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MEET… Bob Robinson, Sr., CEO, Kaivac


How did you get your start in the cleaning industry?


My career started as a mechanical engineer working in heavy manufacturing. My wife’s family business was Valley Janitor Supply Co. in Hamilton, Ohio, a distributorship selling janitorial supplies business to business. She encouraged me to join the family business, and, at the age of 28, I became a distributor sales rep selling cleaning supplies to local commercial businesses.


What led you to found your company, Kaivac?


My father in law retired and sold Valley to me and  my wife. With my engineering background, I steered the  company towards cleaning equipment and floor care products. One day, I read a survey in a trade journal that said the number one problem in the cleaning industry was dirty restrooms. I had never cleaned a restroom in my life; my focus was on floorcare and machines. So, if restrooms were the number one problem, they also had to be a big opportunity.


I decided to find out why cleaning a restroom was such a big deal. I gathered our best Valley products—bowl cleaners, spray bottles, bowl mops, wet mops, and other cleaners—and started using these products to clean a facility’s bathroom. This was disgusting, nasty work. That’s when it hit me—the problem isn’t the janitor, it’s the tools and the process. Basically, I found myself crawling around rank restroom floors with my knees in urine and my face in the toilet while using antiquated tools that just spread soils around. I knew there had to be a better way.


I began experimenting with out-of-the-box ideas, like combining pressure washers and vacuum systems onto a janitor’s cart. I later patented this idea, which became the foundation for the start of Kaivac, Inc. We built the first machines in the Valley Janitor repair shop, which were very crude, and some were labeled “dog ugly.” However, they got restrooms really clean and removed the soils and smells. Even better, they put a smile on janitors’ faces. We found that the janitors of local schools especially loved them. With their endorsement, I knew we had an idea that was going to change the industry. In less than a year, I founded Kaivac, Inc. in 1998.


What was the greatest challenge you faced in the beginning of your career?


In the beginning, the challenge we faced was how to get the word out about our new invention, the Kaivac No- Touch Cleaning system. We first started selling it through Valley Janitor Supply Co., and then later offered it to other distributors around the country. They saw how Kaivac was helping Valley win business, and believed our machines could help them too. I was fortunate that I could lean on Valley for warehousing space and other support during the early years of Kaivac.


What are the underlying principles or values that drive you forward in your position as CEO of Kaivac?


Our core values at Kaivac follow my Christian faith. We believe in the following principles: (1) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We strive to be good citizens and treat everyone with respect: employees, vendors, customers, and our neighbors. (2) Have a servant’s heart. We are in a race to be more helpful to others than our competitors, and, if we don’t, it’s okay if some leave us. (3)


We’re proud to be in the cleaning industry and believe it to be an
extension of the health care industry.


The first shall be last and the last shall be first. For us, this means we put the janitors first while designing innovative machines that improve their productivity and raise their dignity, along with the value of the cleaning industry. We’re proud to be in the cleaning industry and believe it to be an extension of the health care industry.


What is next for Kaivac?


Kaivac is an innovation company. We continue to develop new cleaning systems that expand our reach beyond the restroom. Kaivac will be introducing a revolutionary innovation in the fourth quarter of 2019 that will shake up the industry.


What are your hopes for the future of the cleaning industry?


For the cleaning industry to have a greater positive impact on human life, we must first have a better understanding of cleaning science. That begins with understanding the cleaning process and knowing how to measure cleaning effectiveness. Many industry professionals still recommend using mops and rags, which are very ineffective at removing soils. This ignorance of cleaning science holds our industry back. Such ignorance is the reason that Kaivac is a supporter of the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for cleaning science research. However, I believe it is only a matter of time before the cleaning myths of today vanish, and these old systems will be replaced with better, more productive cleaning systems, resulting in a cleaner, safer and healthier world.


Do you have any practices outside of your professional career that influence your work within your professional life?


My wife and I live on 25 acres of land with dogs and chickens that help me to relax, rest, contemplate and recharge. My faith in God is also a bedrock for me; I believe that the work we do at Kaivac is important to both him and society as a whole.