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For a long time, each type of soap required a unique dispenser. If a restroom had liquid soap and facility managers or janitors wanted to switch to foam soap, a new dispenser would need to be ordered and installed. Plus the old unit would need to be removed. However, more recently, there have been advancements that now make soap dispensers able to handle a variety of soap options. For example, some dispensers can dispense either liquid soap or foam soap. Others allow even more choices, including liquid, foam, spray and gel soap or hand sanitizer.

Multi-soap dispensers provide benefits in terms of variety, convenience and uniformity. But benefits aren't limited to just end users and building owners. Distributors, too, have their own reasons to be interested in switching to a multi-soap style of dispensing.

Variety

Multi-soap dispensers give facilities a sense of variety. For example, a K-12 school could use foam soap in restrooms frequented by teachers and older students. But in areas with younger children who may be apt to throw foam soap around as if it were shaving cream, custodians can stock these restrooms with liquid soap instead, but still use the exact same model.

This scenario even can be taken a step further: in the cafeteria the same dispenser could dispense hand sanitizer rather than soap.

"Some people want liquids while others want foams, and some people want soaps while others want sanitizers," says Bob Bernet vice president of sales for Kutol Products Co., Sharonville, Ohio.

Distributors should work with customers to help them determine which type of soap will be best for the specific area. For example, liquid soap is generally for high traffic areas; foam helps encourage hand washing; spray is for areas where speed is important because these soaps liquefy quickly; and hand sanitizer is for areas without water.

Distributors can give their customers plenty of refill options, but only need to offer one style of dispenser.

Convenience

If facility managers want to offer a variety of soaps, cleaning departments using single-soap dispensers can quickly become confused determining where each type of dispenser should be installed. However, needing only one dispenser style simplifies installation.

"Customers don't need to decide where to install different dispensers," says Dan Baldauf, sales manager, Palmer Co., Waukesha, Wis. "They can install the same dispenser in all locations."

Custodians refilling the dispensers will also have to remember which refills go with each dispenser. If facilities are not using multi-soap dispensers, then there is no margin for error.

"We sell a lot of these to bars, restaurants and gyms," says Joy Janssen, branch manager and customer service supervisor for Cleanfreak, a division of PTI, Wausau, Wis., "They like the convenience and the cost savings."

Having one dispenser that fits a variety of refill options not only simplifies installation, but it also simplifies the purchasing process.

"One important benefit is the reduction in SKUs, because customers can use a foam, heavy duty or sanitizer in the same dispenser," says Baldauf.

Variety is nice and if facilities change their mind and want to offer a different type of soap, they easily can.

"If they decide they want to start using a different kind of soap, sanitizer or lotion, they don't have to buy a new dispenser," says Janssen.

Building owners want their facilities to look uniform, but they may also want to use both foam and liquid soap in restrooms as well as place hand sanitizer in waterless areas. With multi-soap dispensers, cleaners can place several types of soap options throughout the building, yet maintain a consistent look because only one dispenser is used in all locations, says Lori Huffman, marketing manager, Stoko Skin Care, Greensboro, N.C.

Distributor Help

The benefits of multi-soap dispensers aren't limited to only a distributor's customers. Suppliers, too, can reap benefits of carrying this type of soap dispenser.

First, needing only one dispenser for multiple types of soap can reduce inventory. Most soap dispensers can be used for either soap or hand sanitizer, but only if both products are the same formulation. However, with multi-soap dispensers, distributors don't need to stock separate dispensers for each kind of soap and sanitizer.

"Distributors have told us that the dispenser does simplify things and reduces inventory," says Huffman. "It keeps them lean, but they can still offer a lot of flexibility to their customers."

Just as these dispensers help end users simplify their operations, they can also make the ordering process easier for distributors. Jan/san suppliers have to make sure they are delivering the right combinations of refills and dispensers to their customers, says Hoffman. But multi-soap dispensers can help reduce picking and delivery errors because the same dispenser will be delivered every time.

When convincing customers to make the switch from a single- to multi-soap dispenser, emphasize the flexibility that they now will have by being able to offer different soaps in different areas, but still be able to use the same dispenser for visual uniformity. Also emphasize the ease of purchasing, in that customers can reduce the number of SKUs.

To help make the decision to switch even easier for customers, provide education to customers on where each type of soap might be most strategically placed as a value-added service.

William Atkinson is a freelance writer based in Carterville, Ill.