Squeaky Clean

Cannon Services

Ten years ago, in a re-branding move, the company morphed into “One Complete Solution” in part due to the fact that other companies under the umbrella deal with a variety of different services. OCS companies provide everything from contract cleaning to aviation cleaning, security, HVAC maintenance and catering, with Cannon being the specialist in commercial washroom hygiene. Business in Focus spoke with its President, Peter Farrell about being a part of such a storied company and how Cannon started small and has grown over the course of the last forty years.

The Canadian business began modestly in 1974, launched by a retiring sales manager from the UK. It remained small until 1996 when Peter took over in a joint venture with Cannon and another Canadian company based out of Montreal. Most people are familiar with Cannon, but may not know that it is so much more than just a hygiene business. Beyond paper products, soap, baby change tables, hand dryers, and washroom automation, Cannon also supplies first aid kits, first aid stations, and pest control solutions. Cannon services primarily non-residential facilities, though it does maintain a small residential side directly attached to its commercial businesses in the form of pest control.

The company’s customers include Tim Hortons, General Motors and the TD Centre in downtown Toronto. “It’s a property management market, a commercial market, industrial manufacturing, warehousing, hospitality, education, healthcare, retail etc.,” explains Mr. Farrell. “Our largest segment, which only represents 20 percent of our business, is property management and the owner building market. The others are equally weighted.” It is a diverse offering and part of the reason for the company’s success.

There are many other reasons for the success of Cannon Services, one of which comes from its use of hand-held bar code readers. The company started using this technology about twelve years ago as a way to show accountability to clients on the hygiene disposal side. The industry was plagued by the fact that the customers could not gauge the completion of work on exchanging and servicing all of the disposal units; one that has been serviced looks essentially the same as one that was not. “That was always met with a little suspicion from customers,” Mr. Farrell explains. “So we felt there was an opportunity to prove to them that we had exchanged all the units. All of our service items then became bar coded which showed the customer categorically that the work was done.”

At the time, no other industry participant was using this technology, and some still do not. It has become a very powerful sales tool for Cannon’s teams when they meet with potential customers as it makes the clients’ auditing a little easier. And the heavy investment has paid dividends in other ways, as well; it has a spin-off benefit in terms of productivity, scheduling and reducing the paper reports and archaic manual systems. “So what started out as a powerful message to customers became a very powerful tool for us to manage our business.”

A new product that has proven a huge success is the CannonCurve™, a feminine hygiene product disposal unit. That is not new per se, but Cannon formed it with a sleek, award winning shape and design that had not previously been seen in the industry. The product comes with decorative hygienic wraps, offering a more attractive aesthetic than the conventional models. The wrap idea was then extended to support women’s cancers with this very specific women’s product. It became a ‘Charity Wrap,’ and features the familiar pink ribbon which says, “This facility supports the fight to end women’s cancers.”

Cannon gives half the revenues from the wrap sales to the Canadian Cancer Society to fight women’s cancers. “The wrap does a number of things,” Mr. Farrell shares. “It adds awareness to the issue. We saw it as a very unique opportunity because you have a very specific product for women and a very specific women’s cause. When we presented this to the CCS they were over the moon with it because it is a terrific initiative. Thousands of dollars have been raised and the CCS sends a letter to thank the customer for their support.”

As for the company’s competition, Mr. Farrell explains that Cannon has simply taken the leadership role in the market. “We would certainly be the biggest in the category,” he says. “These things are arbitrary, but for a long time we just considered ourselves leaders in this segment – also because of our global connections. We are also a leader due to our redistribution of a number of products from Rubbermaid, Gojo, Dyson and Kimberly-Clark. When innovations are discovered on their end we are always first to get them due to our large go-to strategies which benefit those companies. From a customer perspective, partnering with Cannon means that global innovation will come to them first because it comes to us first.”

Indeed, anyone working with a small regional player instead of Cannon is simply not likely to find the latest technology and products. Cannon scours the globe for the latest products and ideas and, in the UK, it has a team dedicated to product innovation. The team looks for innovation in technology, marketing, tablets, germicides for its disposal units, non-aerosol fragrance units, and more.

Cannon has not dealt with any Herculean obstacles, but has undertaken a slight image shift and rebranding. Between 1996 when the company started and 2005 it was known as Cannon Hygiene and dealt strictly with washrooms and feminine hygiene product disposal. Mr. Farrell wanted to launch a series of alternate service platforms to increase the customer base which is when he started the pest control division. The challenge was to get his customers to look at Cannon as more than just a hygiene disposal provider. So, Hygiene was taken off the name and replaced with Services. “That was the beginning of trying to get the industry to recognize us for facility support services,” he says.

It took two to three years for the industry to finally get comfortable knowing that Cannon provided a number of essential facility services. “We are now at the point where we are recognized for multiple services. Two years ago we bought a first aid service company in Quebec and the introduction of that service platform went flawlessly with our existing groups. We are also going to be moving very aggressively into other service platforms and we have the right foundation in place in order to do it.” Expansion will come in the form of alternative service platforms which will be introduced to existing customers and the company will also continue to consider some geographic expansion in Canada and parts of the U.S.

For a company that does the kind of work that Cannon does, environmental issues should be at the forefront of what it does. Cannon does not disappoint and, in numerous ways, is working toward making sure that its business is environmentally sound. All of its facilities fully support recycling initiatives. “Because we are in the washroom services business, we generate lots of recyclable materials like aerosol cans, air freshener and urinal sanitizing cartridges, batteries and related packaging materials. Our technicians are out there every day servicing thousands of pieces of equipment and they bring everything back to our facilities to get recycled. We also participate in the Ontario Stewardship program for battery recycling.”

Tonnes of waste from feminine hygiene products get sent every week to Niagara Falls to the Covanta Plant to be incinerated. That energy is converted to electricity and returned to the grid in quite the leap forward from the days when rubbish would just be dumped into a landfill. Cannon also helps the environment when going to its customers premises. The products used are natural and low-VOC (volatile organic compound). “Our pest control products adhere to very strict integrated pest management doctrine of very little pesticide use. We follow LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) practices in this regard, and for washroom hygiene. And, for the pesticides, we are looking for reasons that the pests are coming in, not just trying to kill them all with pesticides.”

Peter Farrell is very proud of the fact that the company started out with ten people in 1996 and now employs hundreds of people in Canada. His teams are passionate about their jobs and focus on the common goal of growing the business. He also touts the strong corporate culture that has developed, making Cannon a fun place to work. There is a strong momentum being built at Cannon with a youth movement that will ensure future success. The world has a way of making room for those who know where they are going; it is presently making room for Cannon Services.

June 24, 2018, 2:57 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.