Distribution Hygiene Services have been providing cleaning services to the food industry for the past ten years. Initially a division of Hydro Power Services Ltd, last year it incorporated as a separate company, to provide bespoke services to the distribution and logistics Industry. As such, DHS offers specialist services few other cleaning companies can offer, including ‘builder’s cleans’ carried out before new sites are handed over.
A growing area, DHS’s food service division specialises in the cleaning of coolers in distribution centres in both chilled and freezer chambers. It regularly carries out annual cleans for major food distribution depots including Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Wincanton, Waitrose, Brakes, 3663 and a number of smaller companies, and is acknowledged as the leading authority in this field. Dr Robert Perryment, founder and Chairman of Distribution Hygiene Services Limited, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – How did you come to start Distribution Hygiene Services?
Having been commissioned in the Parachute Regiment, when I left the army I became a Lloyd’s broker, which took me to Africa and the Middle East. I then moved to Aberdeen, where I was involved in the North Sea oil industry and spent three years as Rector of Aberdeen University. After setting up the first ‘no frills’ airline Aberdeen London Express (ALEX) I assisted Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s EasyJet to launch their initial Aberdeen and Inverness routes. Reaching 61, I was bored by the prospect of retirement: on a trip to California I came across an innovative cleaning machine that took chewing gum off the sidewalks. Having always hated chewing gum on pavements and wondered why we couldn’t do the same in Britain, I decided to import the first machine to the UK.
We initially provided cleaning services for city centres and major visitor attractions. We won the contract for the area around the London Eye, and went on to sanitise the area from Westminster Bridge to the Royal Festival Hall. We grew rapidly until next winter, when the tourist-related work slowed. Near to our HQ was a Sainsbury Distribution Centre. We started work for the food distribution industry by cleaning their loading bays, leading to providing a bespoke service to the food distribution industry.
WLN – As Chairman, what is your role day to day?
I’m out there leading the business from the front. I like to meet clients, and enjoy it when they challenge us to solve their problems. One of our specialities is cooler cleans in chilled and freezer chambers. As a matter of course we take airflow readings before and after cleans; typically we record increases in airflow (efficiency) of 60-75%. Much of the electricity these establishments use in refrigeration is wasted because the dirt prevents heat exchange happening, so the simple act of cleaning the coolers can vastly reduce their emissions. Recent challenges include dealing with paint spillages; cost-effectively sanitising food distribution trailers; removing algae from a huge frontage that bears an important brand name, when the landscaping won’t allow you to get close enough with an access platform; and cleaning a chamber at minus 27 C. We have research being carried out in nanotechnology in the USA, whilst chemists from the Czech Republic are assisting us to provide an even better service.
WLN – Who else is in the senior management team?
Our Operations Manager, Dave Rogers, makes sure work is progressing smoothly, and our Site Supervisors ensure the detail of each day’s work is covered. Our Hygiene Audit Director, Maria Perryment, carries out rigorous hygiene inspections before, during and after each ‘deep clean.’ Our latest recruit is Glenn Ward, our National Sales Manager. Glenn was previously with Hako for the past 21 years, and understands the logistics industry’s requirements. We are a family-owned business, with a single motto: The customer is always right!
WLN – Where are you based?
DHS is based in the M11/M1 corridor, just south of Cambridge.
WLN – How big is Distribution Hygiene Services?
This is our first year as DHS, but we normally turn over more than £1m per year and average 25 employees. We’re a tight unit, with a small HQ and close-knit teams of a supervisor plus two or three operatives. Food and supermarkets are still very important to us, but with Glenn Ward on the team we’re expanding into the general warehouse and logistics (W&L) area.
WLN – Do you cover the whole UK? Do you have similar operations outside the UK?
We cover mainland UK from Aberdeen to Exeter: we’ve had enquiries from Northern and Southern Ireland, which we’re planning to develop. We have an associate company in San Francisco, who clean big buildings but haven’t got into food or ‘W&L’ yet: we’re having an exploratory meeting in May to look at the opportunities.
WLN – What are the benefits for companies to outsource their warehouse and distribution centre cleaning rather than do it in house?
With food, working environments operate 24/7: most in-house cleaners won’t go above 2 metres, so you find great tidemarks at high level. Also, if you want coolers cleaned more often, outsourcing is an effective solution.
In my experience, in-house cleaners rarely have a strong team leader on hand, so supervision falls to the shift manager, who has other priorities. The result is a general slippage that you can live with, but only up to a point.
WLN – If retailers and others already have an external facilities management company in place, what are the benefits of bringing you in to clean distribution centres and warehouses?
It comes back to whether you have International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) licences and your staff are happy to be working at height – it’s a cold, wet, dirty job which most people are pleased to contract out!
We provide an after-clean report. We spot things you don’t see on the ground, like broken pipes and turbines, and take airflow readings, which we tabulate and graph to show the improvement.
WLN – Can you give us an idea of the number of industrial premises of different kinds that you clean every year?
We carry out four or five major high level cleaning jobs in large warehouses every month. As well as supermarkets and food and drink companies, we subcontract for refrigeration companies.
Food distribution centres are in three parts, ambient, chilled and frozen. In the chilled area, the evaporators collect dirt and are prone to clog. A large DC spends £750,000 annually on electricity: we typically see 60-70% airflow increases from cleaning the coolers, so the cost of our work pales into insignificance.
In frozen sections, we’re often called in to help with de-icing after freezer breakdowns. We found a tool for breaking ice in Alaska, which we’ve adopted for our teams to use.
WLN – What terms do you work on?
We’re happy to quote for any requirement for the food and drink or logistics industries. Unlike regular contract cleaning, which tends to be negotiated on price, resulting in survival of the cheapest, we prefer to offer a precise level of service.
We operate as one business, which means we can give our people variety and they stay motivated.
WLN – What processes do you have in place to maintain standards?
We carry out in house training and have an excellent Health & Safety record, with no reportable occurrences to date. I meet the team leaders once a week and in between we communicate electronically, which means constant debriefing, and we keep the emphasis on health and safety. In our quotes we break sites down into small areas, give full risk assessments and include digital photos. We have £10m of public liability insurance and full Working at Height cover.
WLN – What are the legal requirements for cleanliness in warehouses?
Some organisations have wall detergent specs, but there are no industry standards. That said, Environmental Health people can take wall swabs for analysis if they wish.
WLN – How often should warehouses be cleaned inside and outside?
This depends totally on the local environment. A dry store or an ambient chamber can usually be kept to an acceptable level of hygiene with an in-house team for four or five years. Chilled chambers probably need a ‘deep clean’ at least every three years with frozen chambers – depending on good door discipline – only being cleaned every five years.
WLN – What constitutes a ‘deep clean’?
In a deep clean, we thoroughly clean all walls and ceilings including any coolers/evaporators, roller doors, loading bays and floors if required.
WLN – How do you minimise the disruption to distribution centres when your teams come in?
Our aim is to work within Health & Safety parameters and cause the least disruption. The most important part of our supervisors’ job is diplomacy. We are always prepared to work anti-social hours. We don’t flood the work space with cleaners, preferring to use a small, expert team that ‘nibble’ around the edges, barely noticeable until you look up and realise the place has suddenly become clean!
WLN – What’s involved in a ‘builders clean’ of a new warehouse?
Before the handover of a new DC or warehouse, we remove all dirt and debris left by the builders, polish and clean to make it shiny bright for the beneficial owner to move in.
WLN – What’s involved in an exit clean at the end of occupancy?
At the end of the lease, the landlord wants the building in good condition, cleaned to a reasonable state. We’ve just quoted for an exit clean for a company cleaning trays for supermarkets. They had grease and mould problems, and needed to find new ways of cleaning.
In the recent recession a lot of companies have gone bust. When that happens, they don’t worry about the cleanliness of the warehouse environment, so the landlord has to clean up. That’s the time to call us – the cost of a clean adds far more to the rate per square foot that can now be obtained for a rental, and it’s good for business.
WLN – Do you clean the outsides of buildings?
Yes, a growing part of our business is exteriors. If your name is on the building, it’s an important part of your image and you want it to be clean. More and more leases now have a requirement for cleaning the outsides of buildings every three or four years.
WLN – In your opinion are Britain’s warehouses clean enough for the job, or do our warehouses make us the dirty old man of Europe?
The Germans and Swiss are way ahead on cleaning: as we get more involved with our US partners, it’ll be interesting to see how the Americans do things. UK retailers differ widely in the cleanliness of their distribution centres – let’s just leave it at that for the moment! We’re seeing a new trend, with many companies building disaster plans covering everything from flood to sewage overflow and fuel spill. They’re trying to envisage all contingencies, and we’re often asked how we can help.
WLN – Does UK industry place enough importance on cleaning warehouses?
Last year, through to the end of December, it was noticeable that companies were sitting on their hands: most of our work was ‘fire – fighting’, and non-vital cleaning was largely on hold, but it’s picking up again now, it must – you can’t store food in unhygienic locations.
WLN – Do you use specially developed access equipment?
We do own some access equipment, but usually hire access platforms and so on from local suppliers near the job.
WLN – Do you sell or contract hire cleaning equipment, scaffolding, cradles and so on?
No, we don’t, we leave that to people who specialise in equipment hire.
WLN – In chilled and frozen environments, what are the legal requirements for cleanliness?
It’s constantly changing: Environmental Health carry out spot checks, and if they see dirt hanging off ceilings, they grade it red, amber or green. They have power to stop you using a building, but generally come back in three weeks’ time and expect improvement.
WLN – Do you carry out cleanliness/hygiene audits as a separate service?
Yes, we do carry out ‘pure’ inspections: our audit director, Maria Perryment, is very experienced at doing it, and it’s a service for which we welcome requests.
WLN – Are you members of any industry bodies? What industry standards are you accredited to?
We’re members of the Food Storage and Distribution Federation, and are looking at joining appropriate bodies on the warehouse side. We have applied for Safe Contractor status and are awaiting accreditation.
WLN – How much capacity do you have to take on new cleaning contracts?
It’s an open book: in terms of extra staff there are plenty of good people out there looking for work, and we have capacity to double our operations in the next 12 months.
WLN – How quickly can you quote, and start on new contracts?
We can move from initial enquiry to site visit in five to six days, and quote within 48 hours of survey. Our lead-time to start work is usually two weeks, unless it’s an emergency clean up.
WLN – What are the major factors affecting demand for your services?
The biggest one is the economy: there’s a general feeling in industry that they need to clean up, after neglecting hygiene in the recession.
WLN – Do you think the recession is over?
From our point of view, we are now seeing distinct signs of recovery. In the last month we’ve put out over £500,000 of new quotes, of which we should get the lion’s share. Things are infinitely better than this time last year.
WLN – Finally, where do you see Distribution Hygiene Services going from here?
People must eat and distribution centres will keep getting dirty, and Environmental Health are likely to become more stringent than less. As fast as we clean these premises, they start getting dirty again! If you want to sell or lease a big shed it had better be clean: if you are the beneficial owner of industrial property, it makes sense to ensure that both exterior and interior elevations are ‘deep cleaned’ regularly, or otherwise you will see the asset value diminish rapidly.
In its present form, the business will probably reach its ultimate size in the next five years. Provided we continue to offer the same service, we’ll keep growing organically and go on prospering and expanding.
Distribution Hygiene Services Limited Tel: 01763 287267 www.distributionhygiene.co.uk Enquiries to Glenn Ward, National Sales Manager Tel: 07581 262771