From timber to top-tier, sustainable hygiene products, Cleenol Group remains ahead of the curve 

As one of the UK’s leading innovators, manufacturers, and suppliers of cleaning and hygiene products, Cleenol Group (Cleenol) focuses on product performance, increased safety and environmental credentials, and enhanced customer benefit. With an extensive portfolio of manufactured chemical products and a dedicated team to assist with installation and training, Cleenol is a single source for the most demanding requirements. 

plastic bottles of pink cleaning fluid on production lineIts products are formulated to provide the highest standards in domestic, commercial, and industrial hygiene, catering to a range of professional sectors such as food and beverage, manufacturing, and automotive, as well as contract cleaners, hotels, care homes, laundries, and salons. While the business is well known for its high-quality hand sanitizers, British Nova floor care range, and Evolution super-concentrate cleaning products, Cleenol also manufactures own brand and private label products. 

Founded in 1948, Cleenol is preparing to celebrate its 75th year in business later this year, an achievement it is marking with a commitment to charity work. However, the business has experienced an interesting and diversified history, tracing its roots back to the 1700s when the Foster family ran a timber business in the West Midlands, UK. It supplied timber for the lock gates for Birmingham’s canal network, and when the coal industry decided to move product via canal, the business became a coal merchant. 

As the company’s chemical activities evolved, it became involved with Shell, one of its customers, which was tasked with creating an alternative washing-up product to the soap flakes previously used, as the raw materials were needed for the war effort during WWII. Having created a liquid alternative, Teepol, Shell wanted to test the market and roped in the Foster brothers to sell the product to coal customers. 

Recognizing that Teepol was an instant success, the brothers divided operations with one continuing the coal business and the other employing a chemist to form a range of complementary products, which led to the birth of Cleenol as we know it today. By 1975, it had expanded its market coverage across the UK and began to export sales to Europe and the Middle East. Today, its industry-leading products are recognized across the globe. 

Cleenol is currently headed up by Sam Greaves, Managing Director, who took over the family business at a tumultuous period in its history. We sit down with Sam to learn about the ways in which he has transformed Cleenol’s culture and navigated booming demand during the pandemic, as well as hear about ‘Project 75’ to celebrate 75 years in business and his plans for the business moving forward in a new, sustainability-focused era. 

“My involvement with the business started when my father took over around 40 years ago,” Sam opens. “He took it through national expansion and then international expansion. I had lots of ideas and ambitious plans, which led me away from the family business as I set up my own operation in the Middle East. I believe in the growth of British brands overseas, so I purchased product from Cleenol but ran my own budget and oversaw relationships with my international partners. I created a great network of fantastic people in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. 

“With changing family circumstances, I decided to sell my business and bought my grandfather and father’s share of Cleenol, with the idea to come in and reinvent existing operations to maximize opportunities for international growth. One of the best things about family businesses is that they typically have personal decision-making processes, and we’re no exception.

“When I took over, the advice I received was to focus on sales, but I quickly realized that we needed to transform our culture,” he reflects. “I started speaking to every individual across the company and although at first people were reluctant to speak to the new owner about their concerns, I persevered with the mentality that if no one told me the problems, I couldn’t do anything about them. I believe that if you look after the people, you will always achieve results. 

“As people eventually came to me, we addressed their concerns and made some changes to the ways we operate. We’ve been on a four-year journey of investing heavily in people by implementing various employee benefits, creating a comfortable workplace for all, and encouraging a better work-life balance. I have a fantastic employee who had never been offered flexible working, for instance, and as a mum, this allows her to do a phenomenal job at work while maintaining a healthy home life. 

“There’s a common misconception that by providing benefits, employees will take advantage, but I firmly believe in the opposite; people appreciate them and reward the company with hard work. We’ve now established a great culture where people are engaged and supported, but we’ve also maintained ten percent growth last year and we’re forecasting 26 percent growth this year, proving that investing in people doesn’t have a detrimental impact on growth.” 

With this in mind, Sam is engaging employees across the organization to mark an incredible milestone in its history, reaching 75 years in business. “It’s not only a huge achievement for us to reach 75 years, but it’s also commendable that it has remained under family ownership for the entire course,” he states. “The team came up with the idea of having 75 employees complete 75 events to raise £75,000 for a selection of local charities. 

“I’ve always had a desire to help communities where I can, and the team are incredibly motivated for this project. We’ve chosen three charities – Oxfordshire Mind, Thames Valley Air Ambulance, and Katherine House Hospice – which will receive an equal share of our total.” 

Cleenol’s social responsibility stance extendsto its products too, as the business has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. It launched its first sustainability focused range, Envirological, in the 1990s, providing revolutionary products to change the ways in which we consider the environmental impact of cleaning products and chemicals. 

“It’s no secret, especially since the pandemic, that chemicals are often required to save lives, but we use sustainably sourced raw materials to create chemicals that are as environmentally friendly as possible, with both reduced plastic content and emissions,” Sam says. 

“The UK is adopting EU legislation for biocidal product regulations that will ensure products adhere to a specific level and protect users. 2024 will see us launch a new range of high-end biocidal products, as well as relaunch our X2 product, a clever concept of super concentrated product in a ready-to-use trigger bottle. 

“We’re now achieving and implementing our plan to create an international partner network to support businesses and share knowledge, not just from a formulation perspective, but also to help with sales and marketing,” Sam concludes. “Further afield, we’re striving to grow the business towards the £50 million mark within the next ten years. We’re hoping to win some awards and specific accreditations during that time, while focusing on our continuous improvement pillar and bringing the next generation into what is an incredible business journey to be part of.”