Kevin Leland, the CEO of Halo, recently wrote an article on How Dixie Cups became the breakout star of the 1918 pandemic for FastCompany. It’s a fascinating read that chronicles the invention of Dixie Cups, which failed to catch on much during the first 10 years of business . . . until the Spanish flu of 1918 came along. Then, everyone scrambled to move away from communal drinking cups, and business exploded.

It didn’t just happen, though. The company had to adjust its messaging in order to take advantage of the changing circumstances.

Leland focuses on how startups can draw inspiration from the Dixie Cup story to persevere until the timing is right — and take advantage when it is. We wanted to take another look at his advice, but this time, through the lens of the cleaning industry, so that we could examine the parallels to today’s climate in the cleaning industry and the opportunity for cleaning teams to make an impact.

Survive until you’re able to thrive.

It is no surprise that facility teams always had to defend budgets. Through 2019, they survived. Now, they’re experiencing a surge where cleaning is a critical element of facilities opening . . . or struggling with hard cuts within their industry or area. Talking to our own clients, it seems to be feast or famine for many.

Some of you reading this may be on the other side of this. You survived through the continually reduced budgets of the past years, and now you’re thriving with increased demand in your area or sector.

Others of you have had your contracts ended, your clients go out of business, and your plans frustrated by closures. If that’s you, look ahead to the future and focus on making it to that point.

If the timing isn’t right for what you want to do, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad business idea; you may just have to bide your time and make do until it is.

Focus on business contracts.

Leland writes that as things change and you need to re-educate people about the benefits of your services, “targeting business customers can make the educational process less daunting.”

For Dixie, that meant selling dispensers to offices, who would then order cups to fill the dispensers. This had the benefit of continuous bulk orders and introducing all the workers at those companies to the idea of disposable cups (and the Dixie brand).

We’re seeing cleaning companies take advantage of this shift, too. Companies that once focused on residential and house cleaning are getting into commercial contracts for the first time. For some, it might be a way of treading water until the market picks up in residential cleaning again; for others, it will be an enduring shift.

Be willing to change your messaging.

Think about how you can brand your organization to serve your customers. For cleaning companies, this might mean that you reposition yourself as a way for office, retail, and corporate clients to have a safe and clean office to reopen operations. For schools, your facility team may be a critical part of reopening plans which help keep students and staff safe in their learning environments.

Keep current with the worries, needs, and hopes of your customer base and adjust your messaging accordingly.

Think ahead.

When you’re working overtime to meet the demand of the moment, this part can be really hard. But the most urgent task isn’t always the most important. The services that are in-demand now, as the pandemic surges and many sectors of the economy remain closed, will not be the services that are most in demand when COVID-19 cases begin declining, vaccinations become widespread, and more buildings begin re-opening to the public.

Of course, all of this is depending on variables you can’t control: the progression of the pandemic, the public health guidance and laws in your area, and more. But you can still think through what your business might need to be ready when:

  • More schools re-open for in-person learning in your area, if they are currently closed or at reduced capacity.
  • Services like indoor dining and shopping either resume or become more popular.
  • People become more comfortable inviting cleaning teams into their homes.
  • Medical facilities, dentists, optometrists, and more welcome higher volumes of patients.
  • Office buildings increase capacity.

We hope that wherever the craziness of this year has taken your company, these tips are helpful in thinking ahead to the future and making the most of the opportunities you have today.

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