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Why Maintenance Matters or… OMG, that was just vacuumed yesterday!

Cleaning over 70,000,000 s/f of flooring annually across the country, we get to work in many facilities that are considered best in class as well as many B and C type facilities. However in almost every case, there is a common thread that is disturbing to see and that is the general lowering of expectations when it comes to the upkeep of flooring in a facility. We are often asked who our biggest competitor is today and one would think it would be another specialty flooring company or perhaps the janitorial services industry (they are close second). However the biggest reason we see a drop in facility maintenance is the continual drop in the budget allocated to maintain a facility properly, also known as apathy.

While the results of this may be a better short term bottom line, the long term effects may be more important than one imagines. Poor indoor air quality, higher turn-over (no one likes working in a dirty facility) and higher replacement costs associated with short product life cycles are exponentially more expensive to a company than simply maintaining the flooring correctly in the first place. One cannot necessarily blame the Facility Manager as more and more Facility Managers being given lower budgets and higher expectations, and most of these decisions start at the top.

In the last twenty years of business, we've seen the general price of floor care DROP by over 25-30% although the overall productivity rates to clean carpet and flooring hasn't increased correspondingly, and the labor costs DEFINITELY have not decreased over the last twenty years. In fact, most labor costs have increased an average of 30-40% over twenty years with the increase in health care insurance, wages, etc. The high productivity (i.e.cheap) cleaning method from twenty years ago was spin bonnet cleaning which has the following steps:
1. Spray detergent on the carpet.
2. Brush it in with a bonnet pad.
3. If you are lucky, they post vacuumed.

While most carpet manufacturers today have shunned that system, spin bonnet cleaning has been replaced by it's cousin; encapsulation or “crystalline” cleaning, which is in essence the same process and from a cleaning perspective, provides no better result. The only advantage is you no longer have the horizontal bonnet de twisting the carpet fiber but there is still little to no actual removal of soil happening. The process is:
1. Spray detergent on your carpet.
2. Brush it in with a cylindrical agitator
3. If you are lucky, they post vacuum. The problem here most companies leave the vacuuming up to the janitorial provider, resulting in what you see in the pictures.

Why is vacuuming so important? We recently performed vacuum tests at two Fortune 500 company headquarter facilities. These are companies that have powerful brands and amazing facilities but the problem is they have housekeeping services that use the standard in cleaning today (backpack vacuum), and a schedule that is lacking the necessary frequencies to keep up with the re-soiling. This test has also been performed at dozens of sites across the country.

The test was simple. We used a clean Windsor vacuum dirt scope and vacuumed a 10×10 area and then measured the soil that came out of the test (see pictures). In both cases we performed the test in areas that were on schedule to be vacuumed the night before according to the housekeeping schedule and in both cases, we were pretty shocked to see what we pulled up. The soil retrieved when weighed in both were equivalent to over 2 lbs of soil per 1,000 s.q. That doesn't sound like a lot until you realize both of these facilities have over 500,000 s/f of space. That would equate to 1,000 lbs of soil in the carpet alone….pretty gross especially if you consider that both companies are being told their housekeeping service is vacuuming correctly. To be fair to the housekeeping services, many janitorial RFP's do not properly specify the correct equipment and frequencies nor are the final services often audited enough so when they bid a job, they bid to win. It's an issue our entire industry owns due to the constant “race to the bottom” with pricing in the service industry as mentioned above. As John Glenn, the famous astronaut said, “I wasn't scared, but I was up there looking around, and suddenly I realized I was sitting on top of a rocket built by the lowest bidder.”

So what is a facility manager to do?

1. Stop the soil from coming in the building in the first place. Most facilities have inadequate barrier mat systems so keeping the soil out of the building is the most cost effective way to maintain your facility. Spending a few thousand dollars per entry way on a good barrier mat system is money well spent and much less than the long term cost to remove all that dirt. Oh and that felt covered metal strip in the alcove? Not sufficient.

2. Make sure your housekeeping service is vacuuming WALL TO WALL in high traffic areas daily and lower traffic areas 2-3 times per week. Not just wandering around vacuuming up loose paper clips and visible soil.

3. Make sure your housekeeping service is using a vacuum recommended by the Carpet and Rug Institute. If the vacuum doesn't have at least a powered beater bar, dual motors and a top fill bag, you may as well be sweeping the carpet with a broom.

4. Put in place a professionally managed carpet maintenance program. Why? Because despite the fact that most facilities have a janitorial service provider, most facility managers will agree that vacuuming is not sufficient and that most housekeeping services lack the trained personnel and equipment to properly provide managed floor care. If that was not the case, then we shouldn't be getting the test results we are seeing.

5. Inspect what you expect. If your contract calls for certain equipment and frequencies, you'd be surprised how easily a contractor's performance may slip, especially those using a largely transient, low paid work force. Service companies are the in business of selling human capabilities and we all need checking from time to time.

Providing proper daily maintenance is just as important as the periodic maintenance that all assets require and keeping your facility clean and healthy is not only a matter managing a budget but more importantly, it's about managing a healthy environment for the employees in the building and a projecting a positive brand image.

Using a company that specializes in providing the service you desire and which offers a properly trained and equipped staff may be incrementally more expensive, but the long term advantages will far outweigh the cost. The good news is that by following a few simple steps, once can make a big impact with very little effort while getting better than average results.