Cleanology Chief Executive Dominic Ponniah looks at an extraordinary month as the effects of the coronavirus crisis took hold – and looks ahead to when it will eventually end.
It is hard to believe that just a month ago, the cleaning industry was celebrating success at the Golden Service Awards. And today we are on the front line of a war against a virus.
It brings everything into perspective, that for all the power, money and success in the world, we are all vulnerable humans and cannot yet control a little known virus called Covid-19. We are all in the same boat and nobody is out of reach. We are all equal when it comes to Covid-19.
I have been proud to watch our industry, and us a business, being on the front line of the fight against coronavirus. Cleaning has been put firmly on the news agenda, and having been invited to film by Sky News, brought home the fact that cleaning has never had such a high profile, at least in my 20-year career.
We have carried out dozens of preventative cleans and our teams have been working around the clock to keep as many of our clients operational and safe as possible. We went from a period of being inundated with disinfection cleans in mid-March, to having 90% of the buildings we serve closed just 10 days later. The speed with which this health, and now economic, emergency has struck has been alarming to say the least.
There will be cleaning businesses who sadly don’t come through this crisis, as the cash flow implications are so severe for an industry where typically 80% of their cost is labour. Our businesses and lives are currently in the hands of the government's furlough scheme. If there are any problems or delays with this scheme, literally thousands of jobs will disappear within days. The longer the lockdown continues, the more this will be the case, both within the industry and beyond.
Despite most clients holding contracts with their cleaning contractors, clients believe those contracts can be suspended or completely disregarded. Having spoken with numerous competitors across the industry, everyone says the same thing, that the "normal rules of engagement" don’t seem to apply in these unprecedented times. Surely this is the time that they matter more than any other.
Once we get through this crisis, and we will, cleaning will be one of the few winners. Cleaning will be much higher up the corporate agenda as a non-discretionary spend to keep employees safe. Cleaning as a topic will be on the agenda of boards and senior management teams in a way it wasn’t before. Some companies will of course continue to see it as a 'commodity purchase', but the professional corporate buyer will realise that they need to invest in cleaning for the long-term. The cost of the virus is just too great to continue with the status quo of a pre-coronavirus era.