New System Carpet & Building Care, Ltd., of Earth City, MO, a suburb of St. Louis, has been on a mission to promote cleaning for health since becoming involved early-on in the “green” movement.
“New System is a janitorial/sanitation distributor interested in the environmental health of people, promoting ‘green’ cleaning and practices,” said owner/founder and Chairman of the Board Jon Questell, in a recent interview with Maintenance Sales News Magazine at the company’s facility in Earth City. “We are a consulting company, because we don’t try to just push products. We seek to do what is best for the customer, which is not always the cheapest thing.”
New System Chairman of the Board Jon Questell is shown in his office in Earth City, MO. The company is strategically located at the crossroads of Interstates 270 and 70.
Along with Questell, New System Vice President of Sales & Marketing Ted Barklage also became involved in the early days of the green movement.
“We saw that cleaning for health was something our customers were interested in,”
Barklage said. “As a result, we became involved in training programs, including ISSA’s CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard) and CIMS-GB (green building) programs.”
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Ted Barklage is shown in the company’s
training room at its Earth City facility.
Barklage became CIMS and CIMS-GB certified and is also an ISSA Certification Expert (I.C.E.). As an I.C.E., he is able to provide training and consulting services to cleaning organizations interested in complying with, and preparing to, be CIMS certified.
“We also have a sales rep, Dave Thompson, who is very heavily involved in cleaning for health, and who was a member of the committee that formulated the green guidelines for schools in the state of Missouri,” Barklage said. “Currently, he is involved with GCI (Green Clean Institute) that promotes training for environmental health.
“The state committee put together some very good guidelines, and we have used them with our non-school customers as well.
“We prefer the phrase ‘environmental health,’ rather than ‘green,’ because that is what green really is — cleaning for health. We are trying to transition from just talking about green, which has kind of become a ‘catch-all’ word. ‘Environmental health’ is a better definition of what we are trying to accomplish.”
Questell added: “The salesman that Ted (Barklage) is speaking of also helped one of our customers obtain two very prestigious awards. The first year, the customer was recognized by a particular organization as having the best new cleaning system in the United States for grades K through high school. The next year, the customer received the highest award for all types of institutions in the United States.
“We were very proud of what our salesman accomplished, and what we did as a company to help that customer achieve those honors.”
New System’s environmental health experts are also able to help customers obtain U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) points.
According to www.usgbc.org, LEED is a program that provides third-party verification of green buildings. Building projects must satisfy prerequisites to earn points to achieve different levels of certification.
“We have had several customers that have obtained or are seeking LEED building certification, especially in their new construction projects,” Barklage said. “Officials at St. Louis Community College sought LEED certification for a building on one of their new campuses, and New System was involved in selling them some of the equipment they use there.
“Even on the equipment side of things, we have tried to be progressive and get involved with companies that are sustainable and really ‘walk the walk and talk the talk.’
“In addition, New System was one of the first distributors in this area that pushed microfiber early-on. One of our school districts here was really interested in microfiber products.
“We became involved when microfiber was $6 or $7 a cloth. Now microfiber cloths can be purchased for 85 cents at retail outlets. There is so much available in the microfiber market that it has almost become a commodity.”
As Much As Products
Questell founded New System in 1971 in the St. Louis metro area as a small janitorial cleaning company. Initially, the cleaning company’s clientele included a large, well known restaurant chain.
“I had always sold chemicals on the side, so we just kind of combined the businesses,” Questell said.
In the 1980s, New System launched a division to distribute rental carpet cleaning equipment through retail outlets, supplying 6,000 carpet cleaning rental machines over a six-state area.
“We got out of the cleaning and the machine rental businesses, for the most part, in the late 1990s,” Questell said. “At that time, the company began to focus solely on being an up-to-date, progressive, janitorial sanitary supply distributorship.
“Today, we service an area covering about a 150-mile radius from Earth City,” Questell said. “Through the years, we did some blending of products ourselves, but we basically sell brand name items now.”
New System’s product categories include chemicals, cleaning equipment, cleaning supplies, facility maintenance, foodservice, grounds maintenance, hospitality, industrial packaging, liners, matting, office supplies, paper, receptacles/trash, rest room, safety, skin care and tools.
“We really emphasize procedures as much as products,” Questell said. “We teach the procedures to become health friendly more than anything. That is why the consulting part of our business is very important. We want customers to use the best practices and labor-saving techniques. New System Sales Manager Steve Stillwell, guru of our system selling, shows customers the advantages of the entire package.
“It is not just about selling products, because everybody has good products. It is how products are used that is important.
“The more we educate customers on how the procedures that they are using affect their health, the more interested they become. The customer must see value in order to change a procedure or change a way of doing things.
“Through training, we bring these procedures to our customers’ attention. The more aware they become, the more they want to be involved in procedures that are better for the environment.
“I think most people do not think of cleaning as a very high priority item. When people become aware of cleaning in terms of health, it becomes perhaps the most important thing that they need to have in their lives.”
New System’s mission statement says, in part, “We resolve to pursue healthy, timesaving and eco-friendly choices for the cleaning and maintenance needs in education, municipal, industrial, health care and retail markets.” This statement essentially encapsulates the foundation of everything New System does in serving its customers.
“We want to be in business and make a living, but we also want to make a difference for people,” Questell said. “This is done through procedures, as much as it is through products.”
A large part of the company’s customer base is in the area of education, helping schools, college and universities ensure the health of all those who study and work in their facilities.
“There is a lot of cleaning for health involved in schools; however, we are endeavoring to spread out into other markets,” Barklage said. “We have customers in other segments, such as building service contractors, industry, retail, foodservice and health care, and we are trying to expand those markets.”
Another market segment in which New System has been very successful is equipment sales.
“We have been told we sell more equipment than the average jan/san distributor of our size,” Barklage said. “Equipment is a big part of our sales. We have chosen to partner with some of the strategic high-end (equipment vendors). We have an excellent equipment specialist, Eric Hickman, whose knowledge of cleaning equipment is second to none. He can diagnose problems quickly and flawlessly of any of the quality equipment that we sell.”
Questell added: “He is also certified by a multinational software corporation, so he understands computers. In this day and age, it is not just a matter of knowing equipment, you have to know the computer technology that goes along with it.”
New System’s cleaning experts are also well versed in the technology that allows customers to strip floors without using chemical-based strippers.
Questell said, “Customers are amazed at how quickly they can strip and recoat a floor.”
Questell said New System’s partnership with a company that has been in the floor finish business for 100 years has been a plus. In addition, the distributorship has partnered with a well-known company that is a leader in educating on how to clean with hydrogen peroxide.
“We have been happy with these relationships and they have been long ones,” he said. “These companies have helped us and we have helped them.”
Helping Customers By
Consolidating Product Usage
According to Questell and Barklage, an important way New System helps customers save on products and costs is by showing them how to consolidate usage.
“Ted (Barklage) helped one of our school system customers that was using 30 different products whittle that amount down to four,” Questell said. “You can imagine the costs involved in a system with 30 schools, with each using 40 different products. While we have always tried to help customers consolidate product usage, this is an approach we especially highlighted during the recession years.”
In instituting the product consolidation program with the school system, Barklage began with just one school.
“When we set up the program in the first school, we went in with a couple of cases of product,” Barklage said. “They were literally removing an entire pickup truck full of chemicals from the school that they moved to another school to use. They had so much product in the school district that it took them three years to use it all, as they slowly converted to using basically four products to clean the buildings.”
Questell added: “We also found that it is very good to go with proprietary systems that cut down on usage of paper and soap. We are very much about showing customers not to just look at the initial cost, but also to realize what these programs save them in the long run in terms of product usage. This has always been our philosophy.”
Barklage pointed out that these types of usage consolidation programs also can save customers money, as well as product usage.
“In some of programs where one chemical is used to clean many different areas of a facility, the chemical might be a little more expensive. However, when looking at the end-use cost, it is usually very competitive, if not lower than what the customer was paying for seven or eight chemicals.”
Training An Important Key
To Successful Cleaning
In addition to offering the best products and procedures to accomplish the goal of cleaning for health, providing the proper training and education to both customers and the company’s sales force is also a vital part of the equation.
“We converted one of the rooms in our facility into a classroom,” Questell said. “We offer regular training seminars at our facility and in other locations to teach customers, not only how to clean, but also the philosophy of healthful cleaning in the 21st century.”
Questell explained that New System has called upon independent cleaning experts, such as those associated with ISSA, to conduct training at the company’s seminars.
“Having these speakers at our seminars really helps, because customers understand that these independent people are not participating to try to sell products for our company — they are teaching how best to clean for the health of the industry,” he said. “The customer needs to know why he or she should pay 10 cents a case more for a particular product. How does this product better fit the customer’s needs? It is an educational process all the way around.”
“One of the important aspects in serving customers is we don’t want to be a salesman who just comes by and writes an order every week,” Barklage said. “We want customers to trust that our sales people know what they are talking about. We want customers to be confident that if they have a concern or an issue, they can come to us, and we will be a consultant for them.
“We are finding this approach becoming more and more important as some of the big box companies are getting into the jan/san marketplace. Anyone can get online and order something and have it delivered the next day or the same day. For example, the customer is not going to have someone come to his or her facility to help if they have a floor care problem.
“Let’s say the customer purchasing product from a big box company online puts down floor finish and it turns cloudy. Why did this happen? That customer may not have a clue of why it happened.
“In forming a partner relationship, we seek customers who are interested in really taking care of their facilities, so they can learn, not only the products that help, but also the procedures. In the cleaning industry, as we all know, labor is the biggest cost. The cost of products is very small, compared to labor. If we can help customers refine their procedures and get things right, we will save them money.”
According to Questell, another important source of information, cleaning for health products, training and networking opportunities with other distributors has been the company’s relationship with a national janitorial supply buying group.
“We have learned from our discussions with the buying group related to the problems it has encountered and solved, and how that information can be applied to New System,” Questell said. “In addition, we have taken the marketing and procedural information we have gained from the buying group to help our customers get the best ‘bang for their buck,’ so to speak.”
“We have been training customers on the new GHS (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals),” Barklage said. “Our buying group put together a nice presentation for us to use. We have been using these materials and the information OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides to train several of our customers.”
The GHS is an internationally agreed upon system created by the United Nations. It includes criteria for the required classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifics on what information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals and safety data sheets.
In giving customers the best training in cleaning procedures, New System’s knowledgeable and veteran staff has been a major plus.
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“We actually have one salesman who still works for us part time who is almost 88 years old. He doesn’t want to give up,” Questell said.
“We recently hired a sales consultant who worked for another company for a number of years and he very much likes the type of atmosphere that we that we have presented here. He has been very successful in a very short period of time.”
Barklage added: “By the way, the salesman who is 88 years old still enjoys working part time helping people with their product needs.”
Upgrading The Status Of
The Cleaning Industry
In recent years, ISSA and other cleaning industry entities have ratcheted up an ongoing effort to educate, both the public and those who work in the industry, on the vital importance of cleaning for health.
Barklage said. “Cleaning for health and safety is a very noble effort. We try to stress that to our customers who are in the business of cleaning.
“People who clean are responsible for the health, particularly in a school district, of hundreds of students, administrators, teachers, parents and anyone who enters that building. We have tried to educate people through the years, and we will continue to strive to make people who are in the cleaning industry feel better about themselves.”
Another aspect of upgrading the status of those who work in the cleaning industry is to combat the industry-wide challenge of attracting the younger generation.
“Attracting younger people into the industry is an ongoing problem,” Questell said. “Many times they expect instant gratification, and this is not a field where you are going to instantly make a good living. It is going to take some time. In this industry, nobody is going to hand anything to anyone on a silver platter. A sales person has to earn the respect of the people he or she is calling on.”
Barklage added: “Nor is it a particularly glamorous field. However, we try to stress to people that the sky is the limit in this business. It is almost like having your own business. The harder a person works, the more money he or she can make.
“The industry, as a whole, is seeing the aging of sales staffs. It is a very difficult problem to deal with. We haven’t been able to get people right out of school so far, but we are still looking in that direction.”
Many in the industry have stressed that the days of the janitor with a cigar hanging out of his mouth and a key chain attached to his belt are long gone. Today’s cleaning staffs, be they sales people or those who do the cleaning, must be knowledgeable in many areas. They must have an in-depth knowledge of chemicals, products, procedures and the technologies associated with the industry.
“I think the more we can make it abundantly clear to the younger generation we are trying to attract, that they need education to perform a good service as a consultants the better off we are,” Barklage said. “This will result in more personal reinforcement to the type of job they have.
“We are trying to upgrade the status of the salesperson in the jan/san industry here at New System, as well. We are involved with the software company whose computer technology we have installed to run our business. One of the software company’s subsidiaries offers an iPad app that links into the database in our office.
“We have outfitted our sales reps with iPads, so they have ready access to customers — the history of the customer, what he or she has ordered, etc. This makes taking an order very easy.
“In addition, we have created a YouTube channel for New System. We have contacted all the vendors with which we do business, and if they have videos available on YouTube, we put them in a play list on our channel. This allows sales reps and customers to go to one place and, by manufacturer, view videos.
“We have found that many of our younger customers enjoy this kind of technology, and even some of our older ones. This feature also helps our sales people.
“When you come to think of it, sales people have to be experts in many aspects of cleaning, from floor finish to chemistry, as well as the different types of paper structures and wipers. It can be hard to remember all the information available. Now they can go to our YouTube channel and view a one- or two-minute presentation by an expert. This access has helped our sales people in their presentations.”
When it comes to presenting a positive image of the cleaning industry, New System walks the walk at its headquarters in Earth City.
“In our facility, we try to foster an environment that reflects the kind of business we are in,” Questell said. “We spend a lot of time here. We like to present how cleaning should be done to customers and other people who come to visit. When they look at our floors and the carpeting, people often say “How do you do this?’ Keeping our facility clean and attractive is a way of, in essence, witnessing to visitors about what method they should use.”
The company moved to its current location in 1998, which New System officials say is one of the most desirable areas in the St. Louis metro area for a distributor.
“We are at the crossroads of Interstates 270 and 70. We can travel in four directions from our facility in less than five minutes,” Questell said. “It is a very good distribution point. The size of our facility, including the mezzanine, which houses the repair department, is nearly 15,000 square feet. We have been able to manage quite nicely here.”
“Just to give an indication of how good a location we have, in the business park here, UPS and FedEx are our neighbors,” Barklage said. “These companies realize the this is a very strategic location. After we moved here, we outgrew our space and we added on to the back of the facility, as well as the mezzanine for the repair shop.”
In its delivery operation, New System uses three trucks and three panel vans. In addition to making deliveries, the vans are used for making service calls for its equipment repair services.
“When we can, we try to deliver the next day,” Questell said. “However, we train our sales people to anticipate what customers are going to need. This allows us to know which day is best to make deliveries to a particular customer so we don’t have to run to every part of the city on the same day. It is much more fuel-efficient if we can know what a customer needs ahead of time.
“In addition, drivers are supplied with hand-held devises on which customers sign off on deliveries. This gives us a record of signatures, which are printed on invoices when we bill people. With this technology, there is no question whether a delivery was received.”
Barklage added: “Invoices have the same signature on them that the customer originally signed on the hand-held device.”
New System’s drivers are also trained to assist customers when making deliveries.
“Many times truck drivers who go over the road pull up, back up and say, ‘OK unload me.’ This is not how we handle deliveries,” Questell said. “We find out the particular need that they (customers) might have. Maybe drivers are delivering to a facility where there are people who have bad backs. In a case such as this, they (drivers) will take products upstairs or down to the basement, whatever is needed to assist that customer.”
Drivers also assist the company by supplying pertinent information that a customer might want to relay back to New System’s offices.
“We get feedback from our drivers — good and bad,” Barklage said. “Sometimes feedback relates to products customers like or don’t like. There may be some information coming from a customer about a sales rep that needs our attention.
“We strive to have good contact back and forth between our sales staff, our office staff and the drivers. Drivers are the frontline people who interact with customers as much as our sales reps.”
Industry Trends —
In a discussion concerning trends that Questell and Barklage see in the cleaning industry, they spoke of some positive initiatives, and some movements that they view as having potential for a negative impact.
In addition to the influx of big box stores getting into the jan/san arena, Questell spoke of another trend that could have the potential of radically changing the industry.
“Cleaning with engineered water is a technology that has been around for 30 years or more,” Questell said. “The big question is how will cleaning this way impact the chemical industry? Its impact could change the chemical business.”
A trend that both Questell and Barklage see as negative involves major institutions trying to the change the way they go about purchasing cleaning products.
“Some large institutions, such as the U.S. government, are trying to change their purchasing process in an effort to eliminate as many vendors as possible,” Questell said. “We at New System see this as a very troubling trend for a variety of reasons.
“The innovations that distributors bring to customers is something that is not going to be there if big players, such as the big box stores, are allowed to dominate the marketplace. There is no incentive for them but to sell products on a massive scale.
“In particular, there are entities that are tax supported that want to eliminate vendors from calling on them.
“The United States is built on small businesses. Getting rid of small businesses will be a hurtful thing in the long run. In this state, a major university wants a single source for all its products. Furthermore, instead of letting bids for a one-year contract, they are seeking a five-year contract.”
Barklage added: “The GSA (U.S. General Services Administration) is also seeking to do the same thing with government contracts. GSA wants to have only a select one, two or three vendors for the entire United States. That is the discussion that is going on now.”
One trend that New System played an integral part in was in the field of offering highly specialized auto scrubbers.
“We do a lot more business with equipment than we did when we first started. It has been an area of emphasis for the company,” Questell said. “We have introduced into our marketplace specialty machines that clean and sanitize floors, in many cases without the use of chemicals.”
“One thing that we introduced in this area was cylindrical brush auto scrubbing,” Barklage said. “Up to that time, nobody had heard of cleaning a regular VCT (vinyl composition tile) floor with cylindrical brush auto scrubbers on a daily basis — only warehouses were cleaned with this type of equipment.
“We ended up selling a significant number of cylindrical brush auto scrubbers. Now, almost every manufacturer has cylindrical brush versions of auto scrubbers.
“We are always trying to stay on the cutting edge of what is new. This effort has helped increase our equipment sales.”
In speaking of equipment, Questell said the company puts a high emphasis on preventive maintenance.
“We have 10 to 15 school districts on preventive maintenance contracts,” he said. “We also do repairs for some major janitorial contractors in town, and that has been a very big boon to our business.”
New System employs one equipment technician in its mobile operation who travels to customers’ facilities to make repairs. Another technician works full-time in the company’s repair shop, in addition to several technicians who work part time.
“We will accept any machine that is brought in for repairs, even if we don’t sell that brand,” Barklage said. “For the brands we sell, our techs have all been factory trained. We think it is important to emphasize that they are not just ‘shade tree mechanics.’”
Employees Work Together
For The Betterment Of New System
New System’s loyal, knowledgeable and team-oriented staff is the underpinning of the company’s successful run over the years, according to Questell.
“One of the foundations of the success of the company is what all of our employees bring to the table,” he said. “Everyone here is important.”
Barklage added: “We talk a lot about our sales reps and drivers, but our office staff is just as important. For example, the company’s purchasing agent has been in the business for a long time and he has been a tremendous addition to the staff. Purchasing wisely is as important to the company as selling.
“We all try to cooperate together. New System is small enough that we can all see each other all the time. We used to have a sales meeting once a month and sometimes it would go for three or four hours. These lengthy meetings took a lot of time away from selling. Now, we have a one-hour sales meeting the first thing every Monday morning. By doing this, not only does our sales staff meet, our office staff is also involved. Office people can come in if they have issues from the week before or the week ahead. Therefore, there is interaction between the entire staff every week to work things out, which has been very beneficial.”
Having long-term employees has also been an important cog in New System’s success, as they have an in-depth understanding of the company’s culture and mission.
“Ted (Barklage) has been with the company for 18 years,” Questell said. “Before joining New System, he had worked for 16 years in a related field in another business in which we were involved.
“Amy Roper, who is the president of the company, has been with New System nearly 35 years. Having people here for long periods of time has really helped with the continuity of our operation. Customers like to deal with people with whom they feel comfortable.”
Looking Ahead To Continuing Success
In speaking of why he thinks New System has been successful over the years, Questell outlined three critical keys: perseverance, the willingness to work hard and striving to learn. “These three aspects of success that we have embraced as a company have made a big difference,” he said. “There are going to be times in life when you fall short of what you think you are going to be able to do. The key is to pick yourself up, learn from failures and do better.
“If we can do anything to make people healthier worldwide, we are really doing something very important for our lives.”
Barklage said Questell also deserves much credit for the company’s success.
“He (Questell) is very tenacious and he is a very capable leader,” Barklage said. “He keeps abreast of what is going on in the industry. He is open to new ideas and is a good businessman. He is willing to change as the industry changes, which is also important to being successful.
Questell added: “As in all things, there are always going to be challenges. What the challenges will be tomorrow, I don’t know. All I can be ready for is today and what I perceive will be a challenge in the future.
“I would like for this industry to continue to ‘strive to thrive.’ It has been hard because so many jan/san houses have fallen by the wayside. I think that if we can have quality independent jan/san houses, like New System, it is going to be good for the economy, the nation and for the health of people worldwide.”
Contact: New System Carpet & Building Care, Ltd.,
4120 Rider Trail North, Earth City, MO 63045.