Strong working relationships are all about building trust, reliability and dependability. These attributes are what set good distributors apart from the rest. They are also exactly what facilities executives should look for, and expect, from their service providers.

For instance, when a major tornado hit Catoosa County, Ga., in April 2011 it devastated Ringgold Middle School and heavily damaged the high school, says Paul Acuff, environmental services manager of Catoosa County Public Schools. But if the tornado strike wasn't surprising enough, what happened afterward caught Acuff completely off guard.

As people offered assistance in the tornado's wake, folks from the district's jan/san distributor, Kelsan, also turned out to help serve food. The company also provided toiletries, toilet tissue, cleaning products and first-aid supplies for the shelter.

"We didn't solicit that help," Acuff says. "They called us and said, ‘How can we help? What can we do?'"

While this is an extreme example of what can happen when a custodial operation develops a strong relationship with its distributor, those who have fashioned such partnerships say the benefits go far beyond competitive pricing to services that exceed expectations.

Greg Tews, a sales representative at Northern Colorado Paper, an AmSan company, agrees. He recently helped a customer obtain a custom pool cover to ensure they got one that fit correctly. He picked up their old pool cover, had a new one made to its specifications, and delivered it himself. All his customer had to do was put it on.

"When you're dealing with a $10,000 pool cover, you want to make sure you get everything right," Tews says. "We try to go the extra mile for our customers. We keep the customers happy so they stick with us."

In both cases, their strategies have worked. Catoosa County has kept Kelsan as its primary distributor for nearly five years, and the City of Fort Collins, Colo., has worked with AmSan Northern Colorado Paper for 13 years.

It's a win-win for everyone involved.

Building Trust

A relationship between custodial operations and their distributors is constructed much like a mason builds a wall — one brick at a time.

"You have to build upon it a little bit at a time until you have a strong trust," says Gene Lesley, Kelsan territory manager.

The relationship begins on the custodial operation side, says Jim Pierce, custodial control administrator for the City of Fort Collins. Custodial operations, he says, must be clear and precise in their expectations, and provide distributors with accurate and thorough information to get the services they need. That includes building sizes, occupant populations, chemical sensitivities and how the buildings are used.  

"Armed with the right information, a good distributor will accurately determine what is needed to safely maintain that facility," he says.

Acuff agrees, stating Catoosa County shares plenty of information about the 16 schools and four off-site buildings its custodial operation maintains. Everything from budgets and issues with products they use, to problems in the school system and their goals for the future are shared with the distributor.

This information also should be revisited often, says Lesley, who notes he maintains daily contact with Catoosa County and hosts quarterly sit-down meetings to discuss problems and solutions, and strategize for the future.

"The district wants continuous improvement, so whatever we did for them last year, they want to grow upon next year," he says. "We listen to what their needs are and the issues they face, and try to react accordingly to bring new and exciting solutions to them."

Acuff says this is one reason he opts to work exclusively with Kelsan.

"We look for cutting-edge improvements and demand procedures that will fit into our programs and our budgets," he says. "If you have one distributor and buy all of your products from them, you have better control and consistency in your program."