East Durham Business feature: Orca Cleaning Group on plans for growth in 2024

Steven and Hollie Holmes, founders of Orca Cleaning Group, chat about their company’s growth from one man band to a team of 11 delivering contracts across the country.

It’s nearly eight years since husband and wife duo Steven and Hollie Holmes founded their industrial cleaning company, Orca Cleaning Group.

EDB editor Leanne Fawcett visited their offices at Belmont Business Park to find out more about their journey, their plans for the future and where the rather unusual name came from…

It’s a brave couple who choose to work and live together; to be marital partners as well as business partners. But that’s a decision Steven and Hollie made when they set up their business, Orca Cleaning Group, back in 2016, albeit it was some years later before former policewoman Hollie became a fully fledged member of Team Orca. Watching them together though, in the office with Hollie’s mum Helen, who is their administrative support, and operations director Michael Monkman, it’s clear they have the balance just about right. You could even say they’re having a whale of a time, pardon the pun!

There’s a relaxed relationship between them that suggests this is a couple who bounce off each other and complement one another’s strengths, rather than hinder. Steven tells me, however, this could be because they won’t actually spend that long in the office together, as he is on the roads a large chunk of time visiting existing and potential clients while his wife works from home a lot to take care of their five-year-old son Jenson. I am keen to learn more about the duo, what led them to starting the business and their plans for the future. Hollie tells me: “I met Steven back in 2015 and at the time he was a roofer, and I was a policewoman. He was very keen on starting his own industrial cleaning business as he’d seen so many companies go on site and do a bad job. So, in 2016 we launched, basically as one man with one jet wash. We were a new business so had to graft hard to bring in the work, but gradually we started to expand as one contract led to another.

“I wasn’t really involved in the business initially, however I quickly realised Steven was great at what he does, the cleaning side of things, but not very good at running a business. I started helping him out with the admin and finances, however I was juggling so many balls as I was working shifts with the police, I fell pregnant with Jenson and I was trying to help Steven out at Orca. I was running myself into the ground and something had to give.”

After welcoming Jenson in the 2018, Hollie took some time off followed by a career break, and finally became a director alongside her husband in November 2021. Steven said: “By this time the business had really taken off and we were operating out of a unit in Ferryhill. I’d brought a few people in, we had three vans and our commercial team was starting to take shape. What we didn’t, and couldn’t have, planned for was the Covid-19 pandemic, which of course put the country in several lockdowns from the March 2020. It was hard for us, as some of the staff weren’t eligible for furlough so we kept on paying them as best we could using the company’s savings.

“Thankfully, we just about came out the other side, though there’s no doubt this did halt our growth as it did with so many other businesses. Some of the bigger contracts we had secured were put on hold and even now, many haven’t come back. Other than that, though, we’re just about back to business as usual and are looking ahead to 2024 with a real sense of optimism.” Keen to take the business to the next level, Orca rebranded from Orca Cleaning Services to Orca Cleaning Group; it exhibited within the Incubator Zone at the annual EMCON expo; and relocated from Ferryhill to the latest phase of development at Belmont Business Park. Steven and Hollie also added to the senior management team with the appointment of Michael Monkman, who has been brought in to head up operations.

This move was part of their ambitious plans for 2024, and the need to bring on board someone who shared their drive and desire for success. Speaking about Michael’s appointment, Steven said: “We wanted someone we could trust and who we felt would complement the way Hollie and I work. Mike’s experience was exactly what we were looking for and we feel with his appointment we’re ideally placed to take the business to the next level.” Michael previously ran his own limited company for over 10 years, before joining Screentech in Darlington where he was instrumental in significantly increasing the company’s annual turnover over a four-year period. He also works with Steven and Hollie in their second business, the Wild Swimming Club, which takes people on locations around the region to enjoy outdoor swimming as a way of relaxing their muscles and removing the stresses of work.

Michael’s role will encompass scheduling and pricing of jobs, management of the teams and growing Orca’s client base while maintaining the company’s excellent reputation. He said: “I’ve known Steven and Hollie for many years and have worked with them as a supplier before we set up our sideline business in wild swimming. When the opportunity came up to join them in Orca, I jumped at the chance to be part of the exciting plans that they have for the future.” Orca Cleaning Group counts national retailers, food factories, manufacturing companies and distribution centres among its clients and offers services including jet washing, high level cleaning, chewing gum and graffiti removal and industrial cleaning among its services.

Steven also believes global challenges like Covid and the war in the Ukraine have presented an opportunity for Orca to win work with more big companies. He said: “Businesses don’t have the money they used to, so where previously they stuck with the same service provider and weren’t bothered about the cost, they’re now shopping around for cheaper alternatives which is good for businesses like us. That has made them realise there are other companies out there that provide just as good, if not a better, service. Our staff are trained to the highest standard, we look after them, so we know when they go out onto site they are skilled but also have the right attitude and work ethic. That is so important to us as we embark on the next phase of growth; we can say with certainly to our clients that they’re in the best hands and are safe in the knowledge they’re receiving a quality service without paying extortionate prices.”

So where did the unusual name, Orca (the name of the killer whale) come from? Steven added: “When I decided to set up the business, the hardest part was coming up with a name for it. I knew I didn’t want anything based around my name or geographical area, and I thought of all sorts of different names. One night I was watching a documentary, Black Fish, and it mentioned Orca whales. I asked Hollie what she thought and she loved it. And that was it, Orca Cleaning Services was born.”

So, what does the future hold for Hollie, Steven, Michael and the team? Hollie, who is also mam to Amber, 20, and April, nine, said: “Our priorities for 2024 are to continue to grow and hopefully bring in some of those bigger contracts which we lost during Covid. We have recently expanded our services to include spray prepping, which is where we go in on site and clean areas and clear flaked paint ready for spray paint companies to come in; and signage cleaning, so growing them is something we’re keen to do. We also want to look at new sectors, in particular education, which we think presents a real opportunity for growth for us. Overall, the business is in a good place. We all work well together, and I think most importantly, we really enjoy what we do. We are ending the year on a high and are looking forward to 2024 – after a bit of time off over Christmas and New Year first mind ha ha. I think we all need it.”