Industry Leaders Forum: Steve Agar, Joint Managing Director, Agar Cleaning Systems

A Year of Steady Growth, Hero Products Success, and New Agar's Environmental Initiatives, shaping an exciting future.

How was 2023 for Agar?

It’s been another good year of steady growth in revenue and volume. Our sales have been spread across a wide range of products, but it’s the popular ‘hero’ products that continue to do well. The things that please us most are the positive comments we get back from the market about our products and delivery fulfilment.

On the new release front, our new formula CleanSave range has been added to our licence with GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia), which means we now offer concentrated products with excellent environmental credentials in convenient 2.4L bottles with closed loop inserts to prevent free pouring.

We’ve maintained our accreditation to ISO9001 following our triennial audit, which means we’ve been externally certified to a quality management system for 27 years.

Behind the scenes, we’ve made some important additions to our team which has injected new ideas, improved our productivity, and thereby our capacity for higher volume without needing to expand our facility.

What are the company’s main priorities for 2024?

As satisfied as we are with our business currently, we still have plenty of scope to make it even better, including harnessing the improvements to further raise our service levels, and feed organic growth.

We’re cautious about releasing new products without a strong business case, and the feedback we receive is that Agar users don’t want to see too many new products because their cleaning staff are trained in, set-up for, and accustomed to using those we have now. We don’t stand still though; a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure we maintain high and consistent quality in these products and improve them where we can.

After 55 years in the game, our range is quite mature and has benefited from a lot of feedback and ideas from customers and product users. The products work well as a result. We continue to receive ideas from cleaning operators who are trying to adapt to the changing marketplace, whether it be to compliment new cleaning machinery and equipment, or to suit changing surface materials in buildings.

New chemical technology is steadily coming through from our raw materials suppliers, and we actively assess the potential of these materials for use in formulations which can achieve real-world benefits over our current offering.

Where a strong benefit can be seen for a broad enough audience, we’ll look carefully at the business case for a new product release.

What do you see as the most significant opportunities and challenges in the cleaning industry? How can the industry leverage or address these? 

Starting with the challenges, from what I’m told, obtaining, and retaining cleaning staff is an ongoing challenge even now, well after the strict pandemic conditions have eased.

With a high demand for staff and limited number of experienced cleaners available, many new cleaning hires require substantial training to be productive and to work safely.

COVID has not gone away, and with the real possibility of other outbreaks, cleanliness and hygiene in the workplace remain vitally important.

At the same time, tightening economic conditions are placing more emphasis on the price of cleaning contracts, so once again it’s a question of how to do more with less.

Therein lies the opportunity. Addressing these challenges better than others, utilising new technology in operations and administration, to be more efficient and demonstrate that the cleaning service is delivering on the promise, providing hygienic facilities.

Are there any key sustainability targets Agar has made for 2024?

We expect to achieve more improvements in sustainability, especially with product formulation, product systems which minimise the amount of packaging waste, and the suitability of packaging for re-use or recycling. We also continue to review our processes from a holistic perspective to find more efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

What’s your leadership philosophy?

Our people spend more time together than they do with family and friends, so that must be acknowledged, and we value the commitment with the professional part of their lives they make to our business.

It’s vital that our team across production, logistics, sales, marketing, technical and admin all understand our higher purpose. This is articulated as a common goal and we highlight why what we do is important and needs to be done properly, from the helicopter view down to every single transaction.

For me personally, I wouldn’t ask a team member to do something I wouldn’t do myself, and I try to set the tone morally and ethically as an example for the team.

As a rule, with anything contentious that comes up, I like to focus on the issue, not the person, and ask that anyone in our team does the same. It’s important that issues don’t become personal, and that we emerge from any challenging conversation with some useful progress made and our dignity intact.

Do you have a message for the industry?

Thank you to those who support us and the Agar brand. I trust we contribute to your success.

This article first appeared in INCLEAN magazine

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