Choose products wisely to ensure better stocking results
When the average consumer is at the store, he or she buys soaps, toilet paper, hand towels and other restroom staples without a second thought. That person never gets home and finds that the toilet paper he or she bought is incompatible with the standard home dispenser and might need a special system. Their hand towels don’t ever fall out of a dispenser onto the floor because the manufacturer cut the towel size by one- tenth of an inch. And if the soap dispenser is clogged or empty, someone is more likely to replace it with whatever is on sale than to search out the same brand for maximum compatibility.

But compatibility can be a big problem with commercial restroom supplies, and those same consumers will holler if any of those problems are evident in a public place.

For years, so-called universal systems — systems that have a standard setup, allowing the use of products from a variety of manufacturers — have been the norm, but newer proprietary systems that must be stocked with a special or unique type of towel, paper or soap are becoming more prevalent.

Making a choice about dispensers and products to fill them seems like it would be a straightforward choice — and for the most part, it is — but compatibility issues do rear their ugly head from time to time.

“Occasionally, we have product compatibility problems, mostly due to ordering errors more than manufacturers changing their products, although that has been known to happen,” says Dan Draper, president of Nationwide Janitorial Service, South Bend, Ind.

Another concern, however is if the customer is purchasing product but the contractor is stocking the dispensers, he adds.

This is a gray areas where problems can arise, says Draper. Since sixty percent of cost is labor, if the improper product is costing time for the staff, then it is costing money for the customer and he or she may not realize it.
Also, in the last few years, mergers in the paper industry have shaken up the product line of a few companies, making the choice a little more difficult is specialty lines are involved.

Some building service contractors’ choices are dictated by the existing fixtures in their customers’ facilities; in that case, they need to pay attention to what they order to make sure it will fit what’s already on the wall. But those BSCs who specify dispensers, or who can offer their input during remodeling or new construction, must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each kind of system to determine what’s best for their facilities.

Universal vs. proprietary
Many cleaning professionals prefer the universal systems, citing ease of use and longevity.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Roy Wheeler, accounts manager with Florida Supply & Cleaning Inc., an Edgewater, Fla.-based distributor. “We use only universal systems. This allows us to get the best value as well as [gives us] the confidence to know this is a product that will be around in the future.”

Universal systems are easy because almost any brand name will fit in them, and they are a proven product in terms of durability, Wheeler adds.

With only one system from one company to deal with, compatibility issues can be a thing of the past.

This is not to say that proprietary systems do not have merit; in many situations, these systems may address unique issues.

“Proprietary systems have the unique ability to provide certain benefits, such as electronic hands-free towel dispensers that promote washroom hygiene, or jumbo toilet tissue dispensers that help eliminate product run-out,” says John Drengler senior segment manager for the commercial/ industrial division of SCA Tissue, Neenah, Wis.

Washroom dispenser systems that hold a large amount of product also cut down on labor costs because they do not need to be refilled with product as often, he says.

Though, proprietary systems have more questions that may need to be weighed against the universal systems:

  • Will the manufacturing company continue to produce the unique product line over the long haul?
  • Will the paper or soap product be available in a timely manner to restock my system?
  • Does the cost of a unique system compete with that of a universal one?

In most cases, the universal system and the proprietary system have negligible differences when it comes to performance and cost; the decision is just a matter of end-user needs.

After further review
With all of the factors that need to be weighed and all of the choices that have to be waded through, it is pretty rare to have a contractor who has not had to deal with some sort of compatibility issue, so manufacturers and distributors are addressing the problem through various means.

“We deal with focus groups and real clients to make sure we are in touch with the needs of our customers, and can be ready to meet those needs in the future, by not only reacting to their immediate demands but also by anticipating the needs of the future,” says Joe Doyle, category manager with manufacturer Kimberly Clark.

“After 25 years in the business, you get a feel for what people want. They want to always have product, never run out, and they want it at a good price,” adds Wheeler.

D.M. Maas is a free-lance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis.