GBC Facility Services is a Toronto-based company founded by Izzy Waknin; it provides daily and weekly cleaning services for commercial clients. In its first four years of operation, Izzy took GBC from its humble beginnings with a client base of two to servicing hundreds of commercial offices in the greater Toronto area.
Interestingly, Izzy manages his company remotely, as he and his family moved from Toronto to Florida during COVID. But what most struck me in our conversation is that while Izzy is a successful young entrepreneur at the helm of a thriving business, he continually talks about the times when he was not successful in his young business career.
Today, in addition to serving as CEO of his own business, Izzy is in the midst of acquiring another cleaning company, a move that he sees as key to business growth.
Our conversation provided insight into the journey and honest reflections of a young entrepreneur who is still in the early stages of his career. Often, we judge success by a person’s financial achievement or the number of their employees, though neither is a true barometer. Rather, real business success is the ability to continually reflect, adjust and refocus on the best course for your business.
“I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My parents moved to Lakewood when I was four years old. My mother had family there, and my father got a job as an Ivrit teacher. Today he is a real estate agent with a focus on Toms River properties.
“I went to Yeshiva Kol Torah in Lakewood and then to Mesivta of Eatontown. For a while, I learned in TJ (Yeshivah Tiferet) in Eretz Yisrael under Rav Chananya Grunwald.
“I had the entrepreneurial bug from the time I was a teenager. In the summer after 11th grade, I started a landscaping business in Lakewood. I did some local advertising, found workers and got a decent small business going. I couldn’t afford new equipment, so I bought used lawn mowers. Of course, several broke down during the summer and had to be fixed. It was a real learning experience for me. I especially learned the value of delegation, and I learned it the hard way, because I had no clue how to do it. I was doing lots of the ground work myself, such as driving my workers around. It would have been nice if there was someone to help me manage the business. I knew there had to be a better way.
“That summer, I was cutting a customer’s lawn when he asked me to give him a quote on leveling the yard. I quoted him something under $5k, when it really should have been $20k. I had to bring in trucks of dirt, and I should have built what’s called a retaining wall to hold the new dirt, but again, I had no clue what I was doing.
“At the end of the summer, I sold my client list and my equipment to an older friend of mine who had an established landscaping business. I ran into him recently, and he told me that he still has those clients.
“I came back to New Jersey and tried working with my father as a residential real estate agent, but I didn’t like it. I wanted to focus on commercial properties, so I joined a commercial real estate brokerage firm. I worked on serious deals, especially a particularly large one that ended up falling through. I was feeling frustrated with the entire real estate field, and I wanted out. At the same time, I got married, and since my wife is from Toronto, we decided to move there.
“I moved to Toronto without having a job in place. There were two special Yidden, Chanan Sturm of NJS Capital and Shmuel Werner of Wertex, who said they would offer me work, but they both had to wait a while to hire me because of scheduling issues in their companies. I’m from Lakewood, where things are fast-paced. I realized that in Canada, things move at a bit of a slower pace.
“In the meantime, I was trying to see what else was out there, and I thought it could be a good idea to buy a company. Looking back, I really can’t tell you what I was thinking, looking to buy a company when I didn’t have much money. The truth is that I didn’t know enough not to look into buying a company at that stage.
“I started looking at ads for local businesses that were for sale, and I found one that was somewhat affordable: a cleaning company. The owner would send cleaners to do basic and deep-cleaning jobs in residential and commercial properties. I wasn’t interested in residential cleaning at all; I thought it would be too much of a hassle to schedule those jobs. So I didn’t pursue trying to buy that company. But the business concept interested me, and it stuck in my mind. Cleaning is something that almost every business needs, and I thought it was a business model I could emulate. It also seemed like a business that I would be able to scale, and one that would have steady revenue. Plus, I could start without much initial funding.
“I knew that Chanan and Shmuel both had large office buildings, and I offered to take care of the cleaning for them. I gave them each a price quote, and incredibly, even though they had just offered to hire me to work for their companies, they both agreed to become my clients. One didn’t have a steady cleaning company at the time, and the other was not happy with the service they were using. Although I was just starting out, Chanan was kind enough to allow me to service three of his company’s buildings. Today, we service about 18 NJS Capital buildings.
“With those two clients in place, I spent around $500 on a vacuum cleaner and some basic cleaning supplies. I put up an ad looking for cleaners and found my first few employees. I priced out the cleaning per hour, charging the clients more than what I paid my employees. The first few months, I made $2,000 in revenue each month.
“I started networking, cold calling business owners and managers, and visiting buildings and gyms advertising my services, saying I would clean their properties for a better price and provide a better service.
“One of my biggest clients came about through a gym membership at LA Fitness. I became friendly with the branch manager, who connected me with the higher-ups in the company. I managed to get a meeting with the director of operations, and he offered us the opportunity to perform a free demo at one of their gyms. We gave it a real deep clean, and they were happy with what they saw. Eventually, we serviced most of their gyms in Ontario.
“We provided a unique service for LA Fitness. They already had routine cleaning; what we did was a deep scrub and cleaning of their washrooms and gym floors from time to time. As with many commercial cleaning jobs, the work took place after hours. It’s a complex job with many specific chemicals and tools, but we got the job done, and over time, they hired us for more and more of their gyms.
To read more, subscribe to Ami