Leaders Forum: Ebin Sebastian, NZ Cleaning Supplies

How was 2021 for NZ Cleaning Supplies, including your main challenges?

COVID-19 again influenced our year and decision-making. Our management team opted to focus on inventory control because of global logistics issues, including freight cost increases, that many companies have experienced.

To put it in perspective, our logistics costs for products coming from Italy to New Zealand have increased by 200-400 per cent.  So we have partnered wisely with logistics providers and successfully pre-booked freight where possible to manage costs and keep prices stable for our customers. There have been some small price increases for our customers, but nothing significant. The hope is that logistics and supply chains will open this year.

Is there an achievement that you’re particularly proud of from the past 12 months?

Last year, we recruited Leizel Macleod as our new National Sales Manager to help our expansion plans. She’s a very experienced cleaning industry executive and her appointment is also part of our commitment to empower women in a male-dominated sector and create more leadership roles for them. We want to encourage diversity, because it brings new ideas to the business, rather than just following the same old ideas.

Leizel has about 13 years of industry experience, she’s a real people-person and she’s an excellent leader. She’s an integral part of a strong leadership team that has created a workplace environment where our employees are really happy. The average tenure of staff at NZ Cleaning Supplies is about 12 years, and we’re really proud of that.

What will be the immediate focus for NZ Cleaning Supplies in 2022?

The aim is to bring more technology to the market that reduces the time to do cleaning jobs at a period when COVID-19 has created labour shortages.

For example, we’ve imported ride-on Ghibli & Wirbel scrubber drier machines which are roughly three time more productive per hour than traditional walk-behind machines. That allows customers to dramatically reduce labour hours. Innovation on the chemicals side of the business has also been critical.

Broadly speaking, we want to ensure that we bring in new technology and products that work for our market, rather than just bringing in new products and selling them. We test products internally and make sure they work for the industry and our customers in New Zealand.

Did you notice any changes in customer behaviour in 2021? How did NZ Cleaning Supplies respond and adapt to these changes?

Compared with 2020, there were fewer panic purchases last year, despite COVID-19 and the long lockdowns in New Zealand. Our market forecasting and logistics management has been very strong, so we’ve been able to sit down with our customers and reassure them that they don’t need to worry about cleaning supplies. That has led to their purchasing behaviour slowly coming back to normal.

What are the opportunities and challenges that you see for the commercial cleaning industry in 2022?

The status of the cleaning industry has gone up during the pandemic and that’s a good thing. We really believe technology will be the key in the next few years and we plan to be at the forefront of that trend.

A challenge for the cleaning industry is that a lot of companies are now creating a flexible working environment for their employees so they can work from home. That does affect our industry because there are fewer offices to clean now.

On the flip side, opportunities exist for more work in spaces such as supermarkets, where the hygiene demands have risen significantly because of COVID-19. On the manufacturing front, instead of just importing and selling products, there are more prospects to make things onshore. That opens up other opportunities for us.

What is one issue in the industry that you would like to see addressed?

We want to see the borders reopen in New Zealand. In our industry, it’s important to travel and discover the new technology and latest products that are out there in the rest of the world. With employees, we know that migrants are a key component of the cleaning workforce in countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States. It’s been difficult to get labour into the country during the pandemic and that’s been tough on everyone. Hopefully, reopening the borders will make a difference.

What advice would you give to fellow leaders in the cleaning industry?

In the cleaning sector and more broadly, I’d ask business leaders to support New Zealand companies. COVID-19 has been an eyeopener with regard to importing products and dealing with supply chains.

If we support local business and manufacture more things here, our national economy can grow and then the cleaning industry can grow at the same time.

An example is mask manufacturing. In the past, they were mostly made in Asia, but now they’re being made in New Zealand and Australia, which is awesome. We want to see more of that.

This first appeared in the February issue of INCLEAN NZ magazine. 

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