Steve Garcia is one of BSCAI's newest board members, having joined back in January. But he's far from being new in the business. In fact, he has over 25 years of industry experience, operating Albuquerque-based SMI Facility Services with his brother, Val.
Founded in 1992, SMI is a full-service commercial cleaning company, providing a broad range of facility services to commercial and industrial clients throughout New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
Over the years, he and his sibling have seen their fair share of changes. One of the latest? "The lack of qualified employees," Garcia lamented. "I remember years ago putting an ad in the paper, and it would generate hundreds of applications. We were able hand-pick the best people. Now, we have to utilize several means of advertisement to attract just a handful. The standardization of criminal background checks, drug testing and the like has also reduced the amount of employees we can hire. We have to be very creative in how we attract employees and even more how to retain the ones we have."
Part of the problem is perception. "Our industry has this stigma about cleaning," Garcia acknowledged. "Who wants to clean for a living? I heard this from my own kids many times. In my opinion, we provide one of the most important roles in keeping people healthy. Cleaning is not what it used to be. These days, it’s very technical and scientific. I would tell young people or newbies that if you can just fall in love with our industry, you have a very good chance that it will treat you well and allow you to make a very comfortable living."
The ebbs and flows of the economy over the past quarter-century has been another challenge. Garcia concedes there have been lean times across the years for the industry, in general, and SMI Facility Services is no exception. When such times occur, a certain survival mode has always kicked in with the brothers. "I will give you (three) keywords that that are used frequently during these times: 'efficiencies,' 're-tuning,' and tag-work.' We have to learn to be efficient every day in every department. Sometimes, these efficiencies and belt tightening were not popular. I remember Val during a very lean time canceling the coffee and water services at the office."
Garcia continued, "Re-tuning accounts is very important. There are always labor savings to be had, even if they are minimal. In a year’s time, it will add up. Lastly, it is critical that sales and field management push tag work within our account base. Tag work is some of our most profitable work and can help in these tough times."
He considers the downturn in the economy in 2008-09 as the most significant challenge he and his brother have faced since launching. According to Garcia, SMI lost more than 33 percent of its business and was forced to lay off several valued management staffers in that time. "Those decisions were tough to make," he recalled. "There were times when Val and I talked about possibly having to close the doors for good. But we chose to fight and make decisions that were not popular. Those tough decisions and the ability to keep our eye on the ball paid off and things turned around for us."
Indeed, the boom times are much more fun to talk about. Even during such stretches, though, there are pitfalls to avoid. "You have stay vigilant and control labor cost 100 percent of the time," said Garcia. "You need to be strategic when building your company for growth, and you should never stop selling. It is imperative that we remain flexible and also manage trends in our business. Through BSCAI and our active participation in conferences and meetings, we can keep a pulse on our industry at all times. This allows us to manage our business more effectively."
It helps to have someone as close as Val in the navigation of the highs and the lows. "We think and work alike," Garcia said, "so any projects or initiatives are accomplished a little easier. The trust factor in each other is unbreakable, and we understand each other’s goals and help each other reach them."
On the downside, he conceded that separating work and family is sometimes difficult. "Over the years," he remarked, "we have learned to become employees at the office and family when we're home. Our significant others don’t always appreciate shop talk during family time! Also, understanding our roles and positions is very important. At the end of the day, Val as President and CEO makes the final decisions."
Looking ahead, Garcia is feeling excited and positive about returning to board service at BSCAI. "This will be my second term," he noted. "I served in 2004-2008, and it was a rewarding experience. I think BSCAI and its purpose is even more important to our industry and new cleaning companies. We have all the tools necessary for you to succeed. All it takes is to join and utilize its tools. I think the goals are going to be to continue strengthening our educational programs, certifications and membership. We are the premier association for commercial cleaning contractors internationally."