Cleaning Up

FaB Cleaning Services

Either it’s clean, or it’s not. That’s the core philosophy of FaB Cleaning Services Australia.

This South Australia-based industrial and commercial cleaning company started life in 1989. Current owner and Managing Director Bradley De Luca joined FaB in 2007 as an account manager and worked his way up before making an offer to the then owner in 2012. It was accepted; the change of leadership and a strategic restructuring has since revitalised FaB and put it on a course for substantial expansion interstate.

When it began those 25 years ago, there was a “void in the quality, consistency and individualism of cleaning services on offer.” Bradley agrees that the void has been filled in the interim by a large number of operators in the cleaning and building maintenance sector. “It is one of the most competitive industries in Australia, if not the world. Many of the companies that have come into the cleaning market in the last ten years are very cost-driven and they focus on offering low-cost solutions. But our company is very much focused on quality solutions. We work very closely with our clients to find the best solution. We don’t compromise and so our price point is such that we do not buy work.”

Most of those in the industry in 1989 were very small operators, says Bradley, generally home-based and unable to offer what was really required by the education, retail, commercial and medical sectors who were looking for a more comprehensive – and clean – result. FaB Cleaning met with success because there were, and still are, sufficient companies in the market for the service who can distinguish between a cheap job and a good job. Customers who leave FaB because they have found someone to do the job more cheaply frequently return in due course, Bradley points out, citing one client who moved after getting a cheaper quote two years ago, has since tried three alternative suppliers and has now asked to be considered again by FaB. “It may take a couple of years and they try other companies, but we do find mostly they will come back to us.”

One of the problems with the low-cost solution approach is that such cleaning companies tend to spring up and then disappear quite quickly, he adds, which is always a problem for the client who appreciates continuity. There is no real saving if you have to be almost constantly looking for and building a new relationship with yet another cleaner. “It is a high-turnover industry with a lot of ‘overnighter’ companies that start up, get a few jobs by quoting really low, but then find they cannot sustain it and gaps start to appear in the quality of service within a few months,” he explains.

FaB has its head office in Adelaide but today services Western Australia (managed from Adelaide but established now and going strong after a little more than a year) and has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Queensland operation has been particularly rewarding, the company having surpassed $1 million revenue per annum in less than two years, despite strong industry competition and a difficult economic environment. The 2013 results marked a 35 per cent year-on-year increase on revenue, something Bradley attributes to strong marketing in the early stages. He credits hard working managers for building a large client base through positive word of mouth.

“In 2011 we began research and established our team in Queensland. ABS Data showed that there were more than 1,400 cleaning companies operating in this state so we knew we were entering a tough market but we were determined to lay the groundwork to establish relationships with a few key clients. I believe that this hard work in the early stages provided an effective base on which to build strong revenue growth.” By late last year, FaB had increased its number of Queensland clients to more than 50 active sites. Nationally, the company built a large and loyal client base in SA. “By maintaining these key relationships and offering a quality service that spoke for itself, we have seen fantastic growth, which I believe is largely due to word of mouth,” shares Bradley. “We used long term success in South Australia to model our Queensland operations on, but every market is different so we listened to what the clients wanted and made sure we were in a position to deliver a tailored service to meet their unique requirements.”

The company is currently on target for a national increase of some 50 per cent on turnover for the year ending in June, to be achieved by “retaining current clients and securing new business.” Bradley expects to see more or less even growth nationally, although the company remains unrepresented in Darwin and the Northern Territory, where the labour, he says, “tends to be very transient and it is challenging to sustain business.” Otherwise, FaB will pretty much clean anything as long as it is economically viable, including commercial offices; shops and retail malls; childcare and education centres; hospitals and aged care facilities; industrial, manufacturing and business services; local government operations; and hospitality sites, always a large consumer of cleaning services – hotels and pubs are the largest single sector for FaB along with retailing.

A couple of factors set FaB apart from most competitors, says, Bradley: first, it is a sole ownership so he has a very direct interest in how it is run and how successful it is – and so the client deals directly with people who care. Bradley spends a lot of time travelling and meeting business owners and is very much hands-on (though he no longer dons the cleaning gloves these days, he says he certainly has done in the past while building the business, having started at the age of 18). Secondly, the company doesn’t do anything else. As a medium sized participant in the industry by turnover, FaB is one of the larger ones not doing other business and not part of a larger corporation, giving it the ability to concentrate on that core activity of getting things really sparkling clean.

Cleaning is of course a labour-intensive business and the cost of labour is high – and the main expense for a cleaning company – so this is the area where a low-cost operator is most likely to economise. This is an industry using low cost labour in a high-wage economy and changes to award rates (including the prevalence of penalty rates) have increased the pressure on the labour end of cleaning, Bradley admits, at a time when all businesses throughout Australia need to cut costs. “It is difficult to remain competitive and still retain quality staff, because they want to be paid above the award or they will go somewhere else. It’s a challenge to find quality sustainable staff.”

Nevertheless, Bradley and his team manage to do so. As he points out, “you certainly hear from clients when there is a problem; we pride ourselves on customer service to address the issue.”

For more information about FaB Cleaning Services, please visit http://www.fabcleaning.com.au/.

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June 19, 2018, 10:48 AM AEST