By Keith Watts
An ISO quality endorsed company, Melbourne-based Shining Knight Cleaning was started 12 years ago by Arthur Calcatjicos who, at the time, was in his mid-20s and a qualified carpenter, not involved in cleaning at all. He was introduced to cleaning by his brother who had a cleaning franchise and A C Commercial Cleaning was born.
Initial plans to run the business together did not eventuate so Calcatjicos went solo. “I was as green as you can get,” he observed. “I had to learn everything from scratch – maintaining vinyl floors, steam cleaning and cleaning office buildings, all self taught. But it has stood me in good stead.”
The business now trades as Shining Knight Cleaning as Calcatjicos feels the new name is more marketable.
Calcatjicos slowly built the business up through local canvassing and word of mouth and it was three years before he was able to put staff on. Shining Knight now employs 120 staff, mostly part time, traditionally doing office cleaning at night, its core business, but it also has a variety of clients in other areas such as federal and state government departments, local councils, corporate offices and a number of high volume traffic areas in hospitality and fitness centres. Most new business is now gained from the internet and tendering.
“I learned the hard way in the early days,” explained Calcatjicos. “For the first six years we used to specialise in special events with crowds of over 50,000 at festivals, Melbourne City Parks and dance parties at Docklands. They were big challenges and everything had to be clean by 7.00am the next morning.
“My first one was a 42,000 people event at Docklands. I thought I would be smart so booked a street sweeper but the one I had booked broke down. It was Sunday morning and as I couldn’t get another one I had to ring the entire family and every single one of my friends. We worked solidly for 24 hours clearing up all the rubbish with brooms, shovels and by hand. We filled one 31 cubic metre bin and another 15 cubic metre bin. I learned the hard way and after that experience I then got machines in with 50 to 60 cleaners and it was better and easier.
“When you are faced with a situation like that you have to think quickly on your feet and outside the box.”
Shining Knight’s first major breakthrough was winning a contract with the Department of Justice in 2004 and again in 2006. “This was the defining moment in our development,” noted Calcatjicos. “In 2008 they were so pleased with our work they made it a five year contract. We had to go through a full government tender process and it was so big it has enabled us to put on managers and more cleaners. From that point we’ve never looked back.”
High traffic areas extremely demanding
Calcatjicos feels that it is important for clients to realise that in high volume areas there are certain procedures that have to be followed to give a clean and healthy environment. Changing rooms and showers in fitness centres have to be cleaned properly with the right chemicals and in the right way so that there are no diseases, bugs or mould.
“We use disinfectants but not much bleach. What has raised our profile in this sector was landing Richard Branson’s Virgin Fitness Centres. They had heard of us by word of mouth and our website and we were invited to submit a national tender which we won in 2008. They were based in Sydney with two centres so it was a big leap of faith for them to appoint a Melbourne cleaning company.
“I had to set up a work force in Sydney with managers and cleaners within four weeks and it’s been a success. As they grow, so do we.”
In the hospitality sector, Calcatjicos believes that hotel room cleaning is just about the toughest cleaning you can do as the very nature of it requires good management. “Some days you might need eight cleaners and the next day only three. Room occupancy rates vary all the time, which affects labour requirements so you need good systems in place.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a three star or five star hotel as the expectations are still the same. The room has to be well presented and spotless and cleaned within certain time frames. Cleaning is labour intensive and in this area even more so. Apart from the cleaning you have linen bags to carry, trolleys to move around etc.
“One of our long standing clients, The Miami Hotel (Three and a half stars) in West Melbourne, whilst using our housekeeping services was the winner in the Victorian Tourism Awards 2005/2006 and the National Tourism Awards 2006 for ‘Best Standard Accommodation’ so we are very pleased about that.”
Continuous staff training
Shining Knight conducts continuous staff training in new techniques, machinery and technology in-house and on site. Staff are trained up to Certificate III in Asset Maintenance and Certificate IV if they can progress to being a supervisor or manager.
They are also regularly updated on OH&S Compliance. “Health and Safety is paramount, emphasised Calcatjicos. “It’s equal to the quality of work. It has to be in this day and age.”
The company has seven vehicles (Ford Transits, Holden Combos) equipped with standard gear such as steam cleaners and scrubbers and another vehicle fitted with a truck mounted hard surface cleaning machine. “We bought this in 2006 and we were the first company in Victoria to do this at the time,” said Calcatjicos.
“Although we are pretty traditional in the equipment we use I do keep an eye on new technology all the time,” he added. “The introduction of microfibre has been revolutionary and good for the industry. We use microfibre cloths and mops and it does make cleaning more productive and efficient.”
Shining Knight has enjoyed steady growth from day one averaging about a 25 percent increase in annual turnover over the last few years with current annual turnover of more than $4 million expected to increase as the business expands.
Plans are in place to expand into regional areas of Victoria and New South Wales and then other states. Calcatjicos hopes to be well established in Sydney within the next five years.
He believes that the level of professionalism is growing within the established companies as more are getting ISO Accreditation and industry awards. “We have entered the Australian Achiever awards each year as a way of measuring clients’ satisfaction and we are very pleased that we have been able to maintain a satisfaction rating of over 95% for the last five years. I also think that there is enough work out there for everyone. We all suffer from price cutting as quality is compromised but if everyone did the right thing then it would be a much better industry.”