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Case study: MW Cleaning keeping it clean... and green

It takes courage to change course and steer your company into unknown waters. But that’s often where the greatest opportunities lie.

Anne and Bob Quaid of MW CleaningIt takes courage to change course and steer your company into unknown waters. But that’s often where the greatest opportunities lie.

As it so happens, their love of water played a role in Anne and Bob Quaid’s decision to take their company, MW Cleaning, in a new direction. Having bought the company off Anne’s parents in 2004, they scrapped its traditional way of operating in 2008 to become the first commercial cleaning company in New Zealand to switch to environmentally friendly products and methods.

“We scuba dive around the world so we see what happens when waterways aren’t looked after,” says Bob. “We care about the environment and wanted to do something about it. We realised that being in the cleaning industry, we were at the ground level of that.”

There was also the desire not to miss the boat, with US cleaning companies implementing greener business practices, and consumers demanding more sustainable options.

“Initially, we said ‘let’s do it so we don’t get left behind’,” says Bob, “and now we’re leading the industry here.”

In July 2010, MW Cleaning became New Zealand’s first (and currently only) cleaning company licensed by Environmental Choice NZ (ECNZ) – the Government-endorsed eco-labelling programme. It’s a distinction the Quaids are proud of and one backed up by awards such as the ECNZ’s 2010 Innovator of the Year, and the Westpac Auckland North Business Awards 2011 Excellence in Sustainability.

“We’re not afraid to put our necks on the line and take responsibility for our industry. There’s no government legislation around it so no one’s checking up on those claiming to be green; that’s why getting Environmental Choice certification was so important for us,” says Anne.

MW Cleaning has been operating for 38 years. After purchasing it, Bob and Anne made a few changes to the business model and doubled the size of the company in the first four years. It now has 34 contract teams – all trained in and passionate about green cleaning.

Has switching to green been a complex and costly exercise? No, says Bob. “It was just a matter of taking the time to implement our processes, but there were no increased costs to us or our clients, as the new cleaning products were actually cheaper than the standard ones.”

MW Cleaning uses locally made ECNZ-licensed Green Earth cleaning products that are biodegradable and VOC-free. Cleaning teams are given regular one-on-one training sessions, and by attending overseas trade shows, Anne and Bob keep up with the latest in sustainable industry practices.

“We look at everything our cleaners do and ask: is there a better way to create a healthier working environment, while also being kinder to the planet and our cleaning teams?”

MW Cleaning’s clients receive information and training on the best recycling methods and can benefit from audits to see how the overall health of their work environments could be improved.

Hayes Knight is among those clients and has managed MW Cleaning’s accounting requirements since 2006. Business Advisory Director Scott Travis says Bob and Anne are passionate about their business and always looking for ways to improve.

“MW Cleaning is striving for innovation and looking for growth,” he says. “They’ve developed a vision of an eco-friendly service and are implementing it well. It’s created a lot of growth for them, and a definite point of difference that’s independently verified.”

MW Cleaning’s relationship with Hayes Knight goes beyond simply crunching the numbers. Hayes Knight has taken an active interest in the business, providing guidance and advice in several areas. As well as helping the company finance and secure new premises, Hayes Knight also introduced a new business structure that allowed the Quaids to generate more wealth and protect their assets. This included help with the formation of trusts and advice around tax minimisation.

Hayes Knight also provided support when MW Cleaning switched from its very labour-intensive manual accounting system to a more modern one.

“The Hayes Knight team is great, and we have a fantastic relationship with Scott,” says Bob. “It’s not just about the accounting business support and advice we receive; they’re committed to sustainable business practices too, so we have a common view. Hayes Knight was even willing to act as guinea pig when we became ECNZ certified.”

Scott Travis also enjoys working with this client with integrity and vision.

“Their focus on customer relationships and delivering quality service is very strong, and they’re excellent at drumming up new business,” he says. “In a difficult economy, their innovation has created the opportunity to continue to grow the business”

Since 2006, MW Cleaning’s turnover has grown by 85 percent and the Quaids are not ready to stop just yet.

“We’re about a third of the way to where we want to be,” says Bob. “If we gain more market share, there will be more companies out there looking after the environment.”

This story originally appeared in Beyond the Numbers, issue five.