When Connie Heppelthwaite started Reading-based cleaning and facilities management business Not Just Cleaning in 1984, it was more out of necessity than a career choice.
“She was a single mum with three young boys,” explains NJC Managing Director Paul Crilly, “but her attitude to the business was extremely entrepreneurial. Connie’s view was, if you look after the customer and the quality of the services, everything else will look after itself. And really, we’ve scaled up that familial mantra: the customer is absolutely the heart of everything we do.”
Paul has been instrumental in growing the company, which in 2012 had a turnover of around £5.5m; it now has an annual turnover of £21.5m and 850 staff. Its clients include some of the UK’s largest real estate businesses, managing agents and blue-chip employers across London and the South East.
“If your brand, image, or service quality is important to you, then your environment is going to be important to you,” Paul explains. “As we’ve grown, it has become increasingly important that cleaning adds to a positive customer experience for our customers. That starts from outside, when you’re walking towards the building. Your journey through the building to the workplace or other emotional areas such as cafés, restaurants or tea points matters; you need to understand the impact cleaning has on your colleagues, your customers, your organisation and your productivity. And that’s where the company got the name. It’s not just cleaning and our colleagues are not just cleaners.”
Technology has been a key focus for NJC. The backbone of this focus is a business process management system that governs the planning, implementation, auditing and real-time reporting of all cleaning and support service tasks across multiple locations and processes.
Technology also underpins NJC’s rigorous safety systems. As one of the South East’s largest commercial window-cleaning contractors, NJC’s operatives need to work on very tall buildings and use body-worn cameras to video each other putting on their safety harnesses and connecting these to each building’s ‘life safety’ anchor system.
“We very much see technology being at the forefront of our services,” Paul says. “Cleaning is often considered a very mundane, rudimentary service – but we’re very keen to demonstrate that we use our brains as often as we use our hands.”
Haines Watts has supported NJC and its directors since 2011 with a wide range of advice. This advice has included growth planning, minimising risk, improving efficiencies and securing its future by retaining key people.
In 2015, Haines Watts advised NJC on the acquisition of a rope access business that would help cement the company’s foothold in cleaning at height.
“We couldn’t have got through that process without Haines Watts’ help,” Paul says. “The company was growing really quickly and our compounded growth through that period was around 30%. We relied on Haines Watts to make sure we were being thorough about our financial reporting, with a focus on doing the right things, consistently well.”
Peter Wright, Partner, Haines Watts Reading, explains: “We’re constantly looking for opportunities for NJC and we’re always on hand to provide consultative advice and challenge their plans, to ensure they’re maintaining a controlled expansion path.”
Haines Watts has also helped the business maximise its investment in technology through the Research and Development tax credit scheme. The scheme is designed to encourage companies to invest in R&D, and typically allows businesses to offset about a quarter of their development expenditure.
Another focus for Haines Watts and NJC has been shareholding advice to secure the company’s future and the key people within the business.
“As a growing family business where the family is increasingly taking a background role and the executive team is taking the reins, we’re keen to make sure we structure our business with the right incentives – and Haines Watts has been at the centre of these shareholder development discussions,” Paul continues.
Looking ahead, the strategy is continued growth. “We’d like to keep building our reputation – to be seen working with the right customers,” Paul says. “In doing so, we’d like to double the business in the next two to three years. Again, we can only really do that with the right professional advice. We are already looking at whether we need to expand our regional offices in certain areas or expand our capabilities.”
“Their move from being a family-run business to building a senior executive team which will take the business forward has been a key vision.” Peter Wright, Partner, Haines Watts Reading.
New developments include the introduction of customer service centre software that will enable NJC to manage customer contacts while monitoring social media comments about the business and its clients.
“For traditional businesses, it’s all about the emerging use of technology and the effective use of collected data,” Paul says.
Their move from being a family-run business to building a senior executive team which will take the business forward has been a key vision.
Haines Watts Partner view
“Not Just Cleaning is a great growth story. Their move from being a family-run business to building a senior executive team which will take the business forward has been a key vision.
Throughout the company’s rapid growth, we’ve been able to stand alongside the NJC team and provide ongoing advice around R&D, new premises, business acquisition and financing.
You wouldn’t automatically associate things such as R&D with a cleaning company, but taking a more holistic view of the business allows us to advise in areas that the owners may not even consider. This approach has certainly been worthwhile for NJC.
Our aim is to help them achieve their objectives and minimise risk, whilst having a firm eye on the commercial aspects – and the benefits this level of growth brings.
The future looks bright for NJC and the executive team has ambitious plans and a clear vision for further growth.
Peter WrightPartner, Haines Watts Reading