ISSA Executive Director Reflects On The Past, Looks To The Future

By John Barrett, ISSA Executive Director

John Barrett

Congratulations to Maintenance Sales News on 40 years! This milestone is a testament to the publication’s longevity and our shared industry’s significance.

At ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, we also celebrate a big milestone: our 100th anniversary. After a year-long celebration with our membership and in our own media channels, we capped off ISSA’s centennial at the ISSA Show North America 2023 in Las Vegas, with special events featuring numerous individuals who have molded the industry into the powerhouse it has become today.

My career in the cleaning industry spans more than 30 years, and I have had the privilege to serve as executive director of ISSA for the past eight of them. It’s remarkable to look back at how far the association and industry have come. In this article, it’s my pleasure to highlight a few of the pivotal moments that have shaped ISSA and our industry while looking ahead to what could be in store for the next 100 years.

ISSA has been a resilient and leading force in the cleaning industry since its inception as a trade association for cleaning-product distributors in 1923. The association has grown from our six founding members to more than 10,500 members today, all of which are committed to changing the way the world views cleaning.

And speaking of change, it’s been at the core of ISSA’s business for many years as the association has evolved with the cleaning industry and the technological advancements that impact us all. Consider these key evolutions in the history of ISSA:

  • International expansion In 1967, the association went global by changing its name from the National Sanitary Supply Association to the International Sanitary Supply Association, or ISSA. The ISSA board, led then by Gordon Bodek, recognized the growth potential of a worldwide organization, and by 2000, international membership had grown to 1,000 members in Europe specifically. Now, global members represent about one-third of the association’s membership, and we have members in 138 countries around the world.
  • Facility service providers join the community After serving distributors and manufacturers for its first 80 years or so, in 2004, ISSA opened membership to facility service providers, including building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers. Nineteen years later, we had our first BSC president in Matt Vonachen, CEO of the Vonachen Group, in Peoria, IL, and this group of facility service providers is our largest and fastest-growing segment of membership.
  • Growth mode. Starting in 2014, ISSA began to expand our portfolio to unite the global cleaning community. We actively acquired and merged with key facility management and end-user entities, including Cleaning & Maintenance Management magazine, the Cleaning Management Institute, Cleanfax magazine, the Indoor Environmental Healthcare and Hospitality Association (IEHA), and the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International (ARCSI). Plus, ISSA continued to expand internationally and established offices in Australia, Canada, China, Italy, and South Korea to serve our members.
  • Global events network. In 2019, ISSA formed our strategic relationship with Informa, the largest trade show management company in the world, to manage ISSA Show North America and foster a growing portfolio of international shows. Together, we host leading cleaning and maintenance industry events on five continents under the ISSA brand, which is incredibly well respected.
  • Industry recognition and appreciation. While the COVID-19 pandemic raged, the world became more aware of the importance of cleaning for human health. ISSA’s then-newly acquired Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) division rose to the occasion to help businesses reopen safely with the GBAC® STAR Facility Accreditation program, which became a global brand nearly overnight. Plus, ISSA’s government affairs and advocacy department earned the attention of legislators and helped strengthen the collective voice of our important industry. As they say in Washington, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.” I’m pleased to report that ISSA advocates actively for our members’ business interests.

Clearly, the association flourished in its first 100 years, and it’s all thanks to continued support from our members and partners around the world.

So, what’s next? In the short term, I foresee more strategic growth and expansion, which will be critical to the association’s success and longevity for the next 100 years. ISSA’s vision is to be the leading resource for information, education, networking, and commercial opportunities — as well as the leading voice in government — for cleaning-industry firms worldwide. And in leveraging the strength of our global community to change the way the world views cleaning, we collectively increase the public and B2B buyers’ appreciation of cleaning as an investment in human health, the environment, and an improved bottom line. We hope you’ll join us!

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