Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe – a family company

Hygienic cleanliness is its line of business, "clean action" its motto:

Jörg Schönfelder, who has been managing the Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe as the second family generation since 2014, is committed to quality and fairness. A conversation about hidden hygiene risks and the power of respect.

Family companies are the driving force behind the German economy. What distinguishes a family company from a corporation and how can customers benefit from that difference?

Looking at the family companies that exist in Germany, many of them are already able to look back over decades or centuries of history. The crucial thing here is that traditional values are passed down from generation to generation. I don't want to go out on a limb here and say that everything was better in business life before but what I can say is that my father, Manfred Schönfelder, gave me three key values: continue moving forwards, appreciate the work of others, and act like an honourable businessman. At the moment, these values sometimes appear to be missing from today's business life which is then ultimately reflected in how customers and employees are dealt with. Like everywhere else in life, balance is the key. In family companies, this means a healthy mix of tradition and innovation.

"Refreshingly different hygiene" says the Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe slogan. So what makes the Gesa group so different?

One unusual feature is the fact that a family of entrepreneurs is still behind the Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe, whose values and beliefs are applied within the day-to-day business. Our daily aim is to be a partner that our customers love to cooperate with and one to whom they know that social responsibility and fairness matters just as much as our commercial interests. This applies not only in our communication and actions with third parties, but is also reflected in the meaningful and respectful management style adopted within the company.

The high quality standards for our services, and the close and respectful collaboration with employees, customers and partners, are the key success factors for healthy growth. We view the company and the people who help shape it as a living organism. The environment, conservation of resources, sustainability and forward-thinking actions are at the heart of the Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe's business activities.

It promotes the principle: A single source for all hygiene cluster services...

...we are the only hygiene specialist in Germany to combine the various service sectors under one joint corporate group roof. This means: "Technical in-depth hygiene" for commercial kitchens, HVAC systems, sanitary facilities, "preventive fire protection" for commercial kitchens, "pest management and control", e.g. for the pharmaceutical and food industry, and consulting services and specialist training courses for our customers. Our service standard therefore clearly stands out from the range of services offered by a conventional building cleaner or exterminator.

What are the benefits of this corporate culture for the customer?

The customer does not have to grapple with multiple individual suppliers, instead they only have one point of contact, Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe, whose quality and reliability they are already familiar with. Moreover, they know that Gesa will advise them honestly and properly. Another advantage is rapid communication since we combine all relevant services under one roof. We pass this benefit, of being able to act quickly and easily, on to our customers directly.

Upon request, we put together teams of staff from different disciplines, e.g. graduate biologists, graduate engineers, pest controllers, electricians and ventilation fitters, etc. This cross-disciplinary collaboration ensures a rapid exchange of information and simple solutions for our customers.

They themselves frequently mention the virtues of an "honourable businessman"...

… because in my view, such virtues are essential for a harmonious and long-term business life. Honesty, reliability, integrity, open-mindedness, forward-thinking. In other words, compliance agreements, that are currently being drafted in detail in large corporations, are unnecessary here because we have been living by those principles for a long time already.

How does Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe help its customers save costs?

With comprehensive technical advice that is effectively pooled. Custom and sustainable solutions are devised for each customer in line with their requirements meaning that customers are only offered the services they actually need. However, even the fact that systems are restored to virtually new condition by our treatments offers huge potential for savings on maintenance. This sometimes results in an increased service life for the systems which in turn increases the return on investment for our customers. We also help our customers to contain their energy costs or, in many cases, to significantly reduce them. For example, in the field of HVAC systems, reducing leak rates results in a significant improvement in the tightness class. The higher the tightness class, the greater the energy saving.

Extremely high tightness classes are achievable in air duct systems with the Gesa Aeroseal procedure. The savings in terms of energy consumption are correspondingly positive. As a pleasant side effect, this also enables companies to improve their ecological footprint and thus improve their environmental performance.

Basic hygiene in all areas results in an added value within the company for customers which, in turn, results in health protection (e.g. less sick days), safety and respect. In brief: Clean environment – good feeling – greater motivation – better performance. In other words: By effectively analysing customer requirements, but also as a result of the services being performed from a single source, our customers benefit from the synergy effects of the Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe. This saves our customers human and monetary resources in the long term and the additional expense involved in engaging multiple service providers is eliminated altogether or is significantly reduced.

Keywords: Certifications, standards, guidelines and statutory provisions. How do you help your customers keep track in this increasingly more complicated legal jungle of rules and regulations?

In our fast-paced times today, a lot of hygiene and quality managers complain every day, and rightly so, about the burden of continuous new requirements or legal specifications. We know this from many conversations and we therefore also offer our customers appropriate support by means of providing specialist and relevant information, training courses and workshops, etc.

With Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe as a partner, our customers can be sure not to lose their way in the legal jungle of rules and regulations. By collaborating with us, our customers can also be sure of compliance with all current standards and guidelines. Effective audit support and outstanding audit security thanks to audit-proof documentation are key service promises offered by Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe. For example, as a member of the Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe, Gemex Hygiene + Vorratsschutz GmbH is CEPA certified in accordance with DIN EN 16636. This is in line with the latest pest management standards and increases the legal security.

Hygiene is often relevant now in places you would not even suspect it to be an issue …

If a lack of hygiene and the associated risks were always easily visible, we, and our services, would not be necessary in many cases. It is not quite that simple however. After all, many risks lurk undetected which, in the worst-case scenario, could also turn out to be hygiene time bombs. Our experienced hygiene experts are all highly qualified to uncover hidden problems and rectify them effectively. We call that "going in-depth".

Here are two practical examples: Undetected or unsealed openings in buildings offer a welcome opportunity for rodents such as mice and rats to access the building and can result in some nasty surprises due to a sudden pest infestation. Detecting these weak points straight away is particularly paramount for food manufacturing or processing companies that face extremely high standards in audits for pest management and monitoring. It is therefore essential to identify weak points in a building's structure early through relevant risk analyses and to permanently eradicate any access routes for pests.

The same applies to HVAC systems. After all, the reason for illness is often not the obvious "dirt" in the system but the microbiological contamination of the indoor air. Once again this problem requires, on the one hand, experts to analyse and identify the critical conditions and, on the other, experts who then have the correct solutions to hand. The experts at Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe offer both from a single source.

Tradition

Traditional values such as reliability, honesty and fair trading have proven extremely successful in the past and will continue to be key factors for success in the future.

Innovation

Innovation in itself is by no means progress. Innovation is progress when it makes life for our customers and staff easier in the future in terms of organisation and/or technology.

And then today, there is also the threat of the media maelstrom that quickly ensues when a lack of hygiene is discovered …

Correct, and the damage to the image of those involved is usually quite significant and consumers' trust is damaged in the long term. Recently, some large bakeries in Bavaria made the national headlines when a consumer organisation accused them of a serious lack of hygiene in the production of their baked goods. This demonstrates that complying with higher hygiene standards, which is ensured by a collaboration with Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe, is not an end in itself, it is also effective protection against loss of reputation which, in the worst-case scenario, can be significantly more expensive than, for example, a preventive hygiene management system from Gecos Hygiene + Consulting.

You often mention the typical Gesa way of dealing with customers …

We do not sell one-size-fits-all solutions. The decisive factor for us is not the proportions of a commercial kitchen or heating, ventilation or air conditioning system, it is a clear analysis of the cleaning that is actually required. So it may be that our initial service call costs significantly more than the budget allowance. Afterwards however, the customer will always benefit from the collaboration with Gesa in terms of price-performance ratio. That is why we always strive for a long-term collaboration. One thing is crucial: We are always guided by the question: "What would I need as a customer?". This means that we put ourselves in the customer's shoes and act accordingly.

What challenges do you foresee you and your customers facing in the next few years?

That's an interesting question and we discuss this at length with our customers. After all, the answer to this question is vitally important both for our customers and for us in the future. Increasing documentation obligations, the further development of existing or development of new, more effective service concepts, but also the consequences of digitisation, the so-called "working world 4.0", as yet unknown in many areas, will be huge challenges for all of us. To overcome these challenges as best we can, at Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe we will be holding regular joint forums with our customers in the future. After a successful kick-off event, another future forum is already scheduled. And because precisely this question is on all our minds at the moment, this project is gaining a lot of interest from our customers.

Finally, let's go back to the change of generation at Gesa again. You are continuing to run Gesa Hygiene-Gruppe as the second generation ...

A lot of family companies nowadays sadly have problems finding a successor. This is not the case for us. My father handed the reins over to me two years ago and continues to encourage me to find my own vision for the future of the family company he created. I am extremely grateful to him for that.

Having said that, I believe my father equipped me with a crucial compass of values, one that I will continue to be guided by in the future because it has more than proven its worth in the past. So an awareness that personal gain is not the most important thing. Instead, we should endeavour to create added value for the company, and the future world we want to live in, together with our customers and our employees. It is precisely that which spurs me on.

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