It’s unusual to hear of a cleaning and maintenance business with such an impressive standing in the UK hospitality industry – but TWO Services is one of a kind in many respects.
TWO’s story began more than 35 years ago, when Chairman Alan Osborn started the company to serve hotels, bars, and offices in central London. In fact, the firm’s first official contract was with an exhibition taking place in Chancery Lane for the Doomsday book.
Alan and our Finance Director Jon Osborn have been running the firm since the late 1980s. After seeing fast initial growth, the team, now supported by Managing Director Barry Osborn, has continued to diversify into new areas, spotting opportunities for expansion in places where perhaps others might have been afraid to tread.
Now, TWO operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and employs dozens of cleaning staff and maintenance engineers across its North and South divisions.
We spoke to Alan to learn more about his humble beginnings, his time with the business, and what he believes to be his greatest achievements over the course of the last four decades.
“My background was originally in catering,” Alan says. “I wasn’t much of an academic at school, but as I got older, I found I could cook. I used to sit in the domestic classes with the girls instead of doing woodwork.
“After leaving school at 15, I eventually trained as a chef in the Grosvenor Hotel in the West End in the early 1960s and worked in various premises in the years that followed. The hours were long – three days off a fortnight on split duty shifts – and I used to take home £5 per week, which sounds ridiculous compared to today’s money!
“I was made redundant from my employer in 1985, so needed a new venture. I knew a businessman who had just bought a wine bar in EC4 which needed sorting, and he offered me a job there to run it until it was running right. He said that if I wanted to start a business, I could use the offices and the postal address there – which I did.
“I had no idea how the industry worked at this point, or what it would take to build a successful cleaning business. I remember starting out by asking for some quotes for a tender for the wine bar, and studying what these businesses were charging, and how they went about their work.
“I was awarded my very first cleaning contract in July 1987, and that’s how TWO was born.
“I advertised for a cleaning supervisor, and a gentleman turned up called George Baffoe. I offered him a job and he was on board in the early days to help. When things started to get busier, I asked him if he knew anyone who would be interested in weekend work. He quickly brought across some of his friends from university – and it was around this time that Sammy Donker started working for me, too. Both George and Sammy are still with the business today.
“Over time, word got around, and we started taking on more and more jobs in the city. At the time, I’d say yes to most things. If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d research it. I was often out on the road doing quotes, as well as completing the cleans themselves – so I was doing 15 hour shifts, day in, day out, to get all the work done.”
Eventually, Alan realised that he couldn’t do everything himself.
“I spent 5 years working myself into the ground. I had secured a unit in Shoreditch, but staff were coming and going – and while I was happy to go with the flow, I needed to take the pressure off.”
Alan felt it was time to relocate, so started searching for property a little further out of London.
“In 1994, I bought the freehold in a premises in Burnt Mills – and this is still TWO’s headquarters to this day. We did suffer a fire in 1997, and a big part of the building and the roof was destroyed, but thankfully we had good insurance and were able to get the property not only repaired, but modernised, too. It’s served us well.”
Expansion was always on the cards – but it was a staff member’s resignation that spurred Alan to take on more work in a different region.
“Margarita – who is now our North Division Director, our Angel in the North! – was a breath of fresh air when she joined TWO more than 15 years ago. For personal reasons, she wanted to move up to Leeds – and I remember thinking, ‘we can’t let her go’. I had no names to put into the frame until then, but after speaking with Margarita, I had a lightbulb moment, and I knew I wanted her to head up this part of the business. It was a great decision; I taught her the ropes, she picked things up quickly, and she was soon in a position to start growing our presence in Yorkshire and the North.”
Driven to make sure TWO could be passed down through the generations, Alan invited his sons, Jon and Barry, to enter the business full-time.
“In the early days, the boys used to help out with cleans; Jon used to be on the sinks, and Barry on the hotplates. Jon has been on the finance side of things since the start, and Barry came on board full-time in 1989. Barry headed up our deep cleaning team for 10 years before transitioning into management in the late ‘90s.
“When my health started suffering in 2011, and pain in my legs and back made it very difficult to drive, I knew I had two options: find a partner (or partners) to play a proactive role in the day-to-day, or look into selling the company. I eventually went with the first option after Jon expressed an interest in joining TWO as its Finance Director, and Barry was keen to take over as Managing Director. So, I took a step back, and they took some big jumps in.”
TWO’s road to success hasn’t been without its challenges. In fact, there were moments when Alan wasn’t sure if his business would stay afloat.
“The recession in the early ‘90s hit us hard. Clients who would usually book in for four cleans per year were dropping these contracts down to just two per year, and this soon became the norm. In a way, our income halved almost overnight. A similar thing happened in the early noughties, when the stock markets suffered – and of course there was the credit crunch in 2008, and more recently the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. But we adapted. We got through. The business survived, and we survived as people, too.”
Alan has also seen huge changes to the industry during his long career.
“Health and safety requirements have of course got much stricter over the years. The safety aspect is now one of the biggest considerations when pricing up a new job. I’m old school, and I remember the days when we never used to have all these rules and regulations – but my boys have grown up with it, and they take this side of their work extremely seriously, as they should.”
Alan always hoped to create something that could support his family, and especially his children. He built the foundations, but Jon and Barry lead the business now – and he couldn’t be prouder of them both.
“When I was their age, I was running around in a two-door Maestro van, hunting down my big break. But they are settled, with wonderful partners and families of their own, and a brilliant business that is going from strength to strength. They have a great future ahead of them.”
Alan’s biggest regret? Knowing that his own father isn’t here to see how far the firm has come, and what a great relationship he has with his own boys.
“My dad always used to say to me, ‘when you leave school, Alan, you’re going to be a dustman’s mechanic’. But I’ve proved to him that I could build something successful. Wherever he is now, I hope he’s looking at us all with pride, not least because we have created a business and a legacy that’s built on real family values and a lot of love and respect for each other.
“I’ve crossed all sorts of bridges over all kinds of rivers. But I can always say I did it my way!”
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