Going ‘green’ creates a sustainable business model for Lincoln’s ServiceMaster Professional Building Maintenance
The young girl watched in alarm as the screen in her fourth-grade class flashed images of landfills, dumps and mounds of garbage, pictures of a trash-choked environment which would haunt her to this day.
“That’s where it all started,” said Angela Paolini. “The waste we create, and where we’re going to put it, the projection of what we’ll create in the future. That’s what drove me to what we do now.”
Paolini, along with her husband, Jon, bought ServiceMaster Professional Building Maintenance (PBM) in 2009, a 170-employee, Lincoln-based franchise dedicated to sustainable cleaning services not just to contribute to healthier environment, but because it makes sense on the balance sheet. Workers don’t use featherdusters for those hard to reach corners; instead, they wear lightweight vacuums with high-filtration bags on their hips to capture dust, using long pole attachments to help reduce back pain and injuries. Even the vacuuming patterns on the carpets they make are designed to be ergonomic and efficient. Moreover, the company eschews prolonged exposure of their employees to harsh chemicals such as ammonia in favor of “green,” natural products with low or no hazardous ingredients. Green products cost more, but:
“The system, products, processes and equipment we use save us time, at least five to 10 percent in the long run,” Jon Paolini said. “That savings enables us to offer green cleaning services for the same cost as traditional cleaning.”
Saving money by saving the environment
The company claims a typical competitor using off-the-shelf general purpose cleaning products dumps more than 12 tons of harmful chemicals into the environment every year. Using their company-developed green cleaning products, ServiceMaster PBM releases only around one percent of that amount. Out of nearly 25,000 gallons of floor cleaner used by the company every year, less than a gallon of hazardous ingredients is released into the environment.
Then there’s the 8,200 gallons of restroom cleaner they use over the same period, not a drop of which is harmful to the environment.
Passing on the cost-savings to go green is important, Angela said, considering 60 to 70 percent of ServiceMaster PBM’s customers are small businesses; on the other hand, one big customer is Union Bank & Trust, a cleaning contract the company has had for 20 years this year. Their devotion to saving resources, both “green” and green has helped to grow the business from $2.5 million in revenues in 2011 to $3.1 million in 2012.
Getting help from NBDC to be a leader in going 'green'
Jon worked for ServiceMaster PBM for 15 years, earning a promotion to general manager before he and Angela visited the Nebraska Business Development Center for help with a business transition plan, and relied on NBDC’s help with their SBA loan application to buy the business; they were approved for a 7(a) loan through Union Bank in July 2009. In 2013, the franchise was named NBDC’s Business of the Year in the Energy and the Environment category.
Upon taking over the franchise, Angela, who often rides her bike to work, started a company-wide recycling program: they reuse cardboard boxes to move products to work sites, donated five-gallon buckets to area churches, and offered old washers and dryers to school fundraisers.
“Our vision is to be a leader in environmentally-friendly cleaning practices,” Angela said. “We saw the trend in the industry, and we wanted to be the first in the area to be third-party certified as a green business,” something the franchise notched with their certification of GS-42 in 2009 by Green Seal, the state’s first such cleaning company to achieve such recognition.
This honor, from an independent non-profit with decades of experience evaluating green businesses, recognizes companies such as ServiceMaster PBM for its work to reduce toxic pollution and waste, to conserve resources, and to increase the health and well-being of its customers, particularly those most affected by its product choice, such as school children, service staff, and the elderly.
As a result, ServiceMaster PBM can say its environmentally-responsible products and services meets or exceeds Green Seal performance and quality expectations; they can use the recognition to market to ecologically-aware customers and high-value niche markets, increasing its customer loyalty, and its place in the community.
Even their employee picnic this past summer was a zero-waste event complete with compostable cups, plates and utensils.
“I have a personal belief, a passion to be a good steward, not to be wasteful,” said Angela, who while serving with AmeriCorps, created a recycling club in a Lincoln elementary school. “I want to do all I can to reduce our carbon footprint.”
How the owner of Lincoln's inMOTION Auto Care went from working on her own ride to starting her own shop
Sherri Stock remembers the first time she saw it, back when she was in high school and sitting on the front porch. “This beautiful blue 1971 Chevy Nova, this muscle car, driving by every day. I told my dad if it ever came up for sale, I was going to be driving it.”
She admits she was a little naïve when it came to the car she would call her “high school crush”; first, she had to learn to drive a clutch with a four-speed transmission. Then there were wiring problems. “I ended up pushing it a few times,” she remembered, “and my dad said, ‘If you’re going to be driving a car like that, you’d better learn how to fix it.’”
She was fascinated with how the car worked, and tinkering with her ride back then sparked a lifelong love affair with auto repair, which led to opening inMOTION Auto Care, a brand-new, airy and sparkling clean repair shop just off Lincoln’s busy O Street.
With a staff of five highly-trained full-time technicians and 2 knowledgeable advisors, who were technicians in the past, inMOTION serves, according to its web site, as a one stop shop for large or small automotive needs from oil changes, tires, brakes and scheduled maintenance to difficult electrical diagnosis, engine and transmission repairs and replacement.
A month since opening the doors, Stock said “We were worried about opening in the dead of winter but revenues are doing much better than anticipated.”
Overcame early struggles to make a career in the garage
After graduating high school, Stock would be the second woman ever to graduate from the 18-month automotive technology program at Southeast Community College; she also completed the parts management program at the college’s Milford campus.
Back then, recalling her post-college search for a job in a male-dominated field when she sent out 40-some resumes and got just one callback: “They wouldn’t talk to you about turning wrenches, let alone hire you.”
Luckily, a father of a friend she’d had in college gave her a job running the parts department at his Dodge dealership in Columbus. “They’d let you do a little auto work if they were strapped,” she said.
Three years later, she returned to Lincoln for a job with a 100-employee dealership as a wholesale parts advisor, eventually moving up to parts manager. By 1997, she was promoted to the service and parts director, even smiling now thinking about her time as manager there dealing with customers and employees.
But in 2009, as a side effect of the recession, the dealership lost its Chrysler franchise, even despite record customer satisfaction in service and the parts department ranking in the top 10 percent in sales among dealerships across the country. The lot dropped from 400 cars to 100, as a result. For three years, they continued to sell used vehicles and perform service, thanks to a strongly loyal customer base. As the price of purchasing and reconditioning used cars skyrocketed, the owners decided to close the business.
Working for 25 years there, she had expected to retire from there. Instead, she found herself soon to be out of work. “I said to myself, ‘hey, I’m 50, how is this going to work for me being unemployed now?’”
Starting her own business with the help of a 504 loan
She immediately had an answer: buy all the shop equipment plus some company vehicles out of her own pocket, take an already-strong customer base across the street to a vacant lot and open a new service center of her own. Word came down of the impending closing on a Friday; by Monday, lenders from Cornhusker Bank were there to sit down with her to discuss financing.
Stock would need to learn a few things to go from running a department to running her own businesses. Even though she had plenty of experience in forecasting, budgeting and managing inventory, the actual art of accounting was a concern. She took some online classes while the shop was built.
Through her network of female business owners, including an owner of the shuttered dealership, she learned of the SBA’s 504 program and suggested the bank use it to help finance the project.
“It’s a smart business move to use the SBA 504 program,” Stock said. “It really improves cash flow knowing what the payment will be for the next 20 years. I got hooked up with the SBA web site, and there was a ton of information there to explain it, which was great because I didn’t want to go back to the bank looking like I didn’t know anything.”
The 504 Loan Program provides approved small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing used to acquire assets such as real estate, buildings and heavy equipment for expansion or modernization. These loans are made available through Certified Development Companies, in this case, Lincoln-based NEDCO.
As a new business, Stock put 15 percent down; Cornhusker Bank financed 50 percent and NEDCO covered the balance. The guarantee was approved by the SBA in June 2012, and as the construction came in under budget, there was enough left over for state-of-the-art security measures and a big new sign.
Ten months later, the doors opened for business.
Aggressive marketing, reaching out to women proving key
One reason the new shop has outperformed expectations is Stock’s effort with online marketing, from an easy-to-navigate web site, to a Facebook page that gets new updates when the place hires a new tech, gets new equipment or new comfy waiting room furniture, even posting one morning when the owners made all the shop employees breakfast.
inMOTION Auto Care also was an exhibitor at the 2013 Lincoln Women’s Expo at the Lancaster Events Center in January, an effort which hardly was the first time Stock worked to make the idea of vehicle repair more female-friendly.
While still at her old dealership, Stock was instrumental in listing that center with AskPatty.com, a web site which lists businesses which have taken significant steps to address concerns of their female customers, and offers companies helpful tips to attract and keep them.
"As a female working in a male-dominated industry, I understand the concerns and questions women have when it comes to automotive service," Stock said.
When she managed her old job’s service and parts department, 68 percent of their customers were women; while inMOTION Auto Care has been open only a short time, already “we have seen a lot of women customers at the shop, both prior customers and new customers.”
Stock would be quick to point out that inMOTION partners with all its customers to protect their investment by providing thorough inspections and the best solutions for maintaining and repairing a vehicle.
Especially if it happens to be a 1971 beautiful blue Chevy Nova.
The squeals of little voices still echo throughout the halls from the rooms of this former elementary school in Norfolk, thanks to help from an SBA guaranteed loan.
Northern Hills Childcare, which opened in September 2012, offers busy parents an inviting place for their children to run, play and learn.
“The space is great,” owner Liz Sudbeck said. “We love having enough room for letting the kids run and play.”
For the kids, there are age- and developmentally-appropriate playgrounds, lively-colored classrooms with large windows and plenty of activity areas, a gymnasium, and a calendar packed with field trips and preschool programs. For parents, there’s the assurance that the electronic security and staff members trained in first aid and CPR will keep their kids safe, with parking just steps from the front door.
With two big 15-passenger vans, Northern Hills Childcare transports kids to about eight different schools in the area, offering before-school and after-school programs. “We help them with their homework, and also have a library,” she added.
Liz Sudbeck her and daughter, Harper, inside one of the classrooms at Northern Hills Childcare
“I’ve always enjoyed being around kids, it’s what I went to school for,” said Sudbeck, who holds a degree from Wayne State in early childhood education, and worked at a day care center in town before deciding to start her own business.
Due to consolidation, the elementary school closed for good as the year ended in the spring of 2011. The city immediately started looking for a buyer for the building, and its 12 classrooms, gym, lunchroom, library and offices. At the same time, Sudbeck made the decision with her husband to go into the day care business on their own.
Turning to the SBA to get the deal done
Sudbeck made an appointment with Russ Wilcox, senior vice president at Midwest Bank, seeking financing to purchase the former elementary school on North 12th St. But Wilcox recommended the couple first sit down with Loren Kucera at the Nebraska Business Development Center to put together a solid business plan with financial projections.
“The thing we worked on the most with him was figuring out how many kids it was going to take to make things work,” Sudbeck said, “which was really difficult because we didn't know how many ages those kids would be, and how long they would be here each day.”
Sudbeck figured they could take as many as 50 children to start, and armed with her business plan, she appeared before the Norfolk Planning Commission to get a permit to turn the closed school into her new business. The commission liked her idea of a day care, and pushed through a re-zoning plan to turn the old school into a new business.
“There are a couple of small day care centers in town through local churches, and we have a lot of in-home private care,” Wilcox said. “But nothing like this, not a for-profit center of this size.”
With interim financing from Midwest Bank in place, work began to turn classrooms into playrooms, and to improve the kitchen. Then the place needed to be filled with chairs, changing tables, cribs and toys. Most of the stuff came surplus from area schools, saving the new business a lot of money. A new play area on the grounds is for tykes while an existing playground across the street will be moved to the grounds in the spring for older kids.
Northern Hills Childcare was approved Dec. 21, 2012 for an SBA 7(a) guaranteed loan to pay off the interim loan, and to offer the business permanent working capital for expenses.
To help market the new business, Northern Hills Childcare sponsored radio and newspaper ads, but an open house both before and after their official grand opening drew likes on their Facebook page. They’re also partnering with nearby Norfolk Iron and Metal to provide day care for the children of their employees, and are reaching out to other area businesses for similar arrangements.
“I’ve been impressed with what they’ve been able to accomplish at this point,” Wilcox said. So are nearby homeowners.
Getting plenty of support with the new business
“I think we've had a lot of support from people around here,” she said. “All of the neighbors have come by and expressed how glad they are to have a day care in this part of town.”
Even better: the new business already has created almost two dozen jobs in this city of 24,000.
Opening her own small business was “very scary,” Sudbeck admitted, but she added she was fortunate to get support from the community and her family. In fact, when he’s not busy working with his father’s underground boring business, Sudbeck’s husband also helps run the center.
“I've had people come through to see the day care that have talked about how they always wanted to do it themselves but haven't had the opportunity or take the risk,” she said.
Wilcox added. “You look at these kids who come in here; these kids are running around in a full sized gym in the middle of winter, instead of in front of a TV. You add in the playground equipment, it’s a very popular place for the kids because it’s so unique. There’s a tremendous wow factor here.”