Floor equipment purchasing options with proven ROI for custodial executives, part one.

Buying floor care equipment is no small matter for an in-house custodial department. Scrubbers, burnishers, vacuums and extractors can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. As the investment goes up, so does the importance of making the right decision about the machine, the supplier and the financing option. It’s no wonder many facility and custodial managers spend a few hours each month staying on top of the latest equipment trends.

“It’s very important in any custodial operation because they are working on such thin margins and on such strong budget constraints,” says industry consultant John Poole. “Companies are looking at any way they can to provide high productivity through equipment.”

A floor machine is more than a motor and wires. It’s an integral part of the cleaning process, designed to increase productivity so management can reduce or redeploy labor hours. That’s a big deal in a labor-intensive industry where man hours account for about 85 percent of the budget.

“At any large facility, the productivity savings are absolutely huge,” says Jack VanReeth, director of environmental services and surgical cleaning services for Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health Systems, which has 2 million square feet and 20 ride-on machines. “We would either do a lot less floor care, or have to dedicate significantly more FTEs toward floor care if we didn’t have those high-quality machines.”

Not sure how much equipment or which floor machines your facility needs? The must-have pieces are not necessarily the ones that have the lowest price tags, but the ones that deliver the best return on investment (ROI), says Jim Peduto, managing partner of The American Institute for Cleaning Sciences in Endicott, New York.

“In a world of tight budgets, buying big-ticket items like floor machines and carpet extractors is a significant decision that can pay big dividends,” he says. “It’s also a decision that the department will have to live with for as long as they have the equipment. Selecting the wrong equipment, even a smaller piece such as a vacuum, could be a costly mistake.”

Before selecting a machine, calculate the payback period. The formula is simple: Divide the equipment cost by the monthly labor savings. (To determine labor savings, refer to ISSA’s Cleaning Times and subtract the hours required for the new machine from what’s needed with current equipment.) The lower the resulting number, the better. Most floor machines have a lifecycle of 5 to 10 years, depending on how well they are maintained. It’s the low end for inexpensive vacuums, for example, and on the high end for larger, pricier pieces like an autoscrubber.

Fully assessing payback periods can not only make the case for a new machine, it could actually reveal that equipment with higher upfront costs can pay for itself sooner than expected. Savings are only fully realized, however, if the productivity gains result in labor hours being cut or reallocated.

“You can save 12 hours with a new machine, but if you don’t change your staffing accordingly, you’re not really saving money,” says Steve Spencer, facilities specialist for State Farm in Bloomington, Illinois. “The problem is, many managers don’t make the adjustment labor-wise when they invest in more productive equipment.”

next page of this article:
Where To Shop For Floor And Carpet Equipment