Saturday, January 16, 2016

5 gems of wisdom from an 80 year old company

On Dec 29th, I took a whole day from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm and visited with the staff of     D. A. Burns.   Why would I do such a thing?  Don't I have better things to do with my time than go hang out at another company? We'll, yes of course, my inbox and list of to-dos were high and deep but this day was worth every minute.

You see this past year we started working with DA Burns helping further train their staff in the wonders and wisdom of natural stone and tile cleaning.  In Jan of this year, we partnered with DA Burns to take over the stone and tile cleaning part of our business.  While working together, we got to discover a very special company.  A type of company you may think was only done in our grandparent’s era.  Well apparently there is still a company where the bottom line is not the top priority but doing the right thing is.  As we continued to working together, I became more and more intrigued and impressed.   And so I went on an exploration day.

I treated the day as if I were a “reporter”, trying to see why and how an 80 yr old company thrives.  How has this company stayed a front runner in the cleaning business for 80 years? Why do their clients have such a high level of customer loyalty?  Why does their staff average about 14 years? Why would any employee be willing to commute up to 3 hours per day for 29 and 38 years?  Hmmm, there is something special here and I was going to find out what.

As the owner of a 25 year old cleaning company, I know a wee bit about cleaning and running a cleaning company.  After this day of inside “reporting”,  three months of working side by side D. A. Burns plus knowing them from our industry during my entire cleaning career… I think I have uncovered some of the secret that have led to this company's success.

Below are 5 of the hidden gems I discovered.  I could go on but this already long blog would reach epic levels… So without further ado…

Gem # 1:  The Spirit of Mr. Dave Burns Jr. lives on

Sadly Mr. Dave Burns Jr. passed 10 years ago, at age 91, and yet his life continues in this company.  As I interview the staff, Mr. Burns was mentioned over and over, not like a past owner but like a beloved friend, grandpa, dad and mentor.  Curtis the facilities manager- who I think can fix anything, told me about a cleaning process Mr. Burns thought of for removing carpet odors that they still use today with extraordinary results.  Janet in front office and Mike the GM both talked about how after Mr. Burns had retired he would still come into the plant, with his yellow lab Beau.  He brought a spark of fun to the day but kept a watchful eye; making sure things were still being run well.  Richard Dix, owner of 40 years, spoke of him more than a business partner but like a dear friend, mentor and family member.  It was quite clear Mr. Burns was a man that was loved by this company and they still hold space for him.

Gem # 2:  There is an Art of Elevating People

How can you explain a company where the average employee has been there 14 years?  This is a cleaning service company.  I know from experience, cleaning is hard work and not always thought of with the value it deserves.  It can be tough to find good employees and yet this company is loaded with an amazing staff.  Bryan, the operations manager, who believes in small but consistent and continual improvements 38 years; Mike the general manager, who I met in 2010 when I popped one day and he kindly gave me a tour- 32 years; Jerry a craftsman who does the custom rug binding 27 years; Katherine who loves the entire process of cleaning 30 years; Jericho- front desk whose motto is "I please the people" 9 years; Julie area rug repair artist 17 years etc.....   Kelsey, one of the technicians Dallas and I worked with said he had been with D. A. Burns for 7 years and he was still considered a newbie! 

How is this possible?  As I interviewed and asked questions, this is what I heard from the staff:   they feel safe to own their work; to be creative in problem solving; to learn new trades when they wanted; to even make mistakes when a plan didn’t work out.  They felt protected and supported by the owner, Richard.  Mike, the GM believes Richard takes care of his staff and they take care of the customers and the business thrives.  It is like a circle.

Gem # 3:   A Family of Co-Workers Work Here

While in my ”reporting”  mode I asked the question:  “Why do you like working here?”  Over and over I heard “I love my co-workers”.  This staff is more than co-workers; they are friends, family and supporters of each other.  Janet and Toni who have worked together for over 15 years said they can finish each other's sentences.  I met with some of the new guys: Julian, Craig and Nic.  Even though they are fairly new to D. A. Burns, they love the feeling of no hierarchy.  And said they felt like what they thought was valuable and heard!  Dan, Don and Jericho seem like friends that would hang out together and genuinely like each other.
Everyone mentioned over and over again how much they love and appreciate Richard.  I'm guessing that's how everyone felt about Mr. Burns too.  Loving the owners seems to be a theme at D. A. Burns.  

Gem # 4:  Craftsmanship is alive and well

Then there are indeed hidden gems working away at D. A. Burns.  Julie and Em are master craftswomen in repairing rugs.  Julie said she can tell the age, origin; weave, if it was a prayer rug and much more.  A 17 year veteran at D. A. Burns and a master Oriental rug medic, she and Em of 10 years work together and do extraordinary work.

Jerry of 27 years is a carpet binding and fabrication wizard.  When I was there he was cutting and binding a rug to go into a yacht.  I was mesmerized watching him hand sew the binding on the corners.  He told me there is a machine that does this sort of corner binding but he wouldn't want to use it because it does sub-par work and uses cheaper materials.

Gem # 5:  You don't have to own the company to have pride and ownership of your work.

While working with D. A. Burns, we discovered you don't have to own the company to own your work.  D. A. Burns lets their staff own their own work.  You can see the pride they have in working for a company that is so highly valued.  They are proud of their individual work but maybe more so they are proud of their team work.  Coming together they are able to create something more impressive than anyone could do on their own.

On Jan 5th Dallas and I sold the Stone and Tile cleaning portion of Blue Sky Services to the D. A. Burns team.  After all the months of training and figuring out the how, when and where’s we came out of this process more impressed with this company than we went in.   During these past months we were treated kindly, with a generosity of spirit, with respect and with enthusiasm.  In our country larger businesses are often thought of as greedy and impersonal.  It was refreshing to know there is a company thriving right here in Seattle that changes the rules and runs their business with heart.

If you would like to meet this company, feel free to call or pop in like I did back in 2010.  I have no doubt they will greet you warmly and take great care of you.  Below is the link go see for yourself.