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By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor

Aside from their importance in everyday life, what do the jan/san and insurance industries have in common? They both are often described as “non-sexy.” This does not mean, however, that companies in both lines of work are void of success and attracting top talent. In fact, the opposite can be true if proper company culture is understood, embraced and developed.

This was the message of Assurance Chief Marketing Officer Steven Handmaker, who discussed, “The Secrets To Creating A Competition-Crushing Culture,” during a recent ISSA event.

Assurance, of Schaumburg, IL, is one of the largest independent insurance brokerages in the United States. Over the past 10 years, Handmaker has helped leverage the power of employee culture, engagement and marketplace differentiation for the company, with the result being more than 100 national and local recognitions as a “top workplace.”

Improving the company’s culture has not only helped Assurance grow in employee satisfaction, but financially as well — doing so while in an industry that has become ever more commoditized.

According to Handmaker, authentic leadership is a major contributor to gaining and maintaining employee culture, trust, commitment and overall job satisfaction. Assurance has earned a 96 percent employee engagement ratio and, most importantly, learned to quantify how having a great workplace produces a significant return on investment, as well as a happier and healthier workforce.


If the insurance industry is seen by some as dull, the same has not been true for many employees at Assurance.

According to Handmaker, the company has been named by the Chicago Tribune as the top place to work in Chicago. Fortune Magazine has also listed Assurance as having one of the best workplaces in the United States and was the only insurance brokerage on the list.

“Why is this happening? It hasn’t happened because we have tried to make sure all of our employees feel like rock stars, although we do. It hasn’t happened because we let people bring their dogs to the office, which we don’t. We also don’t have a bunch of foosball tables in the workplace,” Handmaker said. “What we do have is a very explicit company culture. It’s a culture based on very specific principles and an ideology that says, ‘Talent wins.’”

He noted that it’s hard for companies involved in commoditized industries to distinguish themselves and stand out. It’s also hard for a company to prove it provides the greatest services, employs the smartest people and/or is the most competitive on price.

“Even if you believe that to be true about your company, what you need to know is this — every business leader will say the same thing, and if somebody else is saying it, it’s not your own story,” Handmaker said.

The question is, what truly makes a company unique and successful when commoditization is part of the picture? For Assurance, the answer is “culture.” The same can be true for those companies involved in jan/san distribution.

According to Handmaker, cultivating great culture at a business can help highly engaged employees outperform others, when it comes to company growth percentages and other key metrics.

“If there is one common denominator, it’s often ‘culture.’ Workplaces that have highly engaged environments can experience great results,” Handmaker said.

Having a highly engaged and great workplace, however, does not mean the workforce is always happy.

“Not every employee is going to come to work and be happy every day. If happy is your goal, you are doing it wrong,” Handmaker said. “Engagement should be your goal. Engagement matters.”


Culture is one of those words that most people think they understand but can’t fully define.

“If I were to ask a room full of people to write down the definition of ‘culture,’ I would get some zillion different answers. And, generally, they would all be correct,” Handmaker said. “Various definitions of ‘culture’ usually state something about ‘shared ideas’ and ‘shared values,’ which are both correct.

“I prefer to think of culture as an energy that finds and surrounds us. It includes a magical quality. It is also about common interests, shared beliefs, attitudes that align, shared experiences, core values — all of these things. I think culture is meant to get people excited at some level. I believe that is how business leaders should feel about culture. It often borders on a religious-feel.”

Culture that surrounds a company can become quite strong and experienced by both employees and customers. Handmaker gave Harley-Davidson and Apple as examples.

“How many brands and workplaces are there where people are so proud to align with a specific company that they will put its logo on their car bumper or have it tattooed on their arm? I see little ‘Apple’ stickers all of the time on cars,” he said. “These people want to be part of that specific company in some way. That is what a great culture can do.”


What are the underpinnings to building a great company culture? According to Handmaker, there are a few key points that have been identified by not only Assurance, but also the San Francisco, CA, based Great Place To Work Institute. They are:

• Have the right people “on the bus” — According to Handmaker, it really does matter that a company hires the right people.

“This is not because the right people are going to provide immediate success, it’s because the wrong people will kill you (as a company),” he said. “If you don’t have the right people ‘on the bus,’ this is one of the absolute killers in the workforce today. It matters.”

• Have clearly defined goals — “Do all of your employees know what your financial goals are as an organization? This seems elementary to me, but I talk with a lot of people and visit different businesses where many of their employees have no idea what the employer is trying to accomplish from a financial standpoint,” Handmaker said.

During the first 10 minutes of every marketing team meeting at Assurance, he added, each member of that team goes over the company’s financials. The same is true for other departments within the company.

• Engagement is the goal — Engagement is important not only for employees, but also customers.

“Engagement is essential all the way through,” he said. “Engagement can be measured and improved.”

• Transparency is vital — “Fortunately, at Assurance, our balance sheet is pretty simple and very accessible,” Handmaker said. “There is no hiding. Transparency is the way in which we operate.”

• Find the pain behind the pain — Working with employees is an involved process. Improvements in employee relations can be made in various ways. One of the first steps can involve employee surveys. This helps to truly recognize the wants, needs and desires of employees — as well as finding any hidden issues that may be upsetting them. Discussions with employees are also vital.

“What we (at Assurance) have continually found is that often, the first complaint from an employee is not the real complaint. The ‘pain behind the pain’ is something that really needs to be addressed,” he said. “Digging deeper matters. It helps solve problems that are really there among the workforce.”

• Appreciation and authenticity are free — “If you take away nothing else, please understand that your appreciation for a job well done by somebody else costs you nothing,” Handmaker said. “If you want your employees to believe in your leadership, if you want them to go along with your plans and have a great company culture, then you have to set good examples on how to act and how to be appreciative.

“Our employees (at Assurance) are the true stars of our company. We let them know this, and that we appreciate their hard work and dedication.”

• Fun and humor does not make you less smart — “Every day our employees start by reading a ‘quote of the day’ that has been sent to their computers. It typically involves a silly movie quote or song lyric, something fun to put a smile on their faces. The idea is to provide a sense of fun in the organization,” Handmaker said. “Fun brings everybody together. Pop culture works well as a device to share this fun. Don’t ignore the value of pop culture.”

• Success starts and ends with the “why” — Every company has its own reason of “why” it’s in business. At Assurance, it is to help customers “minimize risk and maximize health.”

“As an insurance brokerage, that is our job. That is what gets us excited, and every employee knows it,” he said. “We help people stay safe and stay healthy. We also help employers grow, which helps the economy. We help create fun, loving and exciting environments. This is the Assurance world.

“Every company should define its own vison and what it’s after.”

To help Assurance employees further understand their role in “minimizing risk and maximizing health,” Handmaker provided a challenge.

“I told all of my employees that if 85 percent of them would turn in a video selfie explaining how they have been ‘minimizing risk and maximizing health,’ they would be given a monetary reward,” he said. “I didn’t care how long each video was, whether two sentences or a movie. The result: 96 percent of these employees produced a video. Many were wacky and outlandish.

“The main objective of this challenge was met. Every employee who participated took the time to figure out what they do to contribute to the overall vision of our organization. It was well worth the money that we gave out as a result.”


Just about every company has posted a core set of values. The problem is, employees often struggle to remember what exactly their specific company’s core values are or stand for, Handmaker said. In response, Assurance has come up with its “DNA,” an easy-to-remember acronym that stands for “Dominate, Navigate and Appreciate.”

“Our ‘DNA’ is easy to remember and best defines our culture,” Handmaker said. “This is who we are as a company.

“No. 1, we seek to ‘Dominate.’ This is an aggressive word, and it may make some people uncomfortable. However, the truth is, we want to be the best at what we do. In our business, often when somebody wins, somebody loses. If you, as an employee, are uncomfortable with that, you do not truly want to win.

“We used to say, ‘Competitiveness is a value.’ Well, maybe, but you can be competitive and still lose. We don’t like to lose, so we talk about domination.”

The word “Navigate” refers to not only reaching desired goals as a company, but personally as well, such as with a specific career.

“We (as a company) are here to help our employees with their career navigation, just like we are here to help our clients,” Handmaker said. “And finally, ‘Appreciate,’ is part of our DNA. We find big and little ways to appreciate. For managers, this is part of their job, and it costs them nothing.”

Handmaker also outlined 11 “best and brightest” employee traits that are part of the Assurance HR interview guide. These 11 traits are: accountable, ambitious, caring, ethical, flexible, participative, positive, proactive, responsive, smart and understanding.

“This does not mean that in order to have a certain job at Assurance, you have to be great at all 11 traits. However, these are the traits that we (as a company) think about the most,” Handmaker said. “You may ask, why are there 11 traits? That number has cultural meaning with the movie, ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’ As I mentioned, pop culture plays a big role at our organization.”


Many co-workers are together in the work setting the traditional eight hours a day, five days a week. There is value, however, when these same people find the time to share experiences away from work.

Handmaker gave an example of co-workers, including himself, who helped with a home makeover project involving a bedroom for a child with a life-threatening disease.

“There were 12 of us from Assurance. Our group included one person from my marketing team along with co-workers from other departments,” he said. “We spent the day working on the child’s bedroom, which included a big reveal after the work was completed.

“The event provided an incredible bonding experience for everyone involved. It brought people together.”

Handmaker discussed another program at Assurance that has provided many positive influences on the company’s culture. This involves the Assurance “Eye of the Tiger (another pop culture reference) Employee Wellness Program.” It includes such benefits as on-site annual biometric screenings and flu shots, access to a health coach and dietician, on-site cooking and stretching demos, and the company’s Wellness Olympics.

“This program is not only good for the health of our employees and the company’s bottom line, many of the events bring our people together and create bonding experiences,” Handmaker said. “The question every employer should ask is, ‘Are we, as a company, bringing our people together for something good? Does it involve all ages, all cultures and all races?’”

Other past and current programs that Handmaker discussed that helped bring Assurance employees closer together were:

• An employee challenge that involved each person sending 37 handwritten notes over the course of a year — 20 to business contacts and 17 to personal contacts.

“Everyone who sent 37 of these notes received a monetary reward. Our employees blew through this goal with a crazy number of handwritten notes,” Handmaker said.

• A company leadership objective of posting blogs, involving non-work subjects, that employees can relate to in a positive way.

“Among the most popular of these blogs are human experiences from our leadership team that have nothing to do with business. They are about being a working mother, about the struggles of adopting children, about attending high school reunions — human experiences that many people can relate to,” Handmaker said. “You can’t believe the conversation that gets stimulated. I wrote a blog about a former teacher who had passed away, and what I had learned from her. My voicemail and email were overwhelmed with employees wanting to share their stories of past teachers.”

• The practice of publicly celebrating the successes of employees.

“We celebrate a lot. For example, if an employee passes a class or gets a promotion — you can bet that person will soon have a celebratory helium balloon at his/her desk,” Handmaker said. “Each employee also receives a birthday card and gift, sent to his/her home, as well as a congratulatory call from our CEO.

“Other events include employee appreciation days. These activities don’t cost a lot, and employees look forward to their arrival.”

• The use of video as a positive tool.

“We use video. We overuse video. People will watch three-minute videos all day long,” Handmaker said. “We use videos to recruit for company committees, for encouragement and for fun.

“It’s all about engagement. Culture is important because it helps your employees become more involved. In return, they will help your company succeed, while telling other talented people that, ‘This is a great place to work.’ Culture helps talent win. We, at Assurance, know this to be true, and have the awards and performance to prove its value. If we can do this in the insurance industry, I promise you it can be done in your (jan/san) industry.”

Assurance is a top 50 insurance brokerage, providing employee benefits and property and casualty insurance solutions to business operations across the United States. Steven Handmaker can be reached at 847-463-7176 or shandmaker@assuranceagency.com.

R.J. Schinner Announces New Location And Warehouse Expansion Plans

R.J. Schinner Co., Inc., (RJ Schinner), a redistributor to the commercial wholesale trade, announces a new location has been added to its coverage area. In addition, plans have been put in place to increase five existing warehouse locations. The additional location and the planned expansions will bring the total square footage of the RJ Schinner distribution facilities to 1.5 million square feet.

Ken Schinner, president of RJ Schinner said, “Our continued expansion is made possible by the hard work and dedication of all of our employees. We look forward to working with our manufacturer partners in bringing our services to the Northeast market, and in doing so, bringing exciting new opportunities to the distributors in that area.”

The Bethlehem, PA, location is an 80,000-square-foot facility, and will be fully operational in August 2018. This newly built branch will service the entire Northeastern region of the United States on RJ Schinner-owned trucks. It will be overseen by Gordon Eanes, executive vice president of the Southeast Region, with expanded responsibilities in the Northeast Region.

The company has also decided to expand warehouse space in five of its current locations. Menomonee Falls, WI, will take on approximately 15,000 additional square feet and Springfield, MO, and Nashville, TN, will each respectively add between 15-25,000 square feet of additional warehouse space. The Englewood, CO, location will be moving to a more centrally located and 18,000 square-foot larger location in Denver, CO, and the St. Louis, MO, location will be moving to a 9,000 square-foot larger facility.

Mike Wentland, vice president of operations, said, “We are excited to be either moving or taking on additional warehouse space for these locations. The continued growth we have experienced has been very encouraging, and made this expansion plan a necessity. The increased size of these warehouses will provide us with efficiencies to keep costs down, and at the same time maintain our service excellence for our customers.”

For more information about RJ Schinner, visit www.rjschinner.com.

Triple S Holdings Acquires Industrial Cleaning Products, Inc.

T-S Holdings, Inc., (d.b.a. Triple S Holdings) has announced the asset purchase of Industrial Cleaning Products, Inc., (ICPI) West Boylston, MA.

“Industrial Cleaning Products, Inc., (a member of Triple S since 2003) is a long standing, well-run organization with a broad base of customers in the central Massachusetts market area. We are very excited to welcome Industrial Cleaning Products and the ICPI Team to the Triple S Holdings family of businesses,” said Alan E. Sadler, president, Triple S Holdings.

“At 76 years of age, I can with confidence say that I am ready to ease into retirement. Knowing that there was not a third generation in line to take over the business, Michael and I decided that this was a good time to sell. Finding a buyer that would continue to provide opportunities for our employees and continue to provide our customers with the level of service and support that they have come to expect was a primary concern for us. Triple S Holdings provided us the opportunity to accomplish both of these goals; keeping ICPI in the Triple S family made the decision easier for us,” said Fran Tighe, past president and co-owner of ICPI.

Sadler said, “Fran Tighe will be taking on a consulting role, and assisting with the transition of customers to the company’s established sales team for the next 12 months. In addition, Michael Tighe will be serving as the branch manager of Triple S – Central MA, in the near term, and then transitioning to a role at Triple S Holdings corporate. Eric O’Connor will be the branch director of sales for Triple S – Central MA.

According to the company, Triple S Holdings was created, in part, to provide Triple S members and non-member owners of jan/san distribution companies with an exit strategy that would allow them to transition out of their businesses in a manner that would be least disruptive to their employees and customers.

For additional information, email info@tsh-inc.com or call 978-435-2700.

Mike Sawchuk Opens Jan/San Consulting Firm Designed To Assist Jan/San And Other B2B Companies

Mike Sawchuk, formerly an executive vice president at Avmor and Enviro-Solutions, both cleaning chemical solutions manufacturers based in Canada, has launched a new consulting firm, Sawchuk Consulting.

“I started Sawchuk Consulting as a way to utilize my extensive and multilevel experience in helping businesses grow and prosper,” said Sawchuk.

“Working with the great people at Avmor, Enviro-Solutions, as well as UL/Environment, I was able to help these companies build their brands, improve operations and management, and develop new markets and opportunities.”

As an example of what he has accomplished, Sawchuk spoke about his work at Enviro-Solutions.

“Even at the lowest points of the Great Recession, when many jan/san organizations were struggling, Enviro-Solutions was growing more than 30 percent each year, and secured 27 new distributors in the U.S. as well as distributors in Taiwan and Denmark.”

Sawchuk said the focus of the new company is to assist senior leaders and the owners of mid-size to large jan/san-related companies – manufacturers, distributors and contract cleaners – with the following:

• Develop and execute corporate strategies that drive sales growth;
• Help implement strategies that reduce operating costs and expenses;
• Boost revenues and profits;
• Offer assistance during management changes;
• Build company morale;
• Create innovative marketing and PR strategies; and,
• Brand optimization.

“He has a thorough understanding of the key business levers, the factors that influence each, and how to develop specific strategies and tactics to capitalize on opportunities," according to a release.

For more information, visit www.sawchukconsulting.com.

Mountville Mills Announces Merger With The Andersen Company To Create M+A Matting

Mountvillle Mills Inc., has merged with The Andersen Company to form M+A Matting.

“Founded in 1963 and 1974, respectively, both companies have built a solid reputation on providing quality matting to the commercial mat industry,” according to a press release.

David Hart, CEO of Mountville Mills said, “Combining the resources of Mountville and Andersen will expand the products and services offered to all of our commercial mat customers. Both Mountville and Andersen have a long-standing history of innovation and quality product development. This partnership places our combined companies at the forefront of unprecedented expansion and service within the commercial matting industry.”

The merger will not result in any plant or office closings; rather, positions will be added to support the change.

M+A Matting offers a complete range of traditional, promotional and anti-fatigue mats designed to improve the safety, protection, comfort and appearance of floors.

“M+A mats meet the highest quality standards and carry an unconditional customer satisfaction guarantee.”

The companies offer nearly a century of combined experience.

For more information, visit info@andersenco.com.

WAXIE Sanitary Supply Names Midas Regional Executive Vice President

Waxie Sanitary Supply has promoted Mike Midas to executive vice president for the Northern California, Pacific Northwest and Colorado regions. Midas has been with WAXIE for 12 years.

Pictured from left are: Charles Wax, Waxie chairman/CEO; Mike Midas, executive vice president for the Northern California, Pacific Northwest and Colorado regions; and Jeff Roberts, president/COO.

“During his tenure, he led the Portland branch through a start-up phase and has also been a part of acquiring WAXIE’s Seattle and Alaska branches. For the past seven years, he has been the general manager for the Colorado branch, and he has led growth in the region,” said Waxie.

Prior to WAXIE, he had a total of 16 years of combined experience in the sanitary supply industry, senior management and sales. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and served for many years in the U.S. Navy Surface Warfare division as a lieutenant commander, where he served his country aboard the USS Midway before she was decommissioned.

Visit www.waxie.com for more information.

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