What do you get when you add a retiring hockey player, a recent college graduate and a whole lot of energy and determination? In Brandon, Manitoba, this recipe resulted in a thriving mat, uniform and sanitation supply business that is growing by leaps and bounds with no end in sight.
Spencer Day was finishing his college degree just as brother Riley decided it was time to exit his pro hockey career in the US. Their father and cousin had 40 years of experience in the janitorial business. Spencer recalls “It seemed like a good fit, getting someone in the family in on the supply side of things. “With a modest 2,400 square foot facility, Progressive Sanitation came into being in August of 2009.
In the beginning, Riley and Spencer were the sole employees and focused exclusively on janitorial and sanitation supplies. In 2013 they opened Progressive Mats and Uniforms, adding mat and uniform rentals to the janitorial supplies service. The additional services contributed greatly to the growth over the last few years.
With a population of 50,000 and another 250,000 in the trading area, Brandon was ready for a local independent mat and uniform rental service. Spencer recalls “There was a big demand from Brandon businesses. There were no local mat and uniform providers. Our biggest competitors only had depots, and everything was trucked from Winnipeg. We already had customers in hundreds of locations that we were seeing on a regular basis so it was an easy addition for us.”
The business grew quickly and the two founders were soon joined by much needed support staff, rising to the current head count of fifteen. Among the new hires was Spencer’s wife, Kathryn, who heads up the mat & uniform division. “We have an energetic group. Most of our staff are under 30, including Riley & myself.” Spencer notes.
Setting Up Systems
”We are adding new routes by starting with matting and uniform rental contracts just to get us in the area regularly with some guaranteed revenue. Then we can add sanitation supplies into the van as we go. We have a pretty good system here. The front-end staff will call out to each of our routes a day or two before they leave Brandon. That process is continually evolving too. We are planning on switching to an automated email system that has each route prebuilt. It will send an email out to everyone to make sure we get their orders automatically in our trucks before they leave. It’s an easy way to add a couple thousand dollars into those vans, for each trip.
Spencer adds “The customers that get the calls before the vans head out are ones that were previously set up with one of our programs, whether they are on one of our Betco fast draw programs for chemical dilution or they have a dispenser program in their bathrooms using our hand soap sanitizers, hand towels, air fresheners, toilet paper, that kind of thing. It does take some time to set them up with those systems but once they are installed you can just continually fill them. It ends up being quite easy.”
The calls to customers increase sales but there is a practical service aspect also. Spencer says “The calls are appreciated because there have been times when we have just finished a route to a remote town and those distant clients call us with requests for supplies. Our outbound calls really provide a service. Customers don’t have to drive into Brandon or pay extra freight to have supplies shipped to them because we are not scheduled to be back in their area for a couple of weeks.”
Room for Growth
Needed products combined with excellent service leads to growth. Spence states, “We are getting closer to full capacity. Our laundry department is running 16+ hours per day. They start at 4 am and work into the night. We have been in our current 4,000 square foot facility since we moved here in 2013, when we started the mat and uniform business. We have purchased some land and are planning a 10,000 SF facility. That’s another big jump for us. It’s inconvenient to move every couple years but we think the new facility will serve us for a while.”
Riley, Spencer and Kathryn, the Progressive sales team, stay focused on growth. Spencer says “As soon as we get some free time we’re on the move making sales. We don’t really have any magic formula; pick up the phone, knock on doors, see people face to face and just keep the ball rolling. If you know that a prospect is dissatisfied with a current mat or uniform provider then we will lead with that. I tend to lead with sanitation because I started on the sanitation side so many years before.”
He continues, “Kathryn is probably the other way around because she came on board the company with the mat and uniform side of the business. There is no one way of doing it. We do have mat and uniform customers that are not yet sanitation customers and we still have sanitation customers that we have not yet approached to make the move to rental mats and uniforms. We haven’t saturated the market; we haven’t even knocked on half the doors in Brandon yet.”
Other staff members are participating in the company growth says Spencer. “Drivers are paid a commission whether it’s on the janitorial supply side or the mat and uniforms. If they sign a new mat and uniform rental contract with a customer they get a bonus and then we pay them residual income as well. That adds up as they continue to sign new customers. On the sanitation side we pay a percentage of the gross profits on everything they sell. We monitor all of that with QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions. It keeps track of inventory, costs, customers and their routes. Within each customer profile we have all previous transactions about their matting and the uniform styles or about their sanitation supplies. We have over 500 different items in stock with 12 kinds of paper towel alone. If someone calls and says they need it, the system knows what they have ordered in the past and there is no confusion.”
This system helps if new staff members answer the phone says Spencer. “They can just click on the customer’s file and all that information will be available immediately. We had a new office manager come in recently and it cuts the learning curve in half. Not having to play a guessing game also cuts down on errors for drivers getting the correct items on the van.”
With systems in place, there seems to be no limit to Progressive’s potential and certainly no desire to slow down. Says Spencer, “I enjoy the rush of a new customer and a new sale. I also really love making customers happy. We really strive to make customers happy first and make money second. I know that might seem backwards in some people’s heads but we figure if we take care of our customers, the business will take care of itself, which it seems to have done well for the last few years.
He adds, “Our sales goals are higher every month and we continue to push towards them. We are in the middle of hiring some new people. We want a rural territory manager to grow the business outside of Brandon.
Kathryn adds, “I love how busy we are, every day is something new. I am looking forward to attending the conference. It sounds like a great way to find out more about what we don’t know. We are new to this industry, so having others who are facing the same challenges in the same room would be very beneficial.”
While dedicated to acquisition and customer service, the Progressive team has been able to maintain a balanced lifestyle. Spencer admits “We are pretty religious about shutting things down on Friday at 5 o’clock. We have a small cabin about an hour north of Brandon where we spend almost every weekend.” The couple is also involved with the Brandon Humane Society and Pawsitive Community programs, fostering dogs and any free time is devoted to those groups.
But after their weekend away, the team is back to work with new energy. Spencer concludes, “We are never going to stop with the customer acquisition. That’s what we feed off of. That’s why we get up in the morning. We have a young energetic team. This is what we want to do for the next 20-30 years. There is nowhere to go but up and we’re enjoying it very much.”