called New Era. I hit the ground running and before long, the sales director asked me to share my techniques with the rest of the sales team. They were much more experienced but not introducing anywhere near as much business. After three years demolishing sales targets, I was the only salesperson retained in a takeover by the industry’s big player, Sunlight Group. I continued smashing every sales target, and Sunlight promoted me to sales manager. I felt I’d arrived and my confidence was sky-high. Five years on, I was headhunted by a chemical company serving the hospitality sector.
For the next 20 years, I again achieved all that was asked of me – until I decided to go it alone in 1999. Having set up more than 200 franchise businesses for my previous employer, I had complete confidence that nothing could go wrong. My first venture, City Service, was a major success and supplied over 200 top hotels as a distributor. Given my understanding of chemicals and cleaning practices, I knew they could be more efficient and environmentally responsible. But I had to have control over product design and quality to deliver sustainable value as well as service. So Cleaner Products was born and in January 2009 we launched our own manufactured range. Today the brand is the first choice for many top hotels and restaurants, and we have an annual turnover of £2 million.
"Given my understanding of chemicals and cleaning practices, I knew they could be more efficient and environmentally responsible. But I had to have control over product design and quality to deliver sustainable value as well as service. So Cleaner Products was born and in January 2009 we launched our own manufactured range."
What is your approach to leadership and how has your background shaped your management style?
First and foremost, be honest and upfront with people. The Cleaner Products strapline is ‘No Frills – No Jargon’. We are all about service, value and ethics. That’s why the environment is central. I wanted to provide products that were user- and environmentally friendly. And the marketplace wanted a fresh approach too. My leadership style is simple: I lead from the front. To this day I still enjoy being hands-on – listening to clients, explaining our service, running trials, developing products, and helping with deliveries. Members of the team watch me in action, and hopefully learn how to go about business. My background, which may not seem impressive, has given me a level of confidence that shocks even me sometimes. I launched Cleaner Products in the teeth of the global financial crisis, without loans, investors or strategic business advisors, into a highly competitive and depressed market. But I have confidence in my own judgment, and have always been able to spot talented people. The team I’ve built, currently 15-strong, are outstanding people totally committed to the business and serving our clients.
" I launched Cleaner Products in the teeth of the global financial crisis, without loans, investors or strategic business advisors, into a highly competitive and depressed market. But I have confidence in my own judgment, and have always been able to spot talented people. The team I’ve built, currently 15-strong, are outstanding people totally committed to the business and serving our clients."
Tell us about Cleaner Products, why has your company been so successful in the hospitality sector?
Cleaner Products is a family-run business manufacturing top-quality cleaning and hygiene products for the hospitality sector in the UK.
We target high-end restaurants and hotels because that’s the market I know best, with clients that tend to lead in innovation and corporate responsibility. We deal direct with end users and have our own transport fleet. So there are no middlemen’s margins for our clients to pay, which makes our brand highly competitive. We also analyse their cleaning practices and levels of consumption, and provide free training in cleaning techniques, hygiene control and safety. So our clients don’t just save money, they know they are as efficient as they can be and environmentally responsible too. We eliminate all needless packaging, over-dosing of concentrates and other waste – and even employ an ex-chef whose job it is to reduce each client’s usage of our products to the minimum, efficient and effective level. But the key to our success is not that we lower costs.
It’s because we raise the bar when it comes to service. No other UK chemical manufacturing company provides the same level of service – reliable, timely delivery; transparent usage with technical data available at the push of a button; and unrivalled support in areas like food industry accreditations as well as responsible, efficient practice.
"Our clients don’t just save money, they know they are as efficient as they can be and environmentally responsible too.
We eliminate all needless packaging, over-dosing of concentrates and other waste – and even employ an ex-chef whose job it is to reduce each client’s usage of our products to the minimum, efficient and effective level."
What is your vision for Cleaner Products?
I will take the company turnover from £2 to £10 million over the next decade. We are, and will remain, a true family business. My dream is to introduce my grandchildren into the firm. We now have a proven formula for both products and service, and a team that can manage this growth beyond London. We have piloted two distribution hubs in Kent and Yorkshire, and will appoint more partners as we find the right people.
I have complete confidence in my son Nathan - our Managing Director, my wife Lorraine - our Operations Director and my Financial Director - Steve Hodges, who are implementing this strategy of steady expansion.
What challenges do you see and how do you approach them?
Like many businesses, our growth has relied on funding and cash flow. Thankfully our success has been achieved without need of banks. I do not borrow and don’t have an overdraft. I do ensure that we get paid when due and use the profit to grow my business. As we expand, we’re keeping a tight rein on production costs and overheads. We continue to develop our services and innovate, reducing our clients’ costs. This combination explains our sustained growth and our loyal client base. We do not lose clients – a critical factor in our development – and most of our new business comes through their recommendations, or former staff who’ve moved on. And there’s more innovation in the pipeline. Another brand is nearing launch. This is not a cleaning product, but it will complement the Cleaner Products service, not least by making our clients’ operations more sustainable while reducing their costs.
What is the current state of UK Manufacturing?
The UK chemical manufacturing industry continues to shrink as global brands buy out British manufacturers. This actually helps us, as the multinational players cannot compete with the service we provide or the prices we charge. Our clients, meanwhile, are under increasing strains from a shortage of skilled staff and serious increases in the cost of produce. Again, this strengthens our position to some extent as our whole purpose is to achieve maximum savings and efficiency for our clients. So, they appreciate that we are a key partner with their best interests at heart.
What role does sustainability play at Cleaner Products?
Because we manufacture our products in-house to a just-in-time operating model, we do not need to add preservatives. It is these chemicals that are the cleaning industry’s major contributors to contamination in the environment. We were the first UK chemical manufacturing company to achieve ISO14001 environmental accreditation at the first time of asking. From the outset, Cleaner Products’ management systems and procedures were designed in line with this international standard. And we have expert advisors who help us keep up to speed on best practice. We live up to the commitments in our CSR policy and keep it under review. But perhaps our most significant contribution to sustainability is the business case we make to our clients. Cleaner products – that are competitive yet environmentally friendly and effective, and used in the most efficient way – are better for profit, people and the planet.
What is your favorite motivational quote?
Nobody ever drowned in their own sweat.