CEO Conversations

Integrity at the core of small business generosity

During our road trip to Albany, Georgia we had the opportunity to sit down with Jud Savelle, President of Bishop Clean Care. Jud is a native of Albany, Georgia who, along with his wife, Jenny, owns and manages their 70-year-old family business that focuses on residential and commercial cleaning services employing over 85 people in Southwest Georgia.

Our conversation with Jud gets right to the heart of running a small business. His responses highlight challenges and lessons learned that apply to any business, anywhere. How do you run a business with integrity in a moment of crisis? Does business generosity look different when your employees are part-time or on commission? The Bishop Clean Care story gives you a thoughtful glimpse into the sacrifices a small business makes to consistently lead with integrity and shows how that integrity is rewarded with loyalty.

Generosity starts with business integrity

We’ve been around 70 years, we’re third generation owners, which is not real common in the business world, but it does help us with how we think about generosity in the community and within our own business. One of the things that was instilled in both my wife and I early on is going to sound very intuitive, but generosity starts with business integrity.

There’s no point in serving the community or giving to the community if we’re not running our business with the highest level of integrity and providing a service that’s exceptional and that’s a value proposition for our customers.

Next, I think any generosity to the community would not mean as much unless we are generous to the folks that work with us. We place a lot of value on that. We’re fortunate to have people embrace our company values and we don’t take that for granted. We have a lot of people that work on commissions. So, how do we even earn the money that we’re giving to the community? We are fortunate that our salespeople embrace that idea of sharing, being good to their customers, being good to each other.

As a small business, not every year is that year that you really want to share profits. It may not have been a great year, you want to share, but it’s harder. So by maintaining that integrity in the way we run our business and generosity among our employees, when that opportunity presents itself, to really share, we’re able to do it and together we want to do it.

Integrity tested in the midst of high demand

When the pandemic started, like everybody else, we just didn’t know what to do. We quickly found out that as a cleaning company we were suddenly essential, whether we wanted to be or not. We suddenly had this demand for services that were not very common in our business. We were getting calls left and right. And so, we were presented with a challenge to provide a new service that had not even been priced in our industry. And to, again, going back to our values of serving with integrity, how are we going to price this product without gouging?

We had to decide how are we going to meet the needs of these customers who suddenly want a product that hadn’t been tested. It was a great challenge for us, but because of those values that our employees also embraced, we did two things very well. We made sure we were selling things in a way that we were able to sleep at night — knowing that we were doing it for the right price and for the right reasons.

We also wanted to ensure our employees didn’t wear out.  They were scared. They didn’t necessarily want to be at work, but they came, they rose to the challenge. They served the customers that were calling us. And so I had to put that integrity to the test for our employees. I remember very clearly early on I had to tell a lot of people, no, we’re going to take a day off. We have to rest. We made sure that we stuck with our principles in spite of the chaos.

We made sure that we stuck with our principles in spite of the chaos.

Compassion as a vital retention strategy

I think we grew up, and our parents grew up, with the notion that your life revolves around your work. But, it’s definitely shifted for today’s workers. Now employees say, “I want my work to revolve around my life because it’s more important.”

We have right now about 65 part-time workers that serve our janitorial customers throughout the Albany area.  We are really focusing hard on the value proposition of part-time work with us. We want to make it attractive to our part-time staff members who we really don’t even get to see a lot, thanks to all these innovations like direct deposit and mobile apps for clocking in and out. How do we increase that humanity, the caring part of work?

Now we’re thinking, you know, Ms. Rosemary, who we don’t see a lot, instead of her interaction with us being an inspection report, when she opens her closet at night, maybe it’s just a Snickers bar with a bow on her that says, thank you for doing this, you know?

For instance, a result of the pandemic was definitely that our folks working with us became much more individually vocal about their health concerns in general. They came to us with more things and we learned more, I think just because people started talking more openly about it and I don’t mean around the office, but just coming to Jenny and I, and talking more about their concerns with their health. And we learned ways to partner with them to, to encourage, to help, to direct them to resources. And so it was a benefit to be a little bit closer emotionally, to some of our employees

When we do something small that shows yes, we’re paying attention and everybody is a part of this organization.

You’ve got to be creative in recognizing that money isn’t everything, a small business will put itself out of business trying to compete with the bigger business’s wage rates. We just can’t do it. But we have found out that while we are implementing raises and trying to keep up, that’s not the most important thing to everybody. They want that flexibility. They want that personal attention to know that you’re invested in their lifestyle as well.

Generosity pays dividends in a crisis

Most folks here in Albany know that on October 20th, 2018, at 10:30 in the morning, I got a phone call that the Bishop Clean Care building was burning down. And it did, it burned all the way down. We lost everything on that day.

It’s important to remember that Hurricane Michael had just come through on October 10th. The community was still reeling and everybody had their own problems to deal with whether it was their own home or business. And we were supposed to be serving our customers because we were in the disaster mitigation business, but the building just burned down.

So, on that day multiple business owners showed up either physically or with phone calls offering to help. Our insurance agent, the business owner across the street offered his conference room.  Another business owner made the empty warehouse behind us available. We were just surrounded by people who had plenty of distractions but came to see what they could do for us. A young boy fighting cancer made sure we knew he was praying for us.

All of that just showed us that if you’re living life right, your friends show up when you need help.

It’s not always with a check because there was so much more than the checks. There was the presence.

It kind of validated that yes, we had made the right choices in how we interact with the community, but then it certainly bestowed upon us this intense sense of gratitude of how we could better respond. It’s not always with a check, right? It’s not always with a check because there was so much more than the checks. There was the presence. We were just very blessed by that outreach of the community. It made us far more empathetic to our customers who experience fires because we serve customers who experience fire damage.

We’re empathetic, we’re much more in tune to the people who don’t have good insurance and can’t afford it and how we can assist them and help them. That generosity from the people around us certainly is carried with us and pays forward.

What is the biggest change, as a leader you’ve had to make?

The thing we’ve learned? I think generosity is far more than a financial transaction. I mean, for us, the idea of generosity as a financial transaction is now probably the lowest version of it. It’s the humanity. We’ve all talked about it, the relationships, listening to the people we work with, listening to our customers, being fair to them, being generous with our time. I think that’s so important.

But then, there is financial generosity as well. Surprise somebody is something else I’ve learned. If they ask for $500, if you’re able to give them a thousand you’d be amazed at the conversations you have. I had a guy on the street asking me for some change one time and I gave him $20 and he started crying and we talked for 10 minutes. If I had given pocket change, we would’ve just gone our separate ways. So try to surprise somebody with your generosity, whatever way that is, is what we’re trying to do.

Jud Savelle
President, Bishop Clean Care
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