100 Years And Counting: ISSA Celebrates The Past, Prepares For The Future

Speaker Debbie Sardone, right, conducts an educational session during the 2023 ISSA Show North America.

One hundred years of innovation, networking, education and looking toward the future were celebrated in grand style during the 2023 ISSA Show North America, which took place at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, in Las Vegas, in mid-November. ISSA turned 100 years old in 2023, a milestone celebrated by various events during the four-day show.

Special this year was the “Then, Now, Forever | Celebrating 100 Years Of ISSA” spotlight session, which paid homage to ISSA’s past, celebrated the industry’s achievements, and provided a glimpse into what’s next. That night, the BIG BASH + ISSA’s Centennial Celebration took place at the Hakkasan Nightclub At MGM Grand Hotel & Casino.

ISSA Executive Director John Barrett opened the spotlight session, providing a brief history of the association’s past 10 decades, while also celebrating the many people and companies that have played a key role in helping ISSA, and the entire cleaning industry, grow since 1923. Barrett noted that during his past seven years as executive director, he has witnessed ISSA members “exhibit incredible courage while dealing with enormous professional challenges, navigate massive change, execute brilliant entrepreneurship, and most importantly for me, foster an environment where deep and abiding friendships are always present.”

Barrett also quoted the founder of ISSA (then known as the National Sanitary Supply Association-NSSA) Alfred Richter, who once said of the association’s start: “I realized there was a great deal I did not now about the business. I presumed that a conference of successful distributors, drawn from various metropolitan cities, would result in an exchange of ideas that would be beneficial to all.”

According to Barrett there were seven founding distributor members of what would become ISSA in 1923, along with a few manufacturers. All of the distributors were from Midwestern cities.

“Do you think they (the founders) ever thought, for even one minute, what they dreamed up in 1923 would become today’s association?” Barrett asked, during the spotlight session. “I would like to extend a special thank you to all the past (ISSA) presidents and board members for their contributions over the years. It’s a truly notable group of individuals who have provided their wisdom, bold thinking, and unflinching support.”

Along with the association’s beginning, Barrett also highlighted two other key events in its history. The first was the rebranding of ISSA in 1967 from the National Sanitary Supply Association. NSSA became the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) to reflect its growing global footprint. Barrett credited 1967 ISSA Board President Gordon Bodek for initiating the change. Bodek is quoted to have said, “Recognizing the growth potential of a worldwide organization, we changed the name of the association. Time has proven this vision prophetic as our association continues its worldwide growth.”

Today, Barrett said, ISSA has 10,500 member companies located in 134 countries.

Another big change came in 2004, when ISSA membership was opened to Facility Service Providers (FSPs). Barrett said this group now comprises two/thirds of ISSA global membership and represents the fastest growing segment. Outgoing ISSA President Matt Vonachen was the first association president from the Building Service Contractors (BSC) segment, a specific class of FSPs.

Barrett also highlighted two current ISSA industry partners — the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) — and well as current distributor buying and marketing groups: Afflink, Distributor Partners of America (DPA), Network Distribution, Pro-Link, Triple S, The United Group, and NISSCO.

Among other speakers during the spotlight session was ISSA Show North America Director Ed Nichols. He stated this year’s event in Las Vegas attracted 600-plus exhibiting companies that displayed their products and services on the trade show floor, with nearly 100 of those businesses being first-time ISSA exhibitors. The 2023 ISSA Show North America also included numerous educational sessions and workshops. Nichols noted the several of those events were standing room only.

A highlight at each ISSA Show is the General Business Meeting, which takes place during the last day of the event. It traditionally includes the introduction of new, returning, and outgoing members of the ISSA Board of Directors. An update of the past year for the association and cleaning industry, along with a look ahead, are also traditionally presented.

During his address at the meeting, Barrett discussed what he referred to as six virtuous examples of what is going right at ISSA. They are:

  • The success of ISSA’s Rethink What Clean Means (rethinkclean.org) campaign, which has featured comedian, actor, host — and known germophobe — Howie Mandel. The objective is to educate people about the pivotal importance of cleaning, while also supporting businesses as they elevate the standard of clean. To help raise awareness on the importance of cleanliness, Mandel presented an online video series, “Howie Clean It,” taking viewers on a journey to discover the hidden grime in seemingly clean spaces.

Barrett stated during this year’s General Business Meeting that the campaign has garnered 640 million impressions and 7.9 million views over the past 12 months, far exceeding expectations.

“Our plan is to now extend the campaign with new investment involving public relations. Stay tuned,” he said.

  • The success of recent grant programs involving ISSA, with prospects of future success in this area of focus. It was announced in 2022 that ISSA had been awarded a $160,000 grant from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for workplace safety and health training, related to infectious diseases. Since then, a second grant has been received by ISSA from the Environmental Production Agency, according to Barrett.

“We will obviously try to attain more grants to support our industry in the future. It feels like we are just getting started,” Barrett said.

  • The association’s various advocacy efforts that involve working with local, state, and federal governments.
  • ISSA’s training and certification programs, which continue to help association members improve their skills and build a competitive advantage.
  • A recent nomination of ISSA for the U.S. Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which is the highest recognition given by the U.S. government to employers for their support of employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve. Nominations must come from a Guard or Reserve member who is employed by the organization they are nominating, or from a family member.

Barrett said during the General Business Meeting that unbeknownst to ISSA officials, an ISSA employee who currently serves in the National Guard nominated the association for the award.

“We will find out this spring if ISSA will be selected, but I have to tell you, what really matters is that this person thought enough of our organization to nominate us,” Barrett said.

  • The celebration of ISSA’s 100th year, highlighting the dedication and hard work of all ISSA members over many years to make such longevity possible.

The 2024 ISSA Board of Directors includes new ISSA President Matthew Schenk, who is also president and CEO of Midlab. The ISSA president’s post is a one-year term. Schenk succeeds Matt Vonachen, of Vonachen Group, who now serves on the board as Immediate Past President/International Director.

“I stand before you with great enthusiasm and anticipation as the new ISSA president. It’s a privilege and honor to serve in this capacity. During my term as president, we will embark on an important and exciting journey, the formulation of a strategic plan that will shape the direction of our association over the next decade,” Schenk said, during the General Business Meeting. “Why is that significant? The answer lies in the role ISSA plays in the success of our industry — serving members in three fundamental ways. First and foremost, ISSA is the preeminent source of training and education for our industry. In a world where technology advancements and shifts in the workforce are unprecedented, it’s imperative that ISSA leads the way in keeping our members informed. Our commitment to stay ahead of the curve is key in today’s rapidly changing landscape. Knowledge is power.

“Secondly, we find ourselves operating in a charged political environment, where state and federal decisions have a substantial impact. Our industry is comprised of multiple businesses, and lobbying on an individual basis is an arduous task. That is precisely why an association like ISSA is so important. We advocate for the betterment of our industry at the highest levels of government, ensuring our collective voices are heard.

“Finally, ISSA provides an invaluable platform for the exchange of ideas, promotion of commerce, and networking within our industry. The annual ISSA Show, along with other platforms, such as CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard), GBAC (Global Biorisk Advisory Council) and The ISSA Hygieia Network are where professionals — from all over the world — come together to share insights, build relationships, and collaborate to find solutions.

“In closing, I am thrilled to be working with the highly professional ISSA staff and to use my experience to help our industry navigate the ever-evolving landscape of challenges and opportunities. Together, we will shape the future of our association. I look forward to an exciting year ahead. Let’s unite, innovate, and lead ISSA forward.”

Outgoing ISSA President Matt Vonachen also addressed attendees during the General Business Meeting.

“It’s been a privilege to serve as president of our association during its 100th anniversary. It’s also an honor to be the first building service contractor to serve as president. This symbolizes our association’s evolution, adaptability, and willingness to embrace diverse perspectives,” Vonachen said. “As I exit as president, Matt (Schenk) and the entire ISSA Board of Directors will continue building toward the future with the design of a new strategic plan. Let’s all work together to better clean, drive innovation, and begin the next 100 years with the goal of making the industry an even better place.”

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