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Tom Richards

Tom Richards on clean growth

By Tom Richards

Commercial Director, Proceed Solutions

When Tom Richards joined his father’s commercial cleaning company in 2020 as Commercial Director, the sector was under the spotlight like never before.

Founded in 2018, Proceed Solutions was created from the knowledge and experience of its co-founders, which is now being enhanced by Tom’s fresh perspective and passion for innovation.

With cleanliness brought to the fore, the business achieved a record year in 2020, and is now fast approaching £10 million in turnover: growth which is propelled by technology, innovation, and sustainability.

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How has COVID changed the commercial cleaning industry?

In the midst of a pandemic, there was a huge amount of opportunity because our industry became really high on people's agendas with everyone caring more about what was going on, how safe their buildings were, and if they were being sanitised and cleaned on a regular basis.

Cleaning has always been considered an invisible service that gets done after hours but post-pandemic what we've seen is people caring a lot more and wanting to become more knowledgeable about what we're doing, the service, and what it entails. We've also seen more demand for flexible working, with cleaning happening during office hours to give people that peace of mind that there is a cleaning operation in place that is there to support them.

The industry has played a vital role during the pandemic, and it has lifted the profile of the sector dramatically. People are taking it far more seriously than they were three years ago.

What sectors do you supply?

We focus on four key sectors: commercial, which is essentially daily office cleaning and cleaning of the workspace environment; hospitality; manufacturing; and retail.

Examples of our clients include Savills and Workman in the commercial sector. In hospitality, we work with Mitchells & Butlers, and Fullers. In manufacturing, we work with DHL. And in retail, we’ve just signed a sole supplier agreement for Wickes delivering the contract cleaning nationwide which we're particularly proud of.

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"The industry has played a vital role during the pandemic, and it has lifted the profile of the sector dramatically."

How are you embracing technology and innovation in the industry?

Ultimately, we’re a labour provider: 65 to 75% of our charge to the client relates directly to human resource. Traditionally, in the industry, people try to sell more resource in the form of hours.

We’ve tried to do things slightly differently and look at each individual client, site, portfolio, or building and build a bespoke solution that doesn’t just revolve around delivering hours and selling labour.

An example of that is autonomous cleaning machinery and robotics. Traditionally, operatives would sometimes sit on cleaning machinery all day: you’d be paying for the machine, and you’d be paying for the human. Autonomous machinery means you’re only paying for the machine and that highly trained human element can do things that are perhaps more beneficial.

The introduction of autonomous machinery and robotics has been a huge revelation; it can be cost-efficient and improve standards.

Another big thing that people have asked for since COVID is proof of clean. Previously, there hasn’t been a real way of understanding what’s been done in cleaning. We’ve introduced QR codes around buildings with checklists assigned to them relating directly to the cleaning specs, they’re scanned by the team when they complete an area. The client can then see a dashboard of the tasks that have been carried out. It gives people a little bit more visibility than they have had previously.

What’s the company’s approach to sustainability?

Sustainability is huge and it’s something we’re really committed to; we’re trying our best to educate ourselves on it and fully understand what it all means.

We’ve pledged to be carbon neutral by 2028. We exhibited at the Sustainability Expo in Southampton last year. From there, we met with an organisation who are essentially helping us to analyse our carbon output.

The biggest thing for us at the moment is providing chemical-free cleaning. A huge amount of cost in our organisation goes into supplying chemicals and materials for our operatives – we’ve got 600 employees, all using products daily. Rather than having the original five litre drums of chemicals, we offer chemical-free cleaning at some of our locations, which has a huge environmental benefit. There’s no single-use plastics, there’s no transport, our clients like it because it’s greener and there are no health implications. It’s essentially water that gets electrified and converted into O3 to become a powerful cleaning detergent.

"The introduction of autonomous machinery and robotics has been a huge revelation; it can be cost-efficient and improve standards."

Tom Richards - Commercial Director, Proceed Solutions

Who influences you?

My dad has been a massive influence because he’s been in this industry his whole life. It’s not the most glamorous industry but he has certainly made the best of it.

I like being around business leaders and taking little bits from everyone that I come across. There are certain things I’ll hear from people, and I try to take the best bits of those and put them into what I do.

Which books or films resonate with you?

My favourite film is The Wolf of Wall Street.

My favourite book is Simon Jordan’s autobiography: Be Careful What You Wish For. He owned a mobile phone business in the nineties, grew it from nothing and sold it at age 31 and bought Crystal Palace Football Club, becoming the youngest ever owner of a Football League club. His journey is pretty inspirational, and his book is fantastic: I’ve read it many times.