Cleaning as a tool to play a social role.
Partly due to the Covid-19, the turnover of the cleaning company Klien increased only slightly compared to the previous two years. And turnover and profit are above all the conditions for the manager-owner to have a role in society and in local governance.
Raymond Kouwenberg (51 years old) is certainly not the classic entrepreneur of a local cleaning company, although his beginnings can be defined as such: a working student who got "stuck" in the cleaning business. While studying civil engineering in 1987, he started working as a student at the cleaning company Klien in Breda, founded in 1974, where he became project manager after two years. After graduating in 1994, Kouwenberg worked for the municipality but remained in contact with Klien, where they worked exclusively with students. "Imagine: in an age without cell phones and laptops, managing, calling and scheduling eighty students," says the entrepreneur. He was good, because in 1997 he became co-shareholder of Klien BV and ten years later director-owner. In 2011, the cleaning company moved into its current almost 200 square meter premises in the De Mark business park in Breda.
On the entrance door there are the stickers 'Accredited training company' and 'We train professionals'. This is only a pale reflection of the projects Raymond Kouwenberg is busy with. To name just a few: the company is a member of nine networks, supports thirteen charities, has the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) quality seal, specifies its CO2 footprint on its website and helps people far from job market. Kouwenberg also serves seven functions on the board, including chairman of the VNO-NCW Breda, and is a city councilor for the VVD party. He is involved in at least twenty boards and interest groups. "Cleanliness has been the leitmotif of my life for 34 years. But there are three founding principles in my DNA: government, education and finally business. Being socially involved, helping people, is especially important to me. The trick is knowing how always find a balance between these goals and time for my family, my wife and my three children".
It seems that this social interpretation prevails over doing business as an entrepreneur in the sector… "No, this is the common thread and it provides the income that gives me the possibility to count something for others. Primarily I am an entrepreneur in the cleaning sector". In this role he manages a company with approximately 85 employees from a subsidiary. Seven of them work in the office, including three project coordinators for implementation. The working area covers a 20 kilometer circle around Breda. “We don't need a bigger area, because this also limits our employees' travel time.”
In 2019, the turnover was 1.7 million euros and for 2020 the forecast is 2 million euros, with a growth of 15%. Here too, the Covid pandemic has thrown a spoke in the works.
"We lost almost €300,000, because the gyms and offices closed. This was compensated to some extent by carrying out many sanitizations. This year, we expect to have a turnover of €2 million. We don't have a burning ambition to grow, we don't we are active in sales and always ask ourselves: Do we want to work there? Is this customer right for us? We prefer respected customers and also demand respect in return, towards the cleaning industry and our employees. If not, we withdraw. We have even canceled a €70,000 contract – a lot of money for a company like this – because the customer spoke disrespectfully about cleanliness and our employees."
Kouwenberg says he wants to run a firm that is stable and calm. This seems to work, because employee turnover is just "a bit on the fringes", with newcomers sometimes retiring quickly. Absenteeism is only 1.7%.
The entrepreneur says he is always working on processes and procedures to optimize cleaning, supported by information technology. "In 2014, three years after we started working in a real business premises, I started looking into the processes around scheduling, clocking in and out, using materials, administrative processes and purchasing. The requirements imposed by customers are increasingly high and a good level of customer satisfaction is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. I know from personal experience that this is especially true for SMEs in this sector with around 40-60 employees. If you don't digitize, you get stuck as a cleaning company. But digitizing with outside help is incredibly expensive for small companies, because you have to pay extra for each module. Over the past few years, I have therefore built my software step by step. A done software from and for the cleaning sector.
The result is that Klien-IT-Systems, led by Kouwenberg junior, has just been born under the umbrella of Klien. The software system includes all modules, including future ones, for small and medium-sized cleaning companies and can be rented for a fixed price: up to 100 employees for just under 300 euros per month.
Is there a relationship between management software and the cleaning sector? "Yes, because our initiative was born from my belief that we need to reach small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector in a field that is still foreign to them, and the lack of digitization is threatening their existence and their growth".
From cleaner to director-owner of the cleaning company where you started as a working student. What is the most difficult aspect of being an entrepreneur? Kouwenberg: "The problems of work. Job security for the employee is paramount, with pillars such as continued payment for two years in case of illness, transition and a high severance pay. However, these are the things that make fear to an employer and which unfortunately disincentivise people to be hired on a permanent basis".
Kouwenberg's advice to politicians in The Hague is to make being an employer attractive again. "We have to move towards flexicurity, which is the new direction of the VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland. A dynamic labor market, with a guarantee of social and employment security for all rather than the job itself. In other words, security to go to work and stay in work An active labor market policy, lifelong development and modern social security to bring jobseekers back into the labor market permanently. it is now too fixed and flexible is too flexible, for both sides. We need a kind of Scandinavian society where someone can always earn an income through work or receives temporary support".
Finally, what's the best thing about being an entrepreneur? "Being very involved, getting results and translating them into added value for society," says Kouwenberg. "Helping above all by offering internships, through sponsorship, giving opportunities to disadvantaged people, supporting charities and creating a company characterized by calm and stability."