Gary Walker had some hard-earned experience with cleaning during his service in the Air Force. He spent many nights on the crew at the Air Force base in Minot, N.D. But those long nights were the start of something remarkable.
On assignment in Germany, Walker suffered an accident that resulted in disability and medical retirement from the Air Force. Walker and his wife, Trish, then returned to the Kansas City area where Walker took a part-time job cleaning floors. He remembers being less than impressed with the work ethic of some crews.
The Walkers knew they could do better and opened Magic Touch Cleaning in Lee's Summit in 1992. The company thrived because of the couple's strong work ethic and dedication.
Twelve years later, however, the couple took a serious look at both its products and processes. Walker had a bad back as the result of the accident in Germany and had developed asthma. Now, every time he sprayed a cleaning product, he coughed.
Walker strongly suspected their cleaning products posed serious health risks, so he and Trish made the decision to transform Magic Touch Cleaning into a completely "green" cleaning company in 2004.
Skeptical colleagues made dire predictions that the company would go bankrupt within a year. The Walkers didn't listen and became almost obsessed with finding environmentally friendly cleaning products, dust mops, wet mops and vacuum cleaners. Many of the early, reportedly safer products were ineffective and smelled bad, Walker says, and were worse than the old products.
"As soon as word got out," Walker says, referring to Magic Touch's new paradigm, "an avalanche of green products appeared at our doors. Some of this stuff would stain the sink and end up being more toxic than the old toxic stuff!" The Walkers eventually located firms that distributed green cleaning products in Kansas City and began to use them in all their work.
And they've gone even further since, marketing more than 40 green cleaning products in a Lee's Summit retail store called Return to Green, perhaps the first green cleaning store in the Midwest. Return to Green products are now available in grocery stores throughout the Kansas City area.
The world has noticed, too. Magic Touch has received many awards and honors. The firm received the 25 Under 25 Award from KC Small Business Monthly; was named a finalist for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award; was named a 10 Top Company by KC Business Magazine; earned the International Sanitary Supply Association's Cleaning Industry Management Standard certification with honors, one of only 17 companies to attain that recognition; and won the American Lung Environmental Entrepreneur Award.
Walker even hosts a weekly radio show, "Going Green with the King and Queen of Green," on a Kansas City-area AM station to promote both the business and Walker's commitment to ecological preservation.
Over the years, Magic Touch has created more than 150 jobs, 63 alone in 2012, due largely to contracts with the ATK Lake City Ammunition Facility in Independence and with the Independence Events Center. The ATK contract helped Magic Touch post a $2 million sales increase in 2012. The business development specialists at the University of Central Missouri SBTDC in Warrensburg, particularly Darrell Brammer, were instrumental in securing the ATK contract.
Magic Touch today utilizes such eco-friendly products and processes as:
These practices may sound insignificant, Walker says, but cumulatively they promote energy savings and a cleaner, healthier work environment for the firm's cleaning associates and their clients. These associates, by the way, are compensated by what Walker believes is the highest pay plan of any janitorial concern in the metro Kansas City area. They are also empowered to make decisions on their own and are continually updated on green practices.
"When we made the culture shift within our corporation [to go green], we wanted people to be immersed in that culture," says Walker. "It wasn't a big marketing gimmick. It was a cultural shift, changing how we conduct ourselves, considering why we recycle, why we use the chemicals we use, why we use the processes we use and why we are constantly trying to improve upon that process."
It may not be easy being green, but it definitely makes the world a better place.
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