People spend a lot of time and money trying to get organized, so they can save time and money. There are hand-held electronic devices, day planners and desk tools. There are closet organizers for your clothes and garage organizers for your tools.

But what have you done to better organize your cleaning operations?

In the cleaning industry, inventory movement and handling could be costing you time and money. How you store your cleaning crew’s equipment and supplies affects their productivity.

Top inventory problems
One of the biggest organizational trouble spots in contract cleaning is getting workers started and in their job areas at the beginning of their shift. People have a tendency to use as much time as they’re allowed to to start their work. Yet, if your cleaners are wandering the building, trying to round up chemicals, paper supplies or tools, you’re dumping money down the drain.

The second problem many organizations face is cleaning workers who are missing in action. The biggest excuse is usually, “I’m on break.” But a very close second is “I need more stuff. I ran out.” Most supervisors don’t know for certain if a cleaning worker has the right stuff at the right time to do the necessary task. A marginal worker often will go MIA and successfully blame it on being unable to find supplies simply to avoid working because its often a true scenario.

By contrast, having too many supplies on the cleaning cart also can sidetrack productivity. I frequently see cleaning carts loaded to capacity with restroom replacement supplies such as paper, liners, hand towels and hand soap. The cart is so full of paper products workers must make a second trip back to the cleaning closet to get the cleaning tools they need.

All three of these trouble spots can cost you dearly. If you have 100 cleaning workers making $6 per hour who waste just five minutes each day you will lose more than $15,000 a year.

Waste also will cost you in terms of customer satisfaction. That’s because employees who spend time looking for supplies and equipment invariably run out of time to perform all the cleaning tasks they are assigned.

Missed work is the No. 1 source of customer complaints.

I know cleaning managers who will argue with a sales rep for an hour, trying to save a nickel on a product. But these same managers make no attempt to harness run-away waste caused by poor inventory handling.

Big savings with bulk storage
There is a way you can avoid this type of waste. Simply put, store cleaning products where you are going to use them. To do that, you’ll need to take a look at the logistics of the buildings you clean.

Start by determining the path inventory travels when it reaches your building. Your most critical inventory is probably consumable items like papers, liners and soap. You can distribute these supplies efficiently inside your organization by using a bulk storage area, pantries and a special check-in area.

The bulk storage area is the biggest storage room in the building. Clients will frequently say they simply don’t have an extra storage room that can serve in this capacity. But usually, they don’t really need an extra room; they may just need to clean out an existing room and get rid of the junk. You’ll probably be surprised how much space is available.

The bulk storage room is the best place to hold large quantities of supplies. Just-in-time (JIT) ordering is the key here. JIT is what you need and only what you need, right when you need it. The bulk storage area should contain at least one order cycle of product and possibly two cycles, depending on how long it takes to receive the product.

That means you must know what products you use and how long it takes you to get them. Be sure to include the time it takes to generate a purchase order, place the order, receive the product and place it in inventory. Don’t forget to adjust for seasonal needs.
If paper is delivered on pallets, it will be stored in the bulk area. Drums of chemicals also can go here, as well as cases of products. Pallet storage is ideal, but shelves also will work for smaller quantities and lighter products.

Some organizations draw a line on the wall of the bulk storage area to show how high product should be stocked. When supplies fall below the line, managers know it’s time to reorder.

The fewer products you have in your inventory, the easier it is to track them. Do you really need seven different kinds of glass cleaner? Take a look at what you’re using and streamline. Color-coding can help you match products and equipment to specific jobs.

Storage for daily use
After inventory has been delivered to the bulk storage area, it will go to one of two other places – a pantry or the check-in area. The pantry holds a week’s worth of paper products. It is restocked on a weekly basis from supplies in the bulk storage area. A day porter or supervisor typically is responsible for restocking. An inventory list describes items that should be found in the pantry, as well as the quantities and when these products were last ordered.

With a pantry on each floor in close proximity to restrooms, cleaning workers easily can carry only the supplies they will need on their carts. There is no need to wait around for a supervisor to unlock the door; give every custodian the key to their respective pantries.

The check-in area should be located where employees punch a time clock or pick up uniforms. This is where cleaning workers receive keys, chemicals, clean mops, rags and any other cleaning materials they will need for an entire shift. By getting all of their materials in one stop, workers avoid time wasting trips back to supply closets or wandering the building.

We once helped a client who was sure he could not possibly get workers on the job any faster. Under his system, it took workers almost 20 minutes after they had punched in to get to their cleaning stations.

We set up a check-in area near the time clock. As soon as employees punched in, they received all of their cleaning materials. There was no need to linger at the custodial closet or search the building for supplies. They were ready to work and at their stations in less than five minutes. This represented a huge labor savings for our client.

There’s not much point in saving time and money on inventory handling if you can’t flow the dollars to your bottom line. You’ve got to capture the time you’re saving by developing a more productive work schedule that will allow you to provide more efficient service to your customers.

John Walker is a regular Contracting Profits columnist. He is a veteran building service contractor; owner of ManageMen consulting services, Salt Lake City; and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.