A strong department and distributor partnership involves training and process specifications. With departments short staffed and short on budgets, distributor partnerships that provide quality ongoing training will prevail over those that don't.

"When I work with a distributor, I always consider what kind of training they can offer," says Jim Pierce, custodial control administrator for the City of Fort Collins, Colo. "Are they willing to train us on a new chemical line or piece of equipment? Do they offer specialty training, or how to best clean to prevent bloodborne pathogens?"

Gene Lesley, Kelsan territory manager, adds that a good distributor partnership will include customized training to meet the needs of each customer.

"Training isn't a one-size-fits-all," he says. "The programs must be customized to fit an operation's specific needs."

For instance, when Paul Acuff, environmental services manager of Catoosa County Public Schools, Ga., added a no-touch cleaning unit to its restroom-cleaning program, Kelsan wrote standard operating procedures (SOPs) that detailed proper use and maintenance of the machine. Later they trained custodians on site and provided each with a copy of the SOP.

Kelsan also developed certification training for the 85 custodians. Workers must attend this free training to learn about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws, how to read an material safety data sheets (MSDS), clean up bloodborne pathogens, general cleaning, floor care, carpet care and more. Custodians then take a written or oral exam to demonstrate their knowledge. The school then receives a rating depending on the outcome of the test scores.

"The training gives credibility to the department and shows the importance of each employee's position," Lesley adds.

Distributor Partnerships That Support SOPs

Kelsan employs a full-time person to write SOPs for its accounts, which Acuff really appreciates. He explains that if as he walks through the schools and spots an issue or an area ripe for improvement, he gives his distributor a call.

"A few days later an SOP comes in," he says.

For instance, when Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Influenza A (H1N1, Swine Flu) outbreaks sounded warning bells for schools across the country, Kelsan came in to help Catoosa County develop procedures designed to prevent the infection.

"We realized during the H1N1 scare, that a lot of kids use the bus every day and bring whatever illness they have with them, so we wrote a cleaning and disinfecting procedure for buses," says Lesley.

"Kelsan actually came in to a drivers meeting and showed our bus drivers how to correctly clean the buses," Acuff says. "We never had an issue with MRSA or H1N1, but we wanted to be proactive rather than reactive."

With Kelsan managing the SOPs, Acuff says he can constantly update them and continuously improve cleaning processes.

"If we see someone perform a procedure incorrectly, we go back, revisit the SOP, make necessary changes, then retrain everyone," he says.

Pushing Products    

While it's true that a distributor's ultimate goal is to sell products, teaming with distributors gives custodial operations a helping hand in putting the right products in place and saving money.

According to Greg Tews, a sales representative at Northern Colorado Paper, an AmSan company, pricing varies by account size. But if an account works with a distributor exclusively, they may see improved pricing.

Lesley explains that many customers understand that in some cases they may pay a little more initially, but realize they will save money in the long run.

"Custodial managers have to understand the value of what we bring to the table," he says. "Catoosa County understands it because they've done it both ways (shopping for the lowest price and paying more for better value). They understand this is a better way to run a program."

Acuff immediately cites his green cleaning program as an example. Developing this program is what prompted Catoosa County to seek out Kelsan in the first place. And the success of this program is a good example of what can happen when a custodial operation works hand-in-hand with its distributor.

Kelsan sold them not on the green products themselves but on the benefits such a program brings in terms of less illness, reduced absenteeism, lower asthma rates and increased productivity.

"When Kelsan started working with us we used 28 different cleaning products. Now we use three," Acuff says. "We mix our own chemicals with a chemical management system that allows us to make gallons of product for just pennies. During the initial switch we did see a small increase in cost, but once we got going, it cost a lot less."

Establishing a positive relationship with distributors pays big dividends. While it's true operations can hook up to Web-order entry and things will go smoothly, when a problem arises, who is going to help, Tews asks.

"Distributors who meet regularly with their accounts know what's going on in their world and the hurdles they face every day," Tews says. And when that tornado or other disaster strikes, that distributor will be there to help.