Meet the MD: APM Cleaning managing director Samantha Read on maintaining a vital service throughout COVID-19
Samantha Read grew her cleaning business from a one-woman franchise to a regionwide firm.
The managing director of APM Cleaning, Samantha has used her background in business management to expand operations and maintain a dedicated workforce, providing domestic and commercial cleaning services across the North East.
Samantha spoke to Bdaily about her entrepreneurial journey, her business values and providing a key service during a global pandemic.
Can you tell the readers about yourself first of all - i.e. your background, where you are from etc?
“APM Cleaning is headquartered in Gateshead and we regularly service a variety of properties across the North - from office blocks and care homes to studio flats and stately homes.
“My background in electrical engineering has been particularly useful when it comes to understanding the science and technology behind cleaning – such as infection control. My biggest skill set has its roots in production management.
“I worked as a supervisor, eventually becoming a production manager for many years where I grew up on a diet of JIT, Lean, Agile Management and learned some elements of how to run a business (since manufacturing departments are run as individual businesses with ‘suppliers’ and ‘customers’.)”
What does your role entail?
“Right now, as the managing director of APM Cleaning and Repair Ltd it’s my job to recognise and celebrate the role my team are playing as highly skilled, essential workers in the region.
“There are approximately 1.63 million workers in the cleaning sector, which means cleaners make up around five per cent of the UK workforce. Cleaning provides a vital service for the nation, ensuring that our workplaces, hospitals, transport and public spaces are clean and safe to use.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaners have become essential key workers putting themselves in the frontline of the disease to help keep hospitals, extra care facilities, factories and warehouses open.
“With a client list that ranges from building contractors, property developers, shop fitters, estate and letting agents, to private landlords, offices, and surgeries, we work collaboratively within the industry to raise awareness of the commitment and skill that cleaning staff deserve, now more than ever thanks to COVID-19.”
When was APM Cleaning set up, and how has it grown since then?
“Our roots were formed in 2005. I bought a domestic cleaning franchise in the North East, so I could move back to my hometown as I had two small children and knew I’d need the support!
“The reason I bought the franchise was because I recognised that with a growing, ageing population there would be opportunities to grow a business relatively quickly.
“I had a crisis of confidence (unfounded as it turned out) as my whole working life had been centred in the engineering / manufacturing industry, and I was concerned about my ability to sell. I understood that the franchisor would help with this in the form of training and lead generation.
“The franchisor went bust after floating on the stock market – my business did not however, so I rebranded and continued business as usual for a number of years. To be honest, the sales and lead support was pretty poor, so I’d had to learn the hard way anyway!
“Once my children were grown, I was able to turn my attention towards my business more, and changed the direction of our strategy.
“I moved our client base to being primarily commercial, our largest clients now including local authorities, social housing providers, student blocks and construction firms.”
What is it about your organisation that motivates and excites you the most?
“Seeing our staff grow. We still have a lot of staff from 2005 – very rare in our sector. They have worked extremely hard over the years, and have been at my side during the worst and best of times.
Several of our staff are learning skills they never dreamed of back in those early days: not just in cleaning. Three of our long serving staff are now contract managers.
“Not only have they had to learn to use technology, but also scheduling skills, management skills and now critical thinking skills.
“I genuinely derive most pleasure from this along with receiving praise from our clients for our staff’s professional and responsive service.”
Looking back on the past year, what has been your biggest achievement?
“One of our biggest achievements is the successful bedding in of several repeat commercial contracts involving TUPE staff - TUPE stands for the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations and its purpose is to protect employees if the business in which they are employed changes hands.
“We had multiple contracts start on the same day, and we were consequently spread quite thin on the ground in terms of putting our mobilisation plan into play.
“A year on and the staff that joined the APM team are fully integrated and recent staff survey shows that they feel included, supported and valued. Everything we hoped for.
“In April of this year, in extremely difficult circumstances, we have mobilised another social housing contract in the North West – our first outside of the North East, and I’m proud to be able to say that the feedback from our client is amazing.
“This process has forced us to rethink the systems we were using, and is providing us with the spark needed to take our service up to the next level.
“Other great achievements include that we’ve just been re-accredited with Enhanced CHAS, and for the first time, we have been awarded Cyber Essentials, ISO 14001 Environmental Standard and ISO 45001 Health & Safety Management, complementing our ISO9001 which we’ve had for several years.”
What have been your biggest challenges during your time at APM Cleaning so far, and how have you overcome them?
“I want to take this opportunity to highlight the rigorous training her staff undergo on infection control, COSH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations), manual handling and safeguarding.
“In line with current guidelines, training is still carried out remotely at APM Cleaning and Repair via online training portals, which provide an opportunity to upskill and educate staff to a superior level to enable them to fight the virus with confidence and in safety.”
“There’s this misconception that cleaning is an unskilled job and that’s not true. Our cleaning technicians are fully trained and qualified to BICSc and NVQ Level II in Cleaning & Support standards and all have a minimum of five years’ experience.”
“Our biggest challenge has always been in recruiting the right staff. At APM we have high standards, and have had to learn to recruit on values and then upskill our staff.
“We now understand that if we hire the person with aligned values, they will quickly blend with our existing staff and will be easier to train in the ‘APM ways’.
“Other challenges have been the global crash in 2008, the ash cloud, severe weather in a couple of really bad winters and relocating our team from Newcastle head office when we purchased our new premises on Team valley, Gateshead.
“In tough markets, we diversified to provide a greater product offering for our clients and thus up-sold and cross-sold when new clients were difficult to come by.
“We honed our excellent scheduling skills and exploited our ability to react quickly when any unforeseen event occurred, and kept communicating with staff and clients throughout. And we never stopped marketing. When things look bleak, we cut back on anything we can- except marketing.”
What does the future hold for your company? Any exciting projects in the pipeline we should know about?
“We are very excited as we are currently on a Scale Up programme provided by the Entrepreneurs Forum. This is a company journey, so we are all challenging the ways we have done things, and it’s really great to see the guys bringing new ideas to the table.
“On a personal note, I am now freed up from quite a few ‘in-the-business’ tasks, leaving me with more energy to put into our new business strategy.
“We’ve taken the opportunity to remodel our head office with recycled materials as part of our initiative for our new ISO 14001 accreditation. We designed with Pandemic protocols in place, so are looking forward to bringing our home-working staff back to the office once school opening/childcare issues are addressed.
“We’re mid project introducing new scheduling, quality auditing and vehicle tracking software which better aligns with our now 80% commercial client base’s requirement for real-time data.
“We’re working hard on increasing our margins at the moment so that we can become the industry benchmark for this and have aspirations to become a £10m turnover business operating throughout the whole of the North of England.”
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