Don Welch, President
Professional Maintenance of Illinois, Inc., has made its home in Peoria since 1969, when Jay Vonachen and four investors began providing contract janitorial service to commercial clients. “At the time, the Vonachen family was in the janitorial supply business through Vonachen Service and Supply,” said President Don Welch. “Jay Vonachen had the vision that the future would require providing a total solution to cleaning needs.”
Today, the cleaning service industry has evolved throughout the country, Welch said. “Forty percent of the total janitorial service market is represented by companies who choose to outsource all of their cleaning needs to a janitorial service company rather than hire, train, and manage their own people and purchase supplies as well.”
As for Professional Maintenance (PM) specifically, Welch said the business has diversified in both the type of services offered and the locations where those services are offered. “Vonachen’s vision of providing a total solution to cleaning needs has evolved into providing complete facility and support services. We’re always looking for new ways we can support our customers and help them focus on their core business. The PM business has grown somewhat consistently over the last 33 years, and we expect it to continue to grow as commercial offices, industrial manufacturing facilities, health care managers, and educational administration continue the movement to outsource janitorial and industrial services.”
Expansion also took place in the geographic area in which services are performed. “We now provide services throughout Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Mississippi. We attribute this growth to the quality of our people and the service we provide, as well as the relationships we’ve developed with our existing customers,” Welch said.
Over the years, PM evolved from a strictly commercial office cleaning service into providing a variety of other services such as one-time specialty cleaning, industrial shipping and receiving, crib management, filing, tool setting, painting, computer services, and aisle stripping, Welch said. The company also substantially expanded the number of employees it retains. “PM began with two employees—Jay Vonachen and Maynard Wallace. Today, we employ nearly 1,000 full- and part-time employees.”
He said there are a number of things that set PM part from its competitors, but the primary elements are its people and years of experience in the business. “We work very hard to recruit and retain the best people. We put a big focus on continuous training—from our hourly employees on the day they begin work to our supervisors and managers at company-wide seminars four times a year. Over the years, we’ve developed a number of initiatives geared toward rewarding and retaining employees, such as a 401(k) plan, length of service awards, employee of the quarter awards, and so forth.”
Welch said in the beginning, the company hired part-time employees and wouldn’t hire someone unless the full-time employer would provide a reference. “Today, in the Peoria area alone we work with more than 20 agencies to recruit employees. In recent years, we’ve expanded the scope of our recruiting efforts and have recruited non-traditional applicants such as retired workers, disabled workers, and non-English-speaking workers. We’ve been recognized for our efforts in employing disabled workers by the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Office of Rehabilitation Services, and the Central Illinois Center for Independent Living.”
Attractive benefits packages are another relatively recent addition to PM. “In the beginning, there were no fringe benefits—just an hourly wage. Today, benefits administration is another major part of what we do. We have a wide range of benefits including vacation, personal days, health insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance to name a few. We developed a KUDOS awards program whereby employees get KUDOS certificates for good work and can redeem those certificates for prizes. For our management employees, we developed incentive programs to promote and reward superior performance. We’re always looking for new ways to attract and retain our quality workforce,” Welch said.
In the decades since its inception, PM has seen radical changes in its industry, according to Welch. “Solutions, chemicals, equipment, processes, and procedures continually evolve. It’s a constant challenge to stay current. This business is extremely competitive, and we struggle with the need to pay our employees well and provide the best value to our customers at the same time. We’re certainly much larger than when we started. This growth and the changing business climate required us to standardize more of our processes, procedures, and policies. Ultimately, most of the changes are good for us as they force us to look for better ways to serve our customers and grow our employees. Our challenge is to adapt to change more effectively than our competitors.”
Welch said the most challenging part of managing PM has been training and recruiting the very best people. “It’s a process that will never end, and we want to be considered a great employer. The most rewarding part of what we do is facilitating the growth of our people.” IBI