No easy fixes
Mistakes FMs make when choosing a cleaning contractor

by David Strydom — What is the most common mistake made by FMs with respect to corporate cleaning contracts? PFM asked several experts for their opinions.

It’s easy to make a mistake — even with respect to something as important as a cleaning contract — but it can be costly. When FMs sign up for cleaning services it’s important they don’t rush into a decision, even if they’re under financial and deadline pressures.

We asked industry experts what they think the biggest mistake is made by FMs when choosing a cleaning contractor. “Budget-conscious managers often buy on spec’,” says Gordon McVean, sales and marketing director, Truvox International. “But for the best return on your investment, focus on productivity and do the maths.”

As an equipment manufacturer and supplier, Truvox is often approached by new clients who have been using machines that are not well matched to their cleaning needs, McVean says. “Sometimes they’ve been sold the wrong solution entirely. But the more common scenario is the right type of machine with the wrong specification.”

Usually, it’s a case of under-specification — with less electrical power, lower tank capacity, a narrower cleaning width or limited accessories — so the machine’s operators are less productive than they could be, he explains.

“It’s a perhaps understandable mistake for the budget-conscious manager. But What’s the minimum spend we can get away with?’ is the wrong mindset. Buying a piece of cleaning equipment is an investment, not an expense, though, of course, running costs must be taken into account too.

“Machine selection has to be based on the data. What is the area to be cleaned, the cleaning frequency, the expected working life of the equipment? How much will it cost to run in materials, power, maintenance and operator hours? Against that must be weighed the current (or alternative) capital and running costs, bearing in mind that when automating cleaning for the first time the saving in labour costs can be substantial.”

There are other factors that should be weighed, which brings us back to the question of machine type, McVean continues. “By investing more in a multi-purpose machine, the manager of a building with a range of flooring surfaces can achieve valuable cleaning efficiencies.

“Some factors are harder to quantify, but they should still be considered as part of the decision-making process. The value from extending the serviceable life of carpeting or hard floors through cleaning with the right machine at the right frequency will be significant. For example, a modern floor-care machine will increase the intervals between sanding and resealing wooden floors by keeping them clear of grit and contaminants. And what value do you place on a more presentable and hygienic environment for visitors or employees?”

So the best advice is — do your sums, compare the options and request a demonstration so you can see the results on the ground, McVean says. “And don’t forget it all comes down to productivity and return on investment.”

Lauren Kyle, cleaning development manager, Sodexo, says that as the contract cleaning market has become more competitive over the past few years and clients look to reduce costs it can look like an easy fix’ to reduce headcount. It’s important decision-makers understand the long-term effects of this approach.

“In common with many soft services, labour is the biggest overhead in contract cleaning, so once you’ve tweaked around the edges — like replacing desk bins with central bins and substituting ready-to-use chemicals for concentrated ones to be diluted onsite — the most obvious next step’ to reduce costs further is often to look at reducing headcount.

“This results in fewer people often having to working faster and harder to maintain expected standards. Cleaning is a physical job and when the pace of work intensifies, those delivering the service get tired more quickly, can become run down, develop injuries such as musculoskeletal problems, and absence levels and staff turnover within the cleaning team are likely to increase.

“At this point the cleaning offer starts to lose value and where shortcuts are made quality is reduced. The broader value of cleaning is something, which is often overlooked. Some FMs, under pressure to reduce spend, view the cleaning service as a commodity and can focus only on figures on a spreadsheet. What decision makers need to recognise is that a good cleaning regime can have a positive impact in reducing absenteeism in a corporate environment.

“It’s simple – a well-cleaned environment is more hygienic, and the more hygienic the environment the less likely germs are to spread, hence the impact on absenteeism figures.

“A good regime is only as good as the people delivering it and it is essential that your cleaning staff are engaged and motivated. FM providers delivering cleaning must invest in their people as much as the latest innovation in equipment or products. Without the engagement of the cleaning team you cannot provide a high standard of service.”

Dawn Bishop, FM of Fullcircle Total FM, says a mistake commonly made in respect to cleaning corporate environments is matching the correct personnel to work in that setting. “It’s thoroughly important that the staff working in these environments have the correct mannerisms and communication skills to engage with people in the corporate environment.

“This can be a challenge in the hiring process. Sometimes you have to be willing to offer a higher salary so the correct skillset apply for the role. At the interview stage, gut instinct and first impressions normally say a lot, as those are the same first impressions that your clients will experience. If your staff can get on well with your clients, then clients will be more satisfied with the work that is completed.

“Preferably, offer the role to a current member of staff that you know has the experience and communication skills to manage the cleaning in a corporate environment.”

Lisa Breakspear, sales & technical director, Fila Surface Care Products, says mistakes made in terms of cleaning corporate environments often centre around the product used and method adopted. In most situations, budgets are tight and cleaning needs to be carried out as quickly as possible. Cheap, general chemicals are specified and aren’t given sufficient contact time’ with the surface; a degree of abrasion and agitation may well be needed. This combination of poor product and application method results in an inferior clean.

“It’s really important to use a correct cleaning chemical that will break down organic dirt,” says Breakspear. “Products that don’t – and which have a tendency to leave a residue — can create a dangerous, slippery surface. This situation is compounded by incorrect cleaning methods. Often, time constraints lead to the use of dirty mops and cleaning water isn’t changed often enough. As a result, dirt is just moved around on the surface of the floor. If a cleaning machine is used, very often the chemical used isn’t allowed any contact time, so it cannot break down the organic dirt. Also, we know that many cleaning machines are used with just water, which will not clean’ the surface.”

To restore a surface to its former glory — and remove a build up of organic dirt and cleaning product residues — an alkaline solution may be needed, Breakspear advises. “Alkalines work well with many materials; linoleum, ceramic, porcelain, terrazzo to name a few, but strong dilutions may not suitable for polished stone.

“There are various products available that give universally good results when a deep clean is needed. For example, FILAPS87 is a 3-in-one solution that cleans, removes organic dirt and stubborn stains, including grease, wax and even epoxy residue. Use of these types of high performance products can keep problems at bay. Ideally, they’d be used in conjunction with a daily cleaning regime, but in today’s climate, realistic solutions have to be found – and good regimes adapted to suit environments and budgets.”

SPONSORED KARCHER

When FMs separate cleaning into individual tasks, and focus on one traditional machine for each task, they could be missing a trick.

Before setting out to simply replace cleaning technology like-for-like, it’s worth considering what else is out there. Krcher’s innovative CV 60/2 RS is a step-on vacuum for both carpets and hard floors with a tiny 0.72m2 footprint.

Yes, it costs more than a tub vac, but it whizzes through corridors and really comes into its own in multi-story buildings where it can hop between floors in a lift — an FM who had previously used a team of tub vac cleaners per floor, found he need only retain a handful of tub vacs for the really fiddly hand-clean only areas. He realised huge productivity savings by switching to two CV 60/2 RS machines, (one starting at the top of the building, one at the bottom and meeting in the middle when the job was done).

While an upgrade in machine class won’t be for all, even the humble tub vac shouldn’t be a solely bottom line comparison purchase; eco! efficiency models provide whisper quiet operation enabling them to be used in the daytime, opening up significantly longer operating windows and providing alternate staffing opportunities. Likewise, all Krcher tub vacs come with a kettle lead available — meaning should this frequently abused essential piece of kit become damaged, the machine need not be written off, it’s just a simple spare part change.

Multitasking machines such as Compact Scrubber driers that can also be used as carpet cleaners, or Sweepers that can be used indoors or out with variants for carpet, paths, artificial grass and even snow, will provide two or more functions for less outlay than separate machines, while freeing up space in your janitorial cupboard.

Cost over period needs to be assessed, on upfront machine cost verses lifespan, and against all those optional extras, that can at first glance look frivolous. Consider the wage and productivity savings if an operator doesn’t have to stand and fill the tank, (auto fill) or clean it at the end of the shift (auto rinse) and what a year’s worth of detergent over usage could cost (electronic dosage systems DOSE).

As the UK’s leading FM title, PFM has been reporting on facilities management in the UK from its beginnings, and highlighting best practice in Europe and the USA.