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Interview with Mark Armitage

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Mark Armitage, one of the ISSA/INTERCLEAN pioneers, gets us to the heart of the largest global cleaning show!

Mark, as we know you have already retired, but you are still known as Managing Director of ISSA Europe.  You have made a great contribution to the development of ISSA and ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade shows in Europe and widely in the world. What was your primary target?

You state in your interview that although I am already retired I am still known as the Managing Director of ISSA Europe.  I am not sure that my successors, Keith Baker and Dianna Steinbach would agree with you on this point but I take it as a compliment.  Prior to working with the ISSA I was employed by the U.S. Government’s Department of Commerce, stationed at the American Embassy in the Hague, Netherlands.  My role was to encourage U.S. manufacturers and organizations to expand their export activities to the Netherlands and beyond.  In this capacity, I assisted U.S. manufacturers and users in the professional cleaning industry with their exports efforts and coordinated their presence at the then Amsterdam INTERCLEAN trade show.  At a certain moment in time it became apparent that the management of the Amsterdam RAI and owners of the INTERCLEAN trade show wanted to expand their activities overseas and possibly launch an INTERCLEAN trade show in North America.  This would have been in direct competition to the existing trade show that ISSA organized annually for its members in the U.S.  The then Executive Director of ISSA, John Garfinkel, literally jumped on an aeroplane from Chicago, flew to Amsterdam to meet with the management of the RAI and concluded a joint venture between the two parties.  ISSA INTERCLEAN was born and I was privy to all these developments.  With a revenue source now secured in Europe, ISSA wanted to set up an office in Europe to help its members expand their acivities through and beyond the trade show activities.  As one of the persons aware of all these interesting developments and indirectly responsible for helping them come about I was ask to leave my job at the Embassy and set ISSA Europe in the RAI building in Amsterdam.  Exciting times.

What was the most vivid, exciting and profitable period of your professional career?

 You ask me what was the most vivid, exciting and profitable period of my professional career.  The time at the Embasy was very excitinng but I will restrict my comments to the time with ISSA.  I think that probabbly the most exciting time for me was travelling and meeting with organizations in the former Central Eastern European countries, the Ukraine and Russia and working together with the Amsterdam RAI in setting up an Eastern European  ISSA INTERCLEAN in Poland.  Was it profitable?  Yes, it

What inspired you to carry out ISSA/INTERCLEAN in Poland? Did you expect to succeed? When was the first trade show carried in Poland?

 I have amswered your third question partly in the answer to your second question.  The first trade show was in Poznan, I believe in 2003.

What do you think does cleaning market undergo any changes or it remains unchanged? In other words are there any changes in cleaning market for the last 10 years? What are they? Are the trends similar or not in Eastern and Western Europe for the last 10 years?

 I really have been out of the industry now too long to answer your question about whether the industry has undergone many changes in the last ten years.  The industry has certainly become a lot more enviromentally friendly and automation and robotics have certainly  affected the industry enormously over the last ten years.  Perhaps the industry and those working in it (the contractors) have also gained a lot more respect for the essential work that they do.  Cleaning in itself is a science, after all. Educational learner programmes that organizations like the ISSA have developed to educate these “scientists”are constantly changing and improving.  My intuition says that the differences between the East and West are minmalistic, if any.

Was it easy and fast process to find partners and members for ISSA in Europe?

Was it easy and a fast process to find partners and members for ISS in Europe?  Fast and easy, it was not but I had a lot of fun trying.  If you move into a market place where there is nothing then it is a lot easier to establish oneselff as the authority.  In Europe, the cleaning industry was well represented by national organizations that were serving their own national members extremely well.  The last thing they were interested in was having an American organization taking over their role in their respective countries.  The challenge was to find ways in which we could work together with these organizations and add value to what was already on offer.  We were successful in some countires; in others, less so.  My first challenge was to get  ”accepted” in Europe.  The European Federation of Cleaning Industries (EFCI) was always receptive to what ISSA had to offer and I enjoyed attending their events. It was always a challenge to serve cleaning contractors members; manufacurer and distributor members were easier to serve because of our international network and powerful trade show presence.  If you wanted to find a partner in a country that you had difficulty pronouncing, ISSA with it partnership network was a easy way to start.  We acted as intermediaries and saved these members a lot of ground work and research.

ISSA as the largest global cleaning industry association offers a great variety of training materials and books. Do all of them meet European regulations and standards? How fast they became popular?

Training materials and whether they meet European regulations…..The training materials that were the most useful were those that had a generic value and applicable all over the world.  I think the question should not be meeting European regulations but meet the interest and standards of Europeans.  This was -not sure how it is now-  always a challenge for us at ISSA Europe.  For example, ISSA produced a teaching tool called Cleaning Times that was excellent but all the measurements were in inches, feet and yards.  Metric conversion followed but it took time.

ISSA-RAI tandem has given world cleaning community a global brand which is called ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade shows, which unites cleaning industry professionals from all over the world. What’s the catch?

You ask me to comment about the ISSA-RAI tandem.  I think the “catch” is to have a group of individuals running the trade show on both sides of the Atlantic that are attentive to what is going on in the market and willing to listen to their customers.  This knowledge comes from putting Exhibition Committees, journalists and industry experts together that are truely international and represent all sides of the industry.  Have them meet regularly and have them voice their concerns but also positve  trends and react to them immediately.  This is particularly true of the Amsterdam and North American ISSA INTERCLEAN trade shows; when setting up trade shows in other oparts of the world success depends on finding the right local partner and listening carefully to their needs.

If it is within your power what would you like to change in cleaning industry?

As retiree, I nolonger have the power to change anything in the cleaning industry.  I am more concerned about staying healthy, enjoying life with my wife and family and trying like made to improve my game of golf!  the change that I would like to see is what I referred to earlier….more recognition for the essential and important work that cleaners do.  If I see a window cleaner active in the the neighbourhood  in Amsterdam I always try to strike up a conversation with him or her a ask them about the materials and methods they are using today to clean windows.  I  encourage them to keep up the good work.   I am one of the very few that takes time to talk to them.

What the future may hold for cleaning industry? What may lie ahead?

No idea what the future of industry is.  My son is actively engaged in the industry and sometimes shares some of the exciting but also frustrating things that he experiences every day.  People and organizations are always trying to save and cut costs; often with detremental results; margins have to be cut and the quality of the product suffers as a result.  I have great respect for those that can successfully operate in this environment and are not willing to compromise  on quality.

And the last question. What are you at? Travelling? Creativity? Or any other hobbies?  Do you have any grandchildren?

Travel is always on my wife and my agenda.  My wife is an artist and loves to paint; I am a fanatic golfer and would love to get my handicap down to 18.  The grandchildren (two at present) are the loves of our lives.  When we are in the Netherlands were are always willing to help but do not want to be tied down.  We brought up three children and it is now our time for us to enjoy life while we are still healthy enough to do so.

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