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Bob Robinson, Jr., and his mechanical-engineer father, Bob Robinson, Sr., came up with the idea for a product the world truly needed 25 years ago: a “no-touch” restroom cleaning machine.
Their company, a Cincinnati-based distributor of cleaning machines, had been working with custodians at a school district to clean a bathroom when they saw the need for more sanitary solutions.
“We were on our hands and knees, crawling around the bathroom,” recalls Bob, Jr. “It was disgusting. We said, ‘There’s got to be a better way.'”
Tinkering in their company’s vacuum repair shop, they came up with a prototype and were soon marketing their machine, called the KaiVac. The KaiVac could apply a cleaning solution to giant public restrooms, pressure-wash the entire space and then vacuum it. Public transit agencies, airports and sports arenas quickly saw the benefits, and the company, KAIVAC, took off.
KAIVAC decided to try the Scaling Up platform in 2020 after Bob, Jr., president and chief revenue officer, learned of the book Scaling Up at a Vistage meeting in 2018 and devoured it while on a family vacation. To speed up the learning curve, they worked with Scaling Up Certified Coach Rick Crossland.
At that time, KAIVAC had grown to $16 million in revenue, with 70 employees and had landed large-scale deals with Walmart, Target and Kroger. The leadership team knew the company needed to put the right systems in place to scale. “We were feeling the pressure to get better,” says Bob, Jr. “We couldn’t make little mistakes. The stakes were too high.”
Today, KAIVAC brings in $50 million in annual revenue, with 140 employees. Based in a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing plant just north of Cincinnati, it aims to achieve $75 million in annual revenue within three years and a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) of $1 billion in annual revenue within 20 years. Beyond its bathroom cleaning technology, it has expanded into floor cleaning and spill response machines and has 18 patents and 16 pending.
Bob, Jr., says KAIVAC is just getting started. “At 20 to 25 years in business, you’re at an inflection point where you’ve got resources, tenure and history and have been through ‘adolescence,'” he says. “Now is the chance to build a really professionalized organization. Scaling Up gave us a framework and road map.”
Here is how they’re scaling up.
Getting the right people in the right seats
Manufacturing faces a talent shortage. Against this backdrop, KAIVAC uses Topgrading to find and retain great people. With the company growing rapidly, KAIVAC has added staff to its internal HR team and hired a fractional chief HR executive. “We, as most, struggle to find people, but our culture is bringing us an amazing group of people wanting to join the team,” says Bob, Jr.
Building an organization with a heart
When the company began applying the Scaling Up platform, the leaders wanted to make sure their strategy reflected the “heart” of the company. As they worked on the One-Page Strategic Plan and the Seven Strata of Strategy at their weekly “Strategic Think” team meetings, they came up with a “Why?” statement that reflects the owners’ Christian faith: “To glorify God by using KAIVAC as an instrument for Good.”
In addition to the “Why?” statement, they drafted an acronym called FIGS that conveys the “heart” of the company, in lieu of the Core Values section of the One-Page Strategic Plan. FIGS—which appears on signs that hang on the factory floor and in break rooms—stands for
• F: “First shall be last, last shall be first.”
• I: Integrity—as in “The truth shall set you free.”
• G: Golden Rule—meaning “treat others how you want to be treated.”
• S: Servant’s Heart, as in “We are in a race to help people.”
The company uses the first three letters of its name–KAI–to inspire the team’s thinking and actions. These letters stand for inspiring phrases such as: “Keep At It,” “Keep Always Improving,” “Keep Attempting the Impossible” and “(creates) Kick-Ass Inventions.”
To make sure all team members understand KAIVAC’s strategy, the leadership team created a Strategy Map. A four-person video team makes videos that bring to life Quarterly Themes, such as “Elevate and ignite our potential.” That theme featured a rocket ship being ignited and heading to the moon. Some of the videos, like “Thankful Police,” have a humorous theme.
Getting the right things done
To ensure strong execution, all departments at KAIVAC hold daily and weekly standup meetings. The “Sweet 16” – a group of leadership team members – meets quarterly to do quarterly planning sessions. Each team member has KPIs tied to the Quarterly Themes.
The company offers ongoing executive education and has a book club, incentivizing members to submit a book report for a $100 bonus. “We are all constantly learning,” says Bob, Jr.
Prioritizing net income
Cash has also been a focus for the leadership team, which has brought a focus on the Power of One to the finance team. As the company’s coach, Rick Crossland introduced tools, such as Simple Numbers and Cash Flow Story software, to the finance team, to help the company put its cash to work and not “grow broke.”
“The change that had the biggest impact for us was price increases,” says Bob, Jr. “When you’re an innovation company, it’s the number one thing that affects the bottom line.”
Raising prices in recent years has led to better net income, which, in turn, is passed along to team members through a bonus structure for the whole company. It all fits into the spirit of KAIVAC. As Bob, Jr. puts it, “Our organization was built to have heart.”