Even after more than 30 years in the cleaning industry, a pristine, shining floor that’s been freshly polished to a high gloss still evokes a swell of pride in Robert Bertuzzi.
“It’s exciting when you walk into a nice, clean building. To me, it still looks good,” Bertuzzi said. “I still get excited about looking at the floor, and I think a lot of the cleaners are in the same position.”
As one half of the brotherly duo leading Reliable Maintenance Products and Reliable Cleaning Services – his brother, Joe, works alongside him as vice-president – Bertuzzi well knows the hard work that goes into that clean floor.
His family’s cleaning and manufacturing business has been helping to tidy up Sudbury and Northern Ontario for more than 60 years.
It all began in 1952 when his uncle, Leo Bertuzzi, arrived back in his hometown after having spent a brief time working as a window cleaner for a company in Hamilton.
Seeing few similar companies operating in the Sudbury area, Leo intuited a business opportunity and struck out on his own.
With just a bucket, a couple of mops and an old car to get around, Leo began cleaning windows, one business at a time. His big break came after landing contracts with city hall and the local police service.
By 1956, Leo had brought on his brother, Noah, as a partner, and the siblings grew the business together, branching out into additional cleaning services and manufacturing their own line of cleaning products – the first manufacturer in Northern Ontario to do so.
Robert, one of Noah’s seven children, joined the company in the mid-1980s, but it wasn’t always a given that he would follow in his father’s footsteps into the family business.
Like his uncle Leo, he had left Sudbury, to pursue an education in finance. He had just passed his chartered accountant exam and was looking to make a name for himself at the Toronto firm he had joined when his dad called to see if he would return home to carry on the business.
“I was feeling pretty good, and so it was a big decision either to continue on in my accounting career or to come back home and join the family business,” said Bertuzzi, who serves as company president. “I can tell you it wasn’t a decision that was made easy.”
Ultimately, the idea of continuing to grow Reliable won him over, and Bertuzzi said it’s been a rewarding career.
“It was a tough decision, but it turned out to be a good decision,” he said. “I think, with the timing of coming back, I was pretty lucky.”
At that time, Northern Ontario was still serviced by small, locally owned and operated businesses, Bertuzzi said, and there were lots of opportunities for growth.
Today, the company operates out of a 15,000-square-foot shop on Regent Street in Sudbury’s west end, from which they distribute 50 different cleaning products, including absorbants, carpet cleaners, hand and body soaps, industrial chemicals, mops, and more.
On the cleaning side of the business, Reliable offers janitorial and contract cleaning services, as well as specialty services such as mold inspection, biohazard cleaning, hood and vent cleaning and, of course, window cleaning.
From Sudbury and its many branch offices, the company services clients as far south as Barrie, up to Kenora in the north, and everywhere in between.
Reliable is additionally a member of ProLink, an international group of full-service independently owned cleaning companies that provides marketing support and enhanced purchasing power.
Over the last year, Bertuzzi has been buoyed by the support shown to cleaners and the cleaning industry in general, as the service became more in demand due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s an industry that is generally forgotten and only acknowledged when something is not done, and it’s rarely appreciated,” Bertuzzi said.
“So it’s good to have the industry brought to the forefront, and those cleaners that go in every day, and the people that use cleaning products on a regular basis, they’re more recognized as important contributors to whatever business they’re in.
“Seeing cleaners being recognized for what they do and appreciated for what they do is really rewarding, from our perspective. It touches our heart.”
It is Reliable’s staff, he emphasized, that has made the company what it is today. Having a strong contingent of dependable employees that take pride in their work helps serve their customers with the high quality of service set by his father and his uncle so many years ago.
“I believe success is really based on your team,” Bertuzzi said. “We have a very strong team atmosphere around here. But our employees are extremely important in the success of our business, and for our customers.”
As he nears four decades in the business, retirement is on the horizon for Bertuzzi and his brother Joe (their brother, Albert, retired about eight years ago), and the duo is already preparing in advance of passing down the business to the next generation: their nephew has joined the team and is learning the ins and outs of the industry in the first steps toward taking over the business.
Bertuzzi is excited that the family tradition will carry on, and optimistic, in general, about the future of the cleaning industry.
With new equipment and products continually evolving, and a new, heightened appreciation for the role disinfecting and sanitization plays in our day-to-day lives, Bertuzzi believes the sector offers endless possibilities for those who want to continue on the important work of keeping our world clean.
“I think the cleaning industry can see a better future moving forward,” he said. “Maybe this awareness may go away, but I think it’s going to be in people’s minds that, come every flu season, what are we doing to prevent the flu from occurring in our places of business or our home?
“So I think there’s a future in the cleaning industry for the people that are willing to commit to it and play a part in it.”
This article is one in a series focused on the rich histories, journeys and long-term successes of generational businesses in Northern Ontario.