Future-proofing for distributors

1st of October 2018
Future-proofing for distributors

Joanne Gilliard is chief executive officer (ceo) of Jangro, one of the largest cleaning and hygiene products distribution groups in the UK and Ireland. She speaks exclusively to ECJ editor Michelle Marshall about the challenges and opportunities facing suppliers, and how this part of the cleaning sector is moving forward to safeguard its future.

With 45 independent members distributing cleaning and hygiene and catering products, the Jangro Group has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It is now one of the most influential networks of suppliers serving the UK and Ireland markets.

From its head office in the north of England the central team handles day to day functions, from purchasing and national contracts to accounts and marketing. Jangro has full control of its product branding and offers four distinct ranges to suit every budget and preference.

Heading up the business is Joanne Gilliard, who was appointed ceo in January 2018 after having joined the company in 2002 as operations director. Her commitment and passion are leading the group’s continuous innovation in customer service, technology and sustainable practice.

How would she describe the current state of the market? “This is a fairly resilient market, especially in our arena as cleaning is a necessity, not a choice. Hospitals and healthcare facilities must be kept clean and hygienic, and employers have a health and safety responsibility to ensure their employees are working in non-hazardous environments.”

High cleaning standards are now more in demand that ever before, Gilliard says, and there is much better recognition of professional cleaning. “Legislation is a driver of course, together with compliance, however we are also seeing so many areas of business – hospitality, health, retail – recognising the value of cleanliness to their success.”

Uncertainty challenging

Gilliard feels the most challenging aspect of the business right now is uncertainty. “Many factors play a part here,” she explains. “And we must be able to adapt to situations like economic difficulties and market forces. Brexit is the next major event we really know very little about, however the fall of the British pound and price increases are putting pressure on businesses already. For us collaboration with suppliers to secure prices ahead of the UK leaving the EU is key.

“I think we will also continue to see more mergers and buyouts, both horizontal and vertical (for example Diversey and Zenith Hygiene), and that will result in a shrinking but ultimately more stable market. Which means businesses must be capable of change in order to seize opportunities presented and mitigate threats.”

Online retailers such as Amazon are now entering the professional cleaning supplies space, however Gilliard does not view this as a significant problem. “They are making headway but they represent little threat to us at present,” she says.

“Any online vendor selling professional products that could be accessed by domestic users has to be careful - goods sold by commercial janitorial suppliers are for professional use only and could be hazardous in domestic situations. Manufacturers are reminding their customers they will take no responsibility if distributors sell online into the wrong hands.”

The key advantage a professional cleaning supplies distributor offers over one of the large online retailers, or any competitor selling products at low prices, is service and that leads to strong relationships with clients. “Relationships in general are key in the distribution business,” adds Gilliard, “whether that’s with clients, with manufacturers or with our Jangro members”.

“As far as client relationships are concerned, supplying products is all about the value-added. We are not selling products, we are all about service – collaboration and listening to our customers. Today’s customers expect us to provide the full package and to help them raise standards in their own businesses. They want continuous innovation from us. Our teams meet regularly to discuss ways to enable our members to be more effective, more competitive and more focused.”

A good distributor, Gilliard believes, takes ownership of the cleaning operation so its customers can focus on running their own core business, which could be contract cleaners, education establishments, nursing homes, hospitality, for example. That means offering valuable tools such as training, compliance and usage guides while guaranteeing the vital supply of products at a local level.

Jangro, for example, offers free online training via its Learning Management Solution (LMS) to cleaning operatives and sub-contractors, which comes with certificates when completed. “The course covers cleaning techniques, health and safety – in fact everything an operation in the professional cleaning sector might need to make sure their cleaning staff are compliant with legislation,” explains Gilliard. “Our wall charts and product usage guides are also on hand when cleaners require guidance on dilutions and how to clean certain areas.”

Other tools used by the group include QR codes that link to pictogram-led product usage guides, health and safety information, safety data sheets etc. “We also have our ‘Site Management’ tool, which automatically recognises products ordered and forwards the customer all the relevant health and safety data which includes the safety data sheets, the COSHH risk assessments and product usages guides. This ensures customers know they are compliant,” adds Gilliard.

So technology is a key area of investment within the business, and that will continue. “New technology will play an increasingly important part in both product development and service delivery,” she continues. “As a business it has always been high on our list of priorities – from apps that can help lone workers to training and productivity software that can optimise efficiency, accountability and work quality. We have more projects to come!”

Sustainability and issues around the environment have been at the forefront for a number of years already, however there is still much work to be done. “There is now the renewed focus on plastics for example,” Gilliard says, “so suppliers will have to keep innovating to offer high quality, more environmentally conscious packaging, without undue price increases.

“I do believe collaboration will feature more throughout the supply chain from product development to disposal. We all need to take more responsibility for what is consumed and how it is delivered and controlled – more focus on the ‘full cycle’ to ensure truly sustainable products are indeed deliverable.

“It’s true we have already come a long way. For example when we first started Jangro everything was boxed – paper towels, etc. Now products are often shrink-wrapped but our customers no longer want to deal with either boxes or plastic waste. Packaging is a serious challenge across the business.”

Now that she has settled well into the role of ceo, Gilliard is interested in broadening the reach of Jangro outside of the UK and is currently investigating the possibility of partnerships with similar businesses in other European countries. This would enable the company to service the increasing number of international clients requiring goods and services not purely on a national basis.

“I feel that as a business we are very good at listening to our customers and to our suppliers and I am confident the Jangro network will continue to grow”, she concludes. “I feel lucky to have been involved in the cleaning industry for over 30 years and becoming ceo of Jangro, for such a great network of distributors is a great honour”.


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