100 Years of Supply and Demand
ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, was founded on distribution. ISSA grew with distribution. And while ISSA values all its member classes, distribution remains close to the heart of the association as it recognizes its 100-year anniversary in 2023 and looks forward to the next 100 years.
It was a group of seven distributors who started it all in 1923, and from there, ISSA has grown into a global industry association with more than 10,500 member organizations.
Moving equipment, tools, products, and more from manufacturers to end users falls under the distribution and supply chain umbrella. When the supply chain has a weak or broken link, everyone is affected. Systems fail. Cleaning effectiveness suffers. The role of the distribution professional is critical to the ongoing success of the global cleaning industry.
For this article, ISSA reached out to several distribution companies, especially those involved in buying groups, to discuss the ISSA/supply chain relationship and what it takes to succeed in an evolving distribution landscape and increasingly competitive environment.
The value of partnerships
Linda Silverman is the executive chairwoman of Maintex Inc., a California-based distribution company, and serves on the board of directors for Network Distribution®. She also served as president of ISSA in 2000-2001 and is a founding member and immediate past co-chair of the ISSA Hygieia Network, an ISSA Charities™ signature program dedicated to the advancement and retention of women in the cleaning industry For decades, Silverman has valued the relationship between her company and ISSA.
“For over 40 years, ISSA has been the professional association Maintex relies on to keep our business updated and informed about ongoing challenges, regulatory updates, and emerging trends in the industry,” she says. With the Maintex team attending ISSA Show North America each year, she values the information from keynote speakers, connecting with innovative suppliers, networking with industry partners, and participating in seminars and educational activities. “Additionally, we value the informative articles in ISSA Today magazine as well as listening to the Straight Talk! podcasts for different perspectives and industry updates.”
Network is a global distribution organization that has long supported ISSA. In 2018, during Network’s 50th anniversary year, the company captured, on video, interviews with industry professionals engaged with the Network organization over the years. A common theme ran through those conversations, and innumerable references to a single quote seems to ring true for both Network and ISSA. “It’s the people, the people, the people,” according to Monica Saviano, the director of marketing and sales operations with Network. “As you look across the names of companies and individuals who helped shape ISSA and Network, the list is deeply intertwined,” Saviano adds. “ISSA was built by distributors. Network, too, was built by distributors. ISSA was built on the principle of exchanging ideas to benefit all. The foundation of Network is similarly rooted. With this congruency, Network leans into all that ISSA offers to the industry to strengthen our path forward.”
Kevin Chow is the president and CEO of Triple S, a nationwide network of sanitary supply distributors with over 175 locations throughout the U.S. and more than 120 distributor members. He says that his company has long recognized ISSA’s unique role as the primary representative of the entire cleaning industry. “Our more than 120 distributor members fully support the association’s ‘Rethink Clean’ message and efforts to promote cleaning as a crucial component of facility operations,” Chow says. “We firmly believe that the best way to spread the message is to work together closely to maximize the reach and understanding of cleaning.”
The United Group® (TUG) is a nationwide sales, marketing, and group purchasing organization (GPO). Mark Prosser is the vice president of sales and strategic accounts. He believes his company’s partnership with ISSA is critical to sustaining and growing TUG’s business. “Data on our industry that ISSA provides helps us to build our programs and strategies to ensure the success of our membership,” Prosser says. “As a buying group, our relationships extend to both the manufacturer and distributor communities. Involvement in ISSA affords us the opportunity to foster stronger and deeper relationships with both communities.”
ISSA’s distributor members also value initiative, which benefits all involved. “Our partnership with ISSA is one that is mutually committed to learning and growing within the cleaning industry,” states Shannon Hunter, the director of marketing communications with Pro-Link Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of cleaning products available through a national network of distributors. “We appreciate and support the initiatives that ISSA creates as well as their efforts towards industry standards and regulatory services that affect us all.”
AFFLINK is a network of distributors and another dedicated supporter of ISSA. “ISSA is the foundation of our industry,” according to CEO and President Dennis Riffer. “It is the center, the educational hub of the industry. ISSA represents us in legal, government affairs, health, and hygiene — and during the pandemic, with COVID-19-related matters as well. Because of ISSA, everyone knows that our industry really does clean for health.”
DPA Buying Group has been an ISSA member company for decades and sees the ISSA/DPA relationship as a way to stay connected to the industry. “We look forward to exhibiting at ISSA Show North America every year, and ISSA also attends DPA’s annual buying and networking conference,” according to CEO Zachary Haines. “We work together for mutual goals and growth opportunities. Together, we are stronger.”
According to Chow, ISSA provided the platform for the Triple S “Power of Clean” initiative. “Going back to the association’s original creation of the Value of Clean® tools and resources, Triple S has been at the forefront of delivering the message to the widest audience possible.” This has helped member companies of Triple S demonstrate that cleaning is appropriately treated as an investment—and not a cost to be minimized—in an effort to convince customers not to cut their cleaning budgets.
Silverman sees the impact of ISSA as both professional and personal. “ISSA has a major impact on our company’s success, as well as my own personal development,” she explains. “Our industry is quite different today than when I became involved in 1978. Through ISSA’s foresight, our industry today includes building service contractors, in-house service providers, and residential cleaning companies.” What she values is these are all businesses that Maintex now better understands and can successfully service through their membership in ISSA. In addition, Silverman adds: “From a personal perspective, my active involvement with ISSA has exposed me to new ideas, opportunities, and friendships that span the globe.”
For Network, the company sees ISSA as providing invaluable touch points throughout the industry. “As the information source for all aspects of operating in the cleaning industry, ISSA offers our teams the ability to stay on top of relevant research, training, and government issues,” states Saviano. “This information is important as Network continues to create strategy for long-term success in the industry. Network has been particularly enabled by several of ISSA’s efforts.” She points to specific ISSA programs, products, and educational opportunities offered by ISSA Charities™, the Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC), and ISSA Show North America and all it offers to those who attend.
Prosser sees the ISSA and TUG relationship impacting education to those companies that TUG serves. “In our case, I think the real measure is how ISSA has impacted the success of our membership,” he explains. “Programs like the development of ISSA Cleaning Standards help local distribution explain clearly and succinctly how to properly maintain facilities across all business types. Programs like the Cleaning Industry Management Standard® (CIMS) and GBAC drive proper training and cleaning practices to our facility solution professionals.” He feels the content development and financial challenges for an individual company to build programs make it a nearly impossible task. “That ISSA constructs them for industry-wide use is critical.”
For DPA, part of the equation is networking. “ISSA Show North America is a great opportunity for DPA distributors and group leadership to check in with our partner suppliers,” according to Haines. “It allows us the opportunity to receive updates, meet new corporate executives, learn about new products, and for us to share what’s new with our organization. You will always find a new company or product or learn something new at the ISSA Show. As a result of our partnership, we’ve secured new supplier contracts and have welcomed many new distributors to our organization.”
Jeff Tishko, the president of DPA and Colker Janitorial Supplies in Pittsburgh, added: “It is a place where DPA can find new members to join our group. Also, DPA and ISSA exhibit at each other’s shows, which has been mutually rewarding.”
For Pro-Link, ISSA has helped the company make and maintain important relationships in the industry. “It has allowed us to offer a great deal of value to those we have met and, in turn, learn from others,” says Hunter. “We are proud members of ISSA as it helps us stay on top of emerging trends in the industry and allows us to continuously be an active advocate for our partners.”
ISSA-member organizations are the cream of the crop, the best-of-the-best in the global cleaning industry. And a critical focus and strategy for ISSA is to ensure everyone knows it. With the power of ISSA and all it offers empowering member organizations; they all can better compete in an ever-changing and challenging marketplace and continue to grow and succeed.
For this article, ISSA asked those contributing to share what they are proud of as individual organizations. What makes them stand out as different, as examples of success?
While the primary focus of this article is on distributor organizations that many see as in the “buying group” business model, not all see themselves described that way. “Triple S is not a traditional buying group. In fact, we bristle whenever we are described as such,” explains Chow. “Rather, we are proud to serve as a national distribution network, providing our members with a comprehensive slate of support, tools, and resources. Of course, this includes negotiated group pricing for best-in-class products from the top industry suppliers, but it also includes direct support of customers in key markets, networking and sharing of best practice opportunities, professional development and education opportunities, corporate/national account partnerships, and marketing assistance. Many organizations talk about support… we are proud to say that we deliver.”
Network also sees itself as outside the traditional “buying group” type of organization. “Network is often referred to as a ‘buying group,’ and while there is an element of significant purchasing advantage our distributor members garner as members of Network, the organization is better described in terms of the powerful sales capabilities we’ve developed since the very inception of the group,” according to Saviano.
Network services more than US$2 billion in corporate account sales through more than 700 locations in North America and 1,100 worldwide. “Since 1968, we’ve evolved into a unique distribution organization enabled by two key differentiators,” she explains. “First, our executive-level sales professionals have deep experience and decades-long relationships in our focus segments. For the customer, this firsthand market knowledge and segment-specific acumen provides significant support to customers as they solve strategic supply issues. Secondly, the service and support our distributor members deliver at the local level is second to none.” Network is proud of how it delivers the efficiency of a centrally managed national structure combined with its “not so secret, secret sauce” of true local market service and support. “This distinctive combination has powered growth that continues to outpace the industry,” Saviano adds.
Haines is proud of how diverse DPA has become. “In addition to janitorial and sanitary supplies, DPA is also heavily invested and diversified within the safety and industrial market segments,” he says. “We offer traditional jansan distributors the ability to procure new products and to pick up business they might have thought was otherwise impossible.” Simple product diversification has been an important differentiator for DPA members and their end-user customers. This was especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone was looking for safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers. “DPA had numerous programs in place to help our distributors when it mattered most,” Haines adds.
In addition, DPA is always looking for ways to help the independent distributor and to grow the business of its preferred suppliers. “One of the major benefits for distributors like me is the group enables me to establish personal relationships with the executive level contacts of each DPA supplier,” explains Tishko. “If you have an opportunity or a problem, you know who you can call, and you know you will receive the maximum support.”
Pro-Link has more than 1,200 unique items in the brand, and as Hunter notes, the brand is sold by a national network of distributors to school divisions and commercial establishments. “We provide the supplies and tools to keep our hospitals, schools, and other facilities safe, clean, and operational,” she states, “Our direct sales representatives conduct facility tours to ensure they are being maintained in the safest and most cost-effective way. Their expertise, along with Pro-Link products, drive down labor and cost of supplies while maintaining a very high standard of cleanliness. We also partner with leading national suppliers in areas we are not experts in to bring a single supply source to our customers’ end users.”
To conclude, ISSA asked those contributing to share some of their favorite memories or experiences they have built with ISSA and from attending ISSA Show North America.
Our favorite memory is simply the excitement of the first day of the show. The energy of everyone there is motivating. Seeing all the booths there are to visit, all the information there is to gather, and all the people there are to meet. It is a great reminder of how special this industry is and what it has to offer to all of us. We really appreciate all of the hard work that goes into the show. — Hunter.
My most vivid memory was being on stage as ISSA president in Atlanta in 2000 and standing in front of 5,000 people to introduce our keynote speakers, James Carville and Mary Matalin. I was hoping to deliver the speech and appear outwardly much calmer than I felt. — Silverman.
The United Group
Having attended nearly every ISSA Show since 1990, I have traditionally looked to the annual ISSA Show as a means to conduct business with a tremendous number of current and potential business partners, all gathered in one place. We are fortunate that, for the most part, our industry remains relationship oriented. I look forward each year to reconnecting and visiting with old friends and making new ones. On a personal note, my favorite ISSA Show memory is turning 40 years old at the show in New Orleans. I am afraid I can’t share a lot of details, though! — Prosser.
Every year is kind of like a family reunion. I always enjoy catching up with someone on the show floor whom I haven’t seen in a while. The parties are also always entertaining and fun. It’s tough to narrow it down to just one memory. — Haines.
The ability of ISSA Show North America to bring together all segments of the industry is what helps it stand out and what makes it memorable on an annual basis. It is hard to pinpoint one single memory… it is more the collective experience of seeing old and new friends every year. — Chow.
One of my personal highlights of being in this business was serving on the ISSA board of directors and working with some of the best minds in our industry, all culminating at ISSA Show. It has been an opportunity to “serve and give back” to the industry that has given so much to us. Receiving the Jack D. Ramaley Industry Distinguished Service Award was a highlight of my career. I am proud to count myself among the likes of Steve Swigart, Meredith Reuben, John Garfinkel, and Linda Silverman. Thank you, ISSA!” — Alan Tomblin, president and CEO of Network, and past-president of ISSA.
Every time I see a person tied to Network or a Network member recognized for their professional efforts, it becomes a favorite memory. I’ve had the great opportunity to watch several Network folks receive The Jack D. Ramaley Industry Distinguished Service Award, including our CEO Alan Tomblin. I am so proud of their dedication to the industry and their affiliation with Network. I’m also crazy proud of the smaller efforts that create incredible advancement in the industry. The Hygieia Network started small and has become an impactful movement to create equity and inclusion across the board. Attended by women and men from across the industry, the award reception held during the ISSA Show has raised this imperative to new heights. I’ve loved watching that program and the mindset of the industry mature. — Saviano.
Visit issa.com/100 to keep up to date on ISSA’s 100th anniversary and the recognition ISSA members deserve.