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EFCI president encourages optimism5th of October 2011
The president of the European Federation of Cleaning Industries (EFCI) urged contract cleaning business leaders to be optimistic about the sector's future when he spoke at its general assembly in Amsterdam recently.
Hans Simons insisted that the contract cleaning market "is not in bad shape", achieving a turnover of 60 billion euros in the countries that make up the EFCI's membership. "There are now 160,000 cleaning companies, and almost four million people are employed in this industry," he continued.
"And annual growth in the sector stands at around 10 per cent, compared to many other industries where it is just one or two per cent."
These figures, Simons believes, make the cleaning industry one of the most important sectors in the European Union. "We do not need to be too modest, or feel left out of negotiations on employment at European level," he said. "We must take an active part in government debates at both national and European level."
In his address to delegates Simons acknowledged that the current over-riding sentiment about the European economy is uncertainty, however he is convinced the cleaning sector has the key strengths that will enable it to adapt and adjust its service offering in order to survive economic difficulties and thrive in the future.
"We must look to broaden our service portfolio, optimise opportunities in those sectors where services are not yet usually contracted out, and build more professional relationships with our clients."
He concluded: "Our industry has many strong points that give it good standing to withstand the current economic difficulties."
The general assembly was followed by a seminar dedicated to looking at cleaning companies’ strategies for surviving the economic crisis of 2008, and how they have managed the recovery since 2010.
Speakers from cleaning companies and employers’ associations in the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden and Spain explained how the economic crisis has forced the industry to adapt and focus more on the needs of its clients.
Clients generally began to demand even more ways to save money on their cleaning contract – even to the extent of taking away services. Painful though this has been for contractors, they have found it essential to develop new ways of delivering services.
As Ulf Wretskog of Coor Service Management in Sweden said: “It’s essential for a
contractor to help its clients to survive. And having done that we feel our clients now want to have more long term relationships with us – that’s been a positive outcome.”
There is a downside, however. “We are now stuck with this way of working permanently. Our clients are always driving for efficiencies.”
For Reiwag in Austria, the economic situation was an opportunity, explained managing director Viktor Wagner. “We developed our business because of the crisis. Diversification beyond our borders was key to our success, particularly in the Czech Republic.” The company also became involved in the catering sector, where it has enjoyed significant growth.
Minna Gauffin, a director at ISS Finland, told how many of its contracts had been recalculated – because clients wanted a reduction in price so they bought less cleaning and cleaned less frequently. “Price competition hardened, contract prices fell permanently and profitability declined,” she explained.
So ISS has made its organisation more customer-oriented, and reduced costs through synergies and integration.
As Benno Locker of the Parity Commission Cleaning Industry in Switzerland explained, the Swiss economy was not so dramatically affected by the 2008 economic crisis as much as other European economies. However there was a drop in 2009 and the cleaning industry there has seen continuing price pressure.
“We must stop the downward spiral in prices,” said Locker. “As part of this initiative we have started a campaign called Fair Clean, whereby we aim to supply more information to clients about increases in the minimum wage and also possible rises in prices.”