The Birth of a Business
Excerpted from the Detroiter Online Article
Detroiter Magazine (reprinted with permission)
By Chris Mead
“A Day in the Life: John Ezzo, New Image Building Services” (About John Ezzo and his Mount Clemens-based business which cleans more than 16 million square feet of office and commercial space in three states.)
John Ezzo had planned to become an architect, but life sometimes takes unexpected turns. While a student at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, he took an evening job cleaning medical offices in his hometown of Mount Clemens.
“I liked it because it was easy, no one bothered me, I could put on a headset and listen to music while working for four hours a night and it didn’t interfere with my studies,” he recalls.
One day his father, Earl Ezzo, who ran four retail children’s clothing stores based in Mount Clemens, suggested that 20-year-old John get some cleaning accounts on his own. Ezzo took his father’s advice, but never envisioned giving up his plans for a career in architecture to start his own business.
“I walked in the door of our first client and told them who I was and who my dad was, and I asked them if they were happy with their present cleaner,” Ezzo says. “I didn’t know how to price a job so I told them that if they were unhappy with their present cleaner, I would do the job for 15 percent less for six months. Then, after six months, if they were happy with me they would pay me what they were paying their former cleaner.”
The contracts started piling up, and by 1989 Ezzo filed incorporation papers for his business and switched his major to business administration at Lawrence Tech. A lawyer at a firm where he had worked as a cleaner suggested the company name. “He said, ‘You gave our office a whole new image,’” says Ezzo.
Ezzo, 38, credits his father – now the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer – as his No. 1 mentor and role model, but an adjunct professor at Lawrence Tech played a critical role, too.
When he was still studying architecture, Ezzo took an elective class in Small Business Management taught by Don Reimer, president of The Small Business Strategy Group in Southfield and a long-time activist with the Detroit Regional Chamber.
On the first day of the class Reimer asked the students if any of them owned their own business. “Nobody else raised their hand but I reluctantly did because I had this cleaning business going on,” Ezzo remembers. “But I didn’t think of it as much of a business at that time. It was just something I was doing.”
After class, Reimer marched the young Ezzo to the school library, pulled out a directory of trade associations and urged him to learn more about the cleaning industry and get involved with the Building Service Contractors Association International.
“He urged me to become a member and go to their next convention,” says Ezzo. “When I said I couldn’t afford a trip to Dallas, Don said, ‘I don’t care if you steal the money, borrow the money or charge it on a credit card, do whatever you have to do to go!’”
Ezzo went to that convention, became active in the organization and will become its president on Jan. 1, 2007.
Ezzo didn’t see Reimer again until 14 years later when the two met at the Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Reimer was astonished to learn that his advice played a key role in the formation of a business that now has over 800 employees and more than $15 million in annual revenues.
New Image Building Services uses the environmentally friendly “Green Cleaning” methods developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Under Ezzo’s leadership New Image was honored as the first Supplier of the Year award for 2002-03 by the Building Owners and Managers Association and received the Building Service Contractors Association Safety Award four years in a row (2002-2005). •