Detroit's Cobo Center no longer outsources janitorial services.

Improved cleanliness, interdepartmental efficiencies and more full-time jobs with benefits are some of the advantages that SMG-managed Cobo Center in Detroit hopes to achieve by taking its janitorial services in-house.

The center’s janitorial division had been handled by cleaning-service provider Professional Group, which had the contract for only one year. Before Professional Group took over, the work was done by ABM.

The facility’s general manager, Claude Molinari, said the decision to take cleaning services in-house was based on “synergies we saw that we weren’t taking advantage of. We have production services, room turnover, an engineering team, and other services that we think will run more efficiently with our own team running the janitorial division.”

Molinari said the thought process behind the decision was to get the job done while paying attention to the bottom line.

“Removing the middleman allows us to increase wages, maintain the pricing, update the training and include customer service. It’s a win-win-win across the board.”

At this stage, Molinari believes that instead of great savings, “it may be a wash, but we can increase the salary of our union cleaning personnel and this will assure us that we can attract the best talent available. So even if it’s cost-neutral, we’re going to gain the benefit of a cleaner building, a better-trained staff and an increase in bookings and rentals.”

Molinari said that he has had experience before with an in-house janitorial team and that Cobo Center is the first facility he’s been in that farmed the work out. “I’ve been with SMG for a long time, in many venues, and when I got here I thought it was a luxury to have an outside cleaning service,” he said. Molinari arrived in Detroit in 2011 as assistant general manager and was promoted in 2015.

Cobo Center is the 17th-largest convention center in the country and has 723,000 square feet of meeting rooms, exhibit space and ballrooms. It recently completed a $279 million upgrade, adding more space and an 8,000-square-foot kitchen and tasting room.

Often, the center’s staff and the former cleaning staff would work to different purposes, Molinari said. “Supervisors that were overseeing production were bumping into the cleaning supervisors. Now we have a clear vision of the entire process coming from one direction. The work is so interdependent on every facet of the booking, and this clears the way for a more seamless process.”

The switch also makes room for the current supervisors “to receive more money.”

Last year was the first time in the center’s history that it operated at a profit, and it’s on target to match that achievement this year. “We just started our fiscal year, but it already looks like it’s going to be another banner year for us, and I expect we will finish in the black,” Molinari said.

The concessionaire at Cobo Center is Centerplate. “We have a great relationship with Centerplate and have no plans whatsoever to take F&B in-house, too,” he assured.

Despite Cobo Center’s move to take its cleaning in-house, Los Angeles Convention Center GM Brad Gessner does not see it as a growing trend in the convention center industry. He recalled when he ran San Diego Convention Center in the early 2000s and that building took its cleaning services in-house.

“We wound up getting sued by United National Maintenance for restriction of trade,” Gessner said. “It was tied up in the courts for many years. In the end, the convention center prevailed.”

LACC has not taken janitorial in-house mostly because “we feel we can monitor the contract without having to take exclusivity. In our industry, show managers want to be able to pick who they contract for services. At LACC we provide a list of approved vendors for event managers to choose from. We want to be competitive and attractive and don’t want to force our team on any event booking. We have those services to offer, and many customers take us up on it, but in the end, it’s their choice.”

“We want to keep the flexibility for show managers,” he said, “so they pick our center and our city.”