Key Factors To Making Equipment Purchasing Decisions

The question of whether to rent vs. own professional cleaning equipment is one that many building service contractors think about. For some, owning their own equipment gives them the freedom to use it how they want, when they want. For others, rentals give them the flexibility to try the latest and greatest products without shelling out big bucks.

Steven McKeon, a strategic customer representative for Sunbelt Rentals, said the renting vs. owning debate is a tale as old as time. For those wondering what they should do when it comes to acquiring commercial cleaning equipment, McKeon said there isn’t one right answer.

“There are actually pages of answers to this one,” he said, during a recent interview.

The rent vs. own debate comes down to a business owner asking themselves some fundamental questions. Businesses need to explore whether there is an increase in demand for certain types of services over a long period of time to determine whether buying would be more cost effective.

“While payback period is certainly an important consideration, I think there are other questions to think about,” he said. Among them: “Are we seeing an increase in demand for these types of services?” “Will it be a long-term demand?” “Do we have/want the ability or obligation to store, maintain, and service the equipment?” And, “Do I have the best suited means for transporting the equipment?”

There are numerous scenarios where ownership makes sense. A large advantage to owning a piece of equipment is accessibility. You always have access to the equipment, you know where it is, and are not subject to availability constraints from a supplier. Then there is the condition of the equipment. Since it’s yours, you know it’s been maintained. Also owning is good from an operational standpoint. You acclimate yourself to your own equipment, you’re familiar with the quirks and know the limitations. Finally, there’s cost savings. For many, it’s cheaper in the long run to invest in your own equipment, as long as the cost of ownership is cheaper than the cost of a long-term rental.

McKeon acknowledges that the case for owning can be compelling. As a general rule of thumb, the cross-over zone between rental and purchase is the usage of the equipment 60 percent to 70 percent of the time.

“In other words,” McKeon said, “if the piece of equipment will be a staple in what you are offering and you will be putting it to use nearly every day, you may want to own it. If it is a mission critical piece of equipment, where any missed delivery time out of your control is too big of a risk to take, and if you already have the warehouse space to be storing it, a reliable means for transporting it, and a technician on staff that services that type of equipment, you will be in a better position owning it.”

Workplace Transparency Minimizes Legal Risk

To safeguard workers and deter legal issues, BSCs demand transparency from their staff as well as their clients.

Bryco Facility Services’ COVID-19 policy includes provisions for clients to notify the contractor immediately should an exposure or potential exposure occur. Likewise, BSCs are obliged to notify their clients should a custodian test positive for the virus.

Open and honest communication with clients is essential to reduce the chances of litigation. Additionally, BSCs should adhere to CDC guidelines and equip employees with step-by-step procedures to follow should they become infected.

While Diamond’s primary concern is his employees’ health, he also grapples with liability issues brought to light by the pandemic.

“In some states, if essential workers got sick during the time the state was on lockdown, they could submit a workers compensation claim,” says Diamond. “That’s an unfair liability risk on our insurance, because if that person has more than one job, how do I know where they got sick?”

Furthermore, Diamond says the absence of liability protection for contract cleaners could leave them vulnerable to lawsuits.

“If we sanitize for a customer and someone gets sick, the customer could claim that we didn’t sanitize well enough and sue us,” he says. “If I make $200 on the job, but risk getting sued for $100,000, is it worth it?”

To mitigate these risks, Diamond advises contractors to engage vendor resources, train employees and stock up on PPE.

“Be diligent about contract tracing and communicate transparently with your workers and your clients,” he says.

Positioned For The Future: Distributors Embrace Virtual

I think we can all agree that 2020 didn’t pan out to be the year we had expected. At this time last year, I was completing my first issue as Editor‑in‑Chief of Sanitary Maintenance. Adding this industry staple to my portfolio of products, I had created a plan for content, education programs and more. I was ready to hit the ground running and we were off to a great start.

Then, within days of mailing that first issue, news of the severity of COVID-19 emerged. A few short weeks later, all my plans for the year went up in smoke and we began addressing the pandemic one day at a time — a reality I’m sure you can relate to.

The good news is, the world finally started to value cleaning and appreciate the essential need for the jan/san industry. The bad news is that the industry wasn’t ready for it. The supply chain quickly broke down, forcing distributors to make adjustments in an effort to continue servicing customers.

But we all adapted and in some cases, found a better way to do business. Distributors quickly found their virtual footing, ramping up e-commerce offerings, diversifying products and shifting to online training and consultation services. As the country shut down and in-person meetings were put on hold, distributors took to Google, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and any other platform they could find to educate themselves and serve their customers.

As outlined in our cover story, virtual meetings have proven successful and will be a staple of future business. Although jan/san distribution remains very much a relationship-based industry that thrives on face-to-face interactions, the benefits of virtual meetings can’t be ignored and are expected to be integrated into a hybrid customer experience moving forward.

If I’ve learned one thing in my 15 years in this industry, it’s that it is always moving and changing for the better. Distributors are at the forefront of that innovation and I believe we are in a great spot to thrive in 2021.

Finding And Keeping The Right People

In April 2020, the national unemployment rate spiked to a record-shattering 14.7 percent. Although the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported a steady decline in unemployment rates since that time, the most recent (January 2021) 6.3 percent remains well above pre-pandemic levels.

As businesses reopen, unemployment is expected to continue it’s decline, but job seekers aren’t necessarily going back to their old positions. Instead, many are looking for roles that are more secure and offer a steady income. Nothing was more steady throughout the pandemic than cleaning.

In fact, the BLS is projecting a job growth rate of 10 percent in the cleaning industry, 3 percent above the national average. This results in the creation of an estimated 236,500 more janitorial jobs.

With numbers like that, BSCs shouldn’t struggle to find qualified new hires. Instead, their new challenge will be retention. Eventually, the insecurity surrounding the pandemic will fade and BSCs need to be ready with retention strategies in place.

With options in applicants, BSCs should prioritize hiring the right person — and not just a body — from the start. Be honest and upfront about the expectations and physicality of the job. Avoiding this step can cause employee frustration and eventual departure.

It’s also important to provide competitive wages and benefits. There are various studies on this fact, but most indicate that the wage gets people in the door, while the benefits are what keep them. Wages matter, but bonus incentives, health care and a positive team environment cannot be overlooked.

For more information on staffing — including reasons why most janitors leave, recruitment techniques and retention strategies — check out the “Building Service Contractor Frontline Labor Report”. It can provide the help you need to find the right people…and keep them.

Reevaluate Cleaning Techniques As Facilities Open

It appears that the United States is on the precipice of having a solution to the tortuous, nearly year-long struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s fair to assume — but not guaranteed — that because of the planned distribution of the two COVID-19 vaccines, many businesses will soon open their doors again, if they haven’t already. That’s good news.

The other good news is that offices, classrooms, restaurants and other venues that will be opening back up will be doing so in a world that’s been forever changed and is indubitably more focused on cleanliness. To deal with this, facility cleaning managers must strengthen dialogues with their customers, reevaluate their cleaning techniques and procedures, and put systems in place to ensure that cleaning quality isn’t later ignored.

Much has been said about how Americans will experience a “new normal” after the pandemic concludes. Sure, the bustle in the office will eventually return, but with a different feel. For example, businesses that do opt to restore in-house job performance in favor of temporary work-from-home situations could do so with drastically different cleaning operations in place.

Most cleaning operations will shift their priorities from cleaning for appearance to cleaning for health and safety, said Mike Sawchuk, president of Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Since the look of clean will now be devalued in favor of cleaning for health — a welcomed change for the many in the industry — building occupants will seek other cues to help them determine that the job is being done correctly.

“They’re looking for concrete examples and specifics,” says Sawchuk. “They want to be told and shown what cleaning and disinfecting you’re doing and at what frequencies.”

It’s hard to demonstrate that these actions are taking place in situations where workers are not visible, like during the more traditional evening cleaning schedule. To prove that the work is being done after the students or employees leave, Sawchuk recommends putting a sticker or log on the door used to enter and exit a room after it has been cleaned. That little gesture gives building occupants a bit more confidence that the room has been cleaned and disinfected because the sticker won’t be broken until they enter in the morning, or the user can view the log entry.

Yes, evening cleaning has typically been the norm, but it could soon be a way of the past. In many cases, scheduling will have to be evaluated and changed so that cleaning is done during the day, says Shari Solomon, president of CleanHealth Environmental, Silver Spring, Maryland. By bringing cleaning to the forefront — unlike it was prior to the pandemic — customers benefit in a couple of ways.

For one, the sight of people cleaning rooms, hallways and objects during the day is comforting, thus delivering some physiological benefits. Secondly, it enhances the overall cleanliness of a facility because frequently-used objects are being cared for as people use them throughout the day.