Trade shows time starts: ISSA Pulire 2021! Interview with Toni D’Andrea, CEO of ISSA Pulire Network, the Director of ISSA EMEA

With the first live ISSA Pulire 2021 trade show coming up this month, we will discuss the current issues of the cleaning industry with Toni d’Andrea, who took over the baton from John Barrett and gave an interview with a great pleasure and enthusiasm peculiar for the Italians.

“The trade show as a place of experience and belonging. Cleaners as part of the largest existing experiment on intercultural integration ”, – Toni D’Andrea, CEO of ISSA PULIRE NETWORK, Director of ISSA EMEA, will tell us about this and also about global projects such as Afidamp and PULIRE, the pandemic challenges for Italian cleaning, the ideas of the upcoming trade show, the development of the cleaning culture in general and the plans of ISSA PULIRE NETWORK for the future.

Toni, please share with us your personal experience of acquaintance with the cleaning industry. How long have you been working in this sphere? Tell us about your early days in the cleaning industry.

I began working indirectly in this sector in 1986. I graduated in architecture, and in those early years I started working in the studio of one of my professors whose important clients included a large Swedish multinational: Electrolux. A few years later, I was hired by Electrolux and worked with them for almost 10 years in Italy, Sweden, and the United States. In 1998, I started on my long career with Afidamp.
Afidamp was an association with great ambitions that represented companies in the professional cleaning industry. Its biggest ambition was to arrive at a point where it would be able to directly organize its own trade fair. Pulire had been around for some years, but for practical reasons it was run by external administrators. In 1999, we began laying the groundwork for the in-house organization of a trade fair and, above all, for developing a format that we could export. In 2005, Pulire was operating not only in Italy, but also in Spain, Hungary, Malaysia, and Brazil; by 2010 it was also operating in Dubai, India, Turkey, South Africa, Singapore, and Russia.

Please tell us about the establishment of Afidamp FAB and Afidamp Servizi. What were these projects at the outset?

Afidamp FAB was the segment that represented the interests of manufacturers, so it was the most mindful of issues of internationalization and trade fairs. Afidamp Servizi, which was wholly owned by Afidamp FAB, was a service-provider that ran all the profit-making activities, including, especially, trade fairs and educational publications. Afidamp FAB’s job was to produce tools of qualification and knowledge for the industry, which is to say it was responsible for generating data on international markets, gathering statistics on the domestic market, providing members with regulatory and legislative advice and assistance, curating relations with other trade bodies enrolled with the European Federation of Manufacturers and Traders of Cleaning Machines and Materials and Accessories (FEMIN), and representing the interests of the industry with government authorities. The object of Afidamp Servizi, whose governing board was practically identical to that of Afidamp FAB, was to use its profit-generating projects, especially trade fairs, to secure the financial resources necessary for the association as a whole to grow and develop new activities.

We would like to know more about the scope of Pulire, about its history, growth, and expansion around the world. How have you managed to achieve such success?

The driving force behind Pulire and its extraordinary expansion is the same force driving the manufacturing companies that participate in it: the desire to conquer international markets. In the early 2000s, Italian companies had a significant share of all the major markets: 25% of the United States and up to 65% of Asia. These were numbers to make your head spin. Backed by numbers like these and, above all, motivated by our own enthusiasm, we were able to develop new projects all over the world, build new relationships and enter into new commercial arrangements. The great financial crisis of 2008 and the arrival in Europe of fiercely competitive Chinese companies brought about a complete realignment.

Let’s touch upon an unpleasant and painful issue, namely the pandemic overtook us so unexpectedly. We were not ready for such a grim turn of events, nor was the health system ready for the tremendous pressure it came under and the huge loss of life. The pandemic forced all nations to take decisive measures and joint action. We all remember how the pandemic tore around the world, how it burst so violently upon Italy, sending the health system into overdrive; and we remember the selflessness and dedication of health workers. Looking back at that difficult period, how would you say it transformed the Italian cleaning industry?

Italy is a special country with a people like no-one else. The men and women of Italy are capable of generating great momentum and staging remarkable recoveries. The Olympics are the latest exemplification of this ability. The pandemic caught us unprepared. After China, Italy was the first major country to suffer the devastating blow of the pandemic. In the first months, when there were no practical solutions or knowledge of what would work, we entered into a lock-down that was scrupulously observed by everyone. For four months we shut ourselves in our houses, trying out new solutions and experimenting with working conditions as we waited for things to improve. Then, when the numbers started rising again after the summer, we implemented rigorous measures to contain the spread of infection such as social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing and other new rules. The cleaning industry expended a huge amount of effort and took steps in every direction as it tried to tackle the problem effectively and definitively. It became clear that the cleaning of inhabited spaces could slow the spread of the disease. Work shifts were increased to assure the constant maintenance of optimal health conditions in hospitals and workplaces. In the months before the vaccines became available, new sanitization tools and new cleaning practices protected public health and safety.

Do you think the appearance of a new virus, COVID-19, changed people’s attitude towards cleaning and maintenance?

Like I said before, Italy is an extraordinary country. The pandemic caused us to raise hygiene standards in all inhabited environments to a very high level, as well as raising our expectations of service providers, which we now require to meet exacting standards. We came to disapprove of places that did not measure our temperature at the entrance or that failed to provide a sanitizing hydroalcoholic solution at the door. We have not shaken hands for months, we have maintained social distancing while travelling on public transport and, especially, we have increased our demand for cleaning services and asked cleaning companies to organize double shifts and guarantee quality standards of health and safety. We have recognized that cleanliness is an absolute and necessary value: it is the most important element for assuring our collective safety. Just a few months before the pandemic, public entities were cutting back on their spending on cleaning services. Tenders were being assigned on a lowest-price basis. The spending review contained in the government budget law envisaged cutbacks of double-digit percentage points on spending on cleaning services in the health sector. I hope that the terrible experience of Covid will have had a lasting impact on the definition and valuation of priorities, and I hope that in the future cleaning will continue to be treated as the primary necessity that it is, as we have all come to recognize in recent months.

From your point of view, what changes has the pandemic wrought and what trends do you see in the cleaning industry as a whole?

The most important change has to do with competencies which are closely linked to the question of training. The real shift has been in people’s perceptions of the industry. Finally, people realize that delivering a cleaning service is a professional job and not some temporary fall-back or expedient to make ends meet.
The world now acknowledges the great responsibilities undertaken by the cleaning industry. These responsibilities imply accountability and a proven ability to perform its services with irreproachable professionalism. Naturally, competence is a prime requisite that can and must be complemented with the use of appropriate machinery and technology, in respect of both of which the manufacturing companies in our sector have been hard at work in coming up with major innovative solutions.

The Chinese word for recession consists of two characters: the first means “danger,” the second means “opportunity.” What challenges did you face and what decisions were made during the pandemic? What valuable lessons did ISSA Pulire learn from the recession and its aftermath?

More than any previous experience, the pandemic taught us the value of rising to a challenge. Worries about the threat it posed were soon supplanted by a sense of opportunity. What was essential was a willingness to react, to experiment, and to acquire new knowledge and skills. The ability to work together to resolve a difficult situation and to accept even extreme conditions was the greatest benefit we gained from this experience.

What can you say about major differences between Pulire trade shows before and after the pandemic?
I don’t see there being any particular differences regarding content. Of course, the trade show entails the coming together of many people in the one place and we shall have to renounce many initiatives at the coming edition. We need to accept that many international visitors will not be coming, so we will focus on the local market and postpone the internationalization programmes until the fair after this one.
We have always seen the fair as representing the global village, as an inclusive place where great relationships are valued. Looking forward to the post-pandemic period and the 2023 trade fair in Milan, we will be ready to welcome everyone with the enthusiasm and hospitality for which we are renowned.

Tell us how the decision was made to combine the ISSA Global Cleaning Association with Afidamp FAB to create ISSA Pulire Network? What are the main goals of the partnership?

ISSA and Afidamp share the one and the same soul. Both are associations whose primary object is to help their members grow, guide their development, and expand their knowledge. This object continues to inform our work of organizing trade fairs all around world, including in the most remote markets. Our goal is for every ISSA Pulire Network project to contribute to the success of all those involved. We want that success to reach everyone, even those who are not yet members but are planning to join us in the near future. Our vision is of a large community that is governed and inspired by common rules and objectives.

As we know, on September 7-9 the long-expected event will finally be held in Verona. The entire cleaning world is looking forward to visiting and exhibiting at a live trade show with the physical attendance of cleaning professionals from all over Europe. We should also remember that this is the 25th anniversary of ISSA Pulire! We are sure that it is going to be a very special event! Could you give us a backstage tour of the show and share with our readers your expectations for this year?

After a two-year absence, we are finally starting up again with ISSA Pulire 2021. It will be first trade show in the world for the cleaning industry to re-open its doors to physical visitors. We have high expectations. We have worked hard in recent months to make this a special fair for everyone, for visitors and exhibitors alike. Ten of the most important cleaning service companies of Italy will be taking part as exhibitors for the first time. They will occupy a specially designed space, the “ISSA Pulire THEATRE,” where they will give presentations, including of their experience as competent and highly qualified operators in a sector, namely cleaning services, that proved itself indispensable and highly effective at containing the infection during the time of the pandemic. It will be a unique experience for everyone.
Our 25th anniversary also coincides with a change of pace. The coming trade fair brings to a close a wonderful 20-year-long experience of holding the event in Verona, during which it has achieved great successes and undergone a great transformation. In 2023 the fair moves to Milan, where it will be staged in a beautiful district that is also one of the most modern and functional in the world. The new site adds an international dimension to the fair along with the possibility of co-locating it with other major events and introducing new content.

ISSA Pulire LAB is a key part of the event. What is the idea behind the project and what tasks does it set out to accomplish?

ISSA Pulire LAB hosts the Theatre project. The idea is to build a permanent laboratory in which all operators, be they manufacturers, distributors, companies, or end-users, are functionally useful for one another.
There are many fairs, conferences, congresses, workshop, and events regularly held all over the world dedicated to the theme of cleaning. We want this format to preserve a sense of continuity and belonging in the sector, which is why the format is structured on the alternation between ISSA Pulire trade fairs held every odd-numbered year and Forum Pulire congresses held every even-numbered year.

What is the mission of ISSA Pulire Network trade show? Can you share the goals of the trade show for the coming years? What regions and targets have not been reached yet, but are already in your sights?

ISSA Pulire Network is a global events platform. It is a circuit recognized by the industries and companies of the sector, and its object is to build an environment conducive to the representation of their interests.
The platform offers unmissable opportunities for all operators in the industry – manufacturers, distributors, and companies – to meet, build constructive relationships, and look forward to the future with positivity. There are large areas of the world where operators in the industry participate in these activities in a peripheral or indirect way. Africa offers the greatest opportunity, which is why on 16-18 February next year we will be organizing our first fair in Lagos, Nigeria, which will also involve other neighbouring countries. This will be followed by events in the Middle East, Asia, and perhaps even Europe. Our project is not confined by geography or temporal bounds, and creates a space of perpetual opportunity.

What does the world of trade shows, specialized events and meetings with cleaning experts mean to you personally?

Fairs as well as congresses or specialized events are above all places where people meet, as well as occasions for the sharing ideas, comparing notes and building relationships. You might even say they are places of experience and belonging.
I strongly believe that this is their true meaning. The original commercial purpose of fairs has become secondary to their cultural and relationship-building function. Relations depend on subtle, refined, unexpected and even irrational factors that sometimes lead to the meeting of minds. Such conditions simply cannot be reproduced online. The ISSA Pulire Network, by contrast, is a far more compelling way of showcasing products, advertising their features, recording their performance, and delivering updates in real time.

Toni, you are working on the development of many projects and the results of your work inspire many people. We cannot help but ask what inspires you. What gives you energy, what charges your batteries besides work?

There are many things that inspire me. I love listening to music, and I am a careful observer of what is going on around me. I am a curious and eclectic reader. I am passionate about far-away cultures that are very different from my own. I am alert to and conscious of the values of belonging, a frequent word in my lexicon. Belonging to a shared future. The future is being built day by day, and, most importantly, by collective effort. Some groups of people deserve more recognition than they get. Cleaners are certainly one such group. Cleaners are part of what is essentially the largest experiment in intercultural integration in existence. Their knowledge, tolerance, hospitality, and skills deserve to be noticed and respected. They are the guarantors of our health, safety, and lives, as well as of those of our children and parents. I am inspired by their life stories, their character, and their personal qualities. Every day, I practise learning to respect other people’s points of view and I try to work out things I don’t understand. I devote the same effort to opposing whatever I feel to be wrong or unfair.
What inspires me most is the truth.

What is your life credo and what advice would you give to those eager to grow professionally in the cleaning industry?

I’m not that wise. All I can say is that in recent years we have been engulfed by a type of behaviour and actions that seem to be products of what the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman would describe as the liquid society, which have diverted the natural flow of events down negative channels. The future of the cleaning industry depends on recognition of the value of competence. Solid and rigorous training courses will contribute to raising the standards of quality of the industry and to forming the professionals of the future. We trust in young people and in their determination to work towards building a better society. Cleaning is a serious matter: it is a service that determines the quality of our life, and it is something that only professionally qualified operators can provide.

If you had the opportunity to speak before a large audience of students and get a message or an important idea across to a future generation – what would you say?

I would say that cleanliness means quality of life. We have seen the truth of this more than ever during these months of the pandemic. Future generations have one extra advantage: they will be fully aware of what has happened, and will know how to behave.
If I were talking to young people, I’d like to hear about their ideas for the future and their hopes and dreams. I have a son who is almost 20 years old and I constantly ask him about what he hopes for the future.

What other person from the cleaning industry would you be interested in hearing interviewed? Who would you like to hear from?

There are many people I have met over the years whom I would like to hear from again. We could invite my friend Ilham Kadri, former CEO of Diversey and currently CEO of Solvay, a Belgian multinational chemicals company, to share her ideas about the cleaning industry and to talk about how cleaning and cleanliness as a value affect our society and determine the quality of our life.

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