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Interview with Oleg Popov

Popov_Oleg_web_770x960A man with a Western style of thinking and a broad Russian soul. Oleg Popov – CRISTANVAL cleaning Founder, CEO, outstaffing, facility, CLEANSO (Comac, Truvox in Russia) Founder,  owner and founder of PM Carpet Express (carpet service) and Pad&Brush (recovery brushes & pads manufacturing).

Oleg, recently your company “CRISTANVAL” celebrated its 18th anniversary, it is a significant date for Russian cleaning market. Please share your impressions. What does it mean for you to develop such a project?

For me, every year of the company’s birthday is very important; it’s like the holiday of your beloved child! You raise it, and after a while it’s very pleasant to remember your daring dreams and what has happened to them. It is important for me personally to record the achievements on the company’s birthday, not on the basis of the fiscal or calendar year, although they are all close: our company was born on January 5, 2000. On this day, I always want to say to my team: “Thank you for your work!”, organize an interesting vacation for them, (usually we go to an interesting historical place) and I like to cook dinner personally for them. This year, for example, we went to a small town – Tula, a smithy of Russian weapons, we visited the country estate  “Yasnaya Polyana” by L.N. Tolstoy, a great Russian writer, and then  I cooked  Hungarian goulash for dinner for 40 people. Then we threw a party “Style hunters of Moscow 60’s”, and in general we had a great rest and opportunity to reboot!

“CRISTANVAL” holds one of the leading position among Russian cleaning companies. Have you always been among the first?

I think that our company became among the leaders in 2008-2009 primarily in terms of revenue, which was due to the fact that we have a large segment of retail real estate: hypermarkets, supermarkets, stores. Approximately at the same time, the rating agency “Discovery Research” put us in TOP-3 of the Russian market. Now I think we are objectively the 3rd -4th in line.

What difficulties did you face when the company was formed in a completely new industry?

At each stage of the company’s development, there are “developmental diseases”: sometimes we are lack of necessary knowledge, technologies, high qualified employees, or money, and there are no information services and necessary applications, or recession. Problems exist constantly, with the growth of the company new challenges appear and we need to react immediately. For example, you should react on the actions of competitors or on changes in the labor market or on frequently changing laws. But, going through difficulties, you get out into the next level of the game, you’ve become stronger, wiser, and those mistakes that you’ve made taught you a lot. They were not in vain.

What was the fundamental factor which pushed you to form a cleaning company and what inspired you to this idea?

I always had great ambitions to form my own brand, which would live out me. I have always considered only the game for a long time, I sincerely admired many western brands with a history of 100 years or more, while they perfectly exist, although there are no founding fathers for a long time: they simply gave all their energy, as if they dispersed the rocket with start and then handed over their project to worthy successors who move the idea further …

I did not care where to start, in what kind of business, cleaning came about by accident. I even considered this idea skeptically at first, because I felt that there were limits there, but it turned out that there are no limits, that smart robotic floor scrubbing machines are used now and there are wonderful mobile applications and once few people left at this industry and everything is actually deep and it is very interesting. Once, with 1500 dollars in my pocket, I went for it and I am very glad that everything turned out so cool!

Oleg, you often visit Russian and international trade shows. What experience do you adopt from foreign partners? What is important in cooperation with foreign companies?

Really I have many personal contacts, we often visit training events and trade shows in Western Europe. I consider myself a pro-Western person and these values are close to me. I like the unity of “democracy and responsibility” when, for example, with a free dress code, in a good atmosphere, each person clearly accomplishes his tasks and bears for all his full, personal responsibility. I confess the principle of primary trust to each other: “Hello! I do not know you for a long time, but I trust you a priori. But remember, lad, you have the opportunity to make only 2 mistakes, and I’ll always forgive you first, you might not know, could be nervous, could make a mistake. The second mistake of the same kind I will not forgive”. In Europe, first of all, I try to imbibe the principles of people’s attitudes towards each other. It’s the most important.

Russian economy faced various changes in 2017: low inflation, economic growth, a decrease in real incomes of the population, a change in the taxation sphere, and the imposition of new sanctions. In your opinion, what transformations have taken place with the Russian cleaning market as a whole under the influence of these and other factors?

It often seems to me that Russian economy develops according to one of its own laws: one half-state, half-capitalistic, with a bias towards mobilization, with the often changing rules of the game. We often think that we are on a volcano and it will soon take us out with a column of hot gases or lava, but paradoxically, every year we add weight. You sat on a roller coaster and went with + 3 kg! This cannot happen, can it? In Russia it’s really can! And even more real fall out of the chair, but this is another story.

So, in 2017 we finished the year with the revenue + 12.7%, while the market added 6%, but the profitability of the business decreased. The market is characterized by unpredictability, the truest word.

Can you share what steps your company has taken during this difficult year?

What should you do when the crisis is coming?

  1. Reduce costs without sacrificing quality, as far as possible.
  2. Increase revenue, aggressive sales.
  3. Look for new niches, your “blue ocean”.
  4. Invest in people, cement the team.
  5. To lean on the paddle stronger and not to stand sideways to the whirlpool boat! Turn over!

This is what we did.

In 2017 Russia moved to the 35th position in the World Bank’s rating of Doing Business, and in 2018 the task was to enter the top 20 of this rating. Is the improvement in the Doing Business ranking important for the example of your business? What can you say about this?

Those administrative measures that are implemented by the Russian government are palpable for small businesses with revenues up to 1 million / Euro per year. Tax administration has become much better; it’s easier to open a company.

For medium and large companies these measures are not enough. They need not a point, but a large-scale struggle against corruption, and if this happens, Russia will begin to flourish. Our country will become competitive and will be able to set trends in some areas.

It should be noted significant news for cleaning market in Russia – the creation of NAFO (National Association of Facility Operators). What role did you play for the association? What future do you see for cleaning market in Russia after the establishment of such a large-scale organization and in such difficult economic changes?

At the end of 2017, the group of the largest cleaning contractors of Russia established the NAFO branch association, which is called upon to fight unscrupulous cleaning services providers who, through the creation of various fraudulent schemes, do not pay taxes in full, primarily payroll taxes and VAT, they propose low, dumping prices, provide low-quality service. Our company is the founder of the association and its active member; we work in different committees, with authorities and so on. The work has just started and it’s too early to speak about the results. We hope to see the first results in this May. Our main goal is to “whitewash the market”, make the industry more prestigious, make a better service for the end customer and, of course, make life easier.

“CRISTANVAL” is also engaged in outsourcing/facilitation management in HoReCa. What are the trends of this market?

Currently HoReCA market in Russia is actively developing, probably like no other. This is due to the fact that in June and July the World Cup 2018 will be held. A huge number of hotels, hostels, restaurants open. All this is very promising and we receive new requests every week from customers. Although there is an opinion that after the championship tourists will leave and the market will drop dramatically. But it seems to us that the third year in a row of the growing domestic tourism will not allow this market to fall heavily.

The experience with the Olympics in Sochi 2014 was mentioned on the site of your company. Can you tell more about this experience for Internewx?

In 2014, the Olympic Committee chose our company to provide cleaning services and maintain the main Fisht stadium, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, the awarding of champions, and the cleaning of the Olympic Park (more than 1 million m2). It was a grandiose project for us: we recruited about 500 workers in different parts of the country, brought them to Sochi, quartered, provided conveniences for them, organized meals, buses, passes, conducted training and started to work. It was a titanic work and an unforgettable atmosphere! All felt ten feet tall. During several years these people from different regions have been calling and saying: “If there’s anything like that, take us”!. So they appreciated us as a good employer. In the end, we were appreciated by the International Olympic Committee, President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev – we got valuable prizes and diplomas.

So we got great satisfaction! That’s why it makes sense to work hard! And there will be something to tell the children to be proud of!

As you know, this year Russia is the host country of the Football World Cup. 11 cities and 12 stadiums are preparing for this great event. Do you know who will serve these stadiums?

We have the information that cleaning of all stadiums will be done by some unknown in our market company; I do not even remember its name. But those tenders that are held by FIFA, as far as I know, only industry leaders with similar experience are invited, including us.

“CRISTANVAL” website also mentioned that you have plans in 2018 to cooperate with FIFA. What can you say at the moment?

Currently, the agreements with FIFA are at the signing, soon everything will be known. I will only say that we pretend to clean the hospitality zones, VIP lodges, food halls in several stadiums and in the villages where athletes will live.

Sporting interest appears not only in cleaning: you have recently posted the publication about successful catch in the Seychelles. Is traveling and fishing your hobby? Can you tell our readers about your hobbies?

Yes, fishing in Seychelles is unforgettable! Unlike the good old Norway or Finland, here in the Indian Ocean you do not know what can hook on!

I love traveling in any way: by car, on foot, on a yacht, on mountains with mountaineering equipment. Last year, we started from Moscow and drove by car all Europe for 12 days, this April we have a motor race Moscow-Vladivostok, 11 days and 9141 km! And then we will go to Japan for rest. Usually my companions are our top managers; we train our team in the following way: We organize horse riding to the Altai Mountains, we raft on the mountain rivers with whirlpools, and we ascend the snowy peaks (Georgia, 5000m).

But most of all I like to cook. Usually in some country I like a dish, I visit a few restaurants and eat only this dish to understand everything about it and find an excellent recipe … Then I try to prepare it at my kitchen. So it was with goulash (Hungary, Austria, Croatia), shank and potato soup (Bavaria), tom-yam soup (Thailand), bruschetta, pizza, pasta, Tuscan soups (Italy), etc. you can continue indefinitely! Cooking is passion! Once I open my tavern and cook for the guests.

And, in conclusion, Oleg, share your personal rules of success in the cleaning business. What instructions would you give to the beginners and the next generation who want cast in lot with cleaning?

 First: Never be afraid of anything! There are no authorities! Till. At this stage.

The market is busy, strong competitors … So what? You can always get through! Somewhere is your customer; you just have to find him.

Second: the quality of the service and the customer’s confidence to you always win! This is important. You can never drop the first and lose the second.

Third: you should get more pleasure from the purity that you produce, rather than from the money that you are given for it. Enjoy this feeling, this is a honeymoon, then you will enjoy money, but do not get carried away.

But remember, there must be 50:50 (satisfaction of the job well done vs money) otherwise, if something outweighs, the game may end.

And then your brand will live 100 years. And maybe more.

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