Business Leader spoke to Rachel Flanagan – the founder and managing director of commercial cleaning business Mrs Bucket – to talk about her business and plans for the future.
How have the past couple of months been for you and Mrs Buckét?
As for most industries, it’s been a time of incredible, unprecedented change. We’ve witnessed positive differences and, of course, some extraordinary challenges.
Certain sectors have been abundant with opportunity for the commercial cleaning market and we’ve seen a real pick up in manufacturing sites and education providers. Meanwhile others, such as offices, have dropped off as more employees work from home full-time.
From my own business’s perspective, the challenge of COVID-19 has mainly been around managing the logistics of a large company remotely. We employ over 250 people, some part time, some full time, and most are on different shift patterns, operating in different areas of Wales and England. That alone has been a challenge, navigating the different countries’ rules! It’s been a massive learning curve, not only for myself as CEO but also for my senior team.
However, our business quickly adapted to the changes and became accustomed to it – something that happened much faster than I could have anticipated, and that’s most certainly testament to the fantastic team I have around me.
How has COVID-19 affected the industry?
In some ways, COVID-19 has really shone a light on the cleaning industry, in a positive way. People are more aware of what good cleaning does for their business. Before COVID-19, cleaners were often thought of as people who would come in and make your office look and smell nice. Our role simply wasn’t appreciated. Thankfully, that’s all changed.
Companies now understand that cleaning is crucial for positive brand reputation and staff wellbeing. Those businesses who haven’t been doing enough before now are feeling the pressure to shape up, and fast, or risk the negative implications.
Subsequently, not only has cleaning become more valuable but so have cleaners. No longer are they hidden from view, coming in extremely early or last thing at night, they are now present throughout the working day. They are now a core element to the internal teams of all businesses.
This attitude change was something we were fighting for throughout lockdown and are so pleased to see it come to fruition. But there’s still work to be done. In the early months of lockdown, we began a campaign to get cleaners recognised as key workers by Government.
I wrote a letter to No.10 explaining why all cleaners need to be acknowledged as key players in the rebuilding of our economy post-pandemic and how, throughout this year especially, they frequently were at risk to keep others safe. This campaign will be something we continue long into the future until we see the change in attitude from Government and senior officials that the industry deserves.
Last month you celebrated your 15th anniversary, an amazing business milestone! What advice would give to new start-ups in the current situation?
It may sound unbelievable, but now is a fantastic time for start-ups, especially those in sectors that solve the pain points COVID-19 has created. But offering the right product or service is only a tiny part of being a successful start-up, most importantly you need to stand out. Have you thought about how you’re going to cut through the noise in your market? One piece of advice here is to ensure that your brand is correct first time and make sure it will be noticed for all the right reasons.
Secondly, are you taking advantage of the tools and techniques that are booming because of the pandemic? Use e-commerce like your life depends on it, especially as the country flits in and out of firebreaks and lockdowns and internet shopping continues to be consumers’ preferred way of purchasing.
Thirdly, a more personal one for business leaders, it’s time to get out of your own way. Starting a business, pandemic or no pandemic, can create a real sense of internal unrest. Suddenly, you become hyper-aware of those around you, what they think, your flaws and your past mistakes. But now is not the time to think about those things. Put your ego to one side and get on with the job in hand.
What are your plans for the next five years?
We’ve got two main focuses for the next five years: innovation and growth.
If we’ve learned anything from lockdown, it’s that adapting to the virtual world is a must. It’s most certainly on the cards that, over the next few years, we will be spending time exploring new ways to innovate our services online.
However, this doesn’t mean we’ll be neglecting our physical innovation! Over lockdown, to keep up with the demand for decontamination and cleaning services, we invested huge sums of money into chemicals, products and machinery to make the workload more effective and efficient. This included sourcing a new chemical, proven to be effective against the coronavirus pathogen for 30 days, and investing in ride-on sanitisers and electro-static fogging machines. In the next five years, we are aiming to ramp up our scale of investment to fit with our goal to become a national company.
Secondly, the next five years will be integral to Mrs Buckét’s large scale growth plans. Imminent plans will see us expanding rapidly into Bristol and in the longer-term, we aim to have a large national presence.
Why Bristol next?
It simply makes sense. A lot of the companies we already work for in Wales have multiple premises, some of which cross over the bridge into Bristol. We already have a client base in the city to work from, so it’s the next logical step.
And of course, the scope of potential clientele Bristol holds is immense. Mrs Buckét’s growth won’t just focus on the breadth of the country, but also the expansion of the sectors we service. Education, Manufacturing, Automotive, for example, are all areas we’re looking to enter further, and Bristol has an abundance of these industries.
Thinking about your role as CEO of Mrs Buckét, what would you say your biggest personal learnings have been from COVID-19?
I’ve always been open to being flexible and adaptable, but I don’t think I was expecting this year to throw so much at Mrs Buckét all in one go. The way I’ve had to manage not only my business, but my life as well, to fit with the needs of my employees, customers and family has changed immeasurably over the past eight months.
I’ve become more accustomed to saying ‘no’ and listening to my body, taking time out when it all gets a bit much and using my senior team to help me thrive and prosper as a CEO instead of fighting my anxieties and stresses alone, something which perhaps I might not have done as successfully prior to COVID-19.
I’ve also taken the opportunity to talk about Mrs Buckét’s successes a lot more over the past year. Over my career, I’ve most definitely succumbed to imposter syndrome, and that can make it incredibly hard, impossible even, to feel good about shouting about your own success. But the pandemic made me realise that it’s crucial to do so, not only so your clients and prospects are aware of the hard work you and your team are doing, but so that your employees feel recognised and praised outside of the day-to-day office space.