business man facing a maze of challenges

Supply chain issues have made product/equipment procurement difficult. How has this impacted your department and how have you been able to work around it?

BEENE: Thanks to our vendors, we’re staying ahead. If our vendors foresee any concerns, they’ll let us know ahead of time so that we can increase our orders. 

KING: We have seen a back order on many supplies. It forces you to search for any vendor that can help you out and supply what you need, or you change processes if necessary. For example, commingled recycling (single stream) may have to go in a clear liner if the green liners are not available. Or maybe you use a smaller mop until the correct size comes in. What you don’t change is making sure to clean and disinfect as it is required and necessary to protect others. 

JONES: We have several existing contracts for paper products, chemicals and other products that might be vulnerable due to the supply chain. We are in constant communication with our existing vendors and we realize the need to order several months in advance, but even planning sometimes falls short. 

WOODARD: UW works closely with distributors and manufacturers to ensure that they understand what the department's equipment and supply needs are going forward. We conducted weekly inventory of critical supplies so that we could readily detect shortages and then reach out to additional distributors if our main distributor could not provide the low-inventory critical supply. 

Product/equipment supply and demand has also resulted in inflated prices. How are you managing price increases and how do you see your department budgets being impacted moving forward? 

KING: All of us are being impacted by increased costs of products and supplies. When you are managing your budget, you see the increase and look to see if there is low hanging fruit that can help remove or counterbalance the higher prices. You may start emptying office trash every other day versus every day, or clean glass only two times a week instead of five. These small changes will help the bottom dollar but are hopefully not as visible. But you can’t change everything, you must continue to use the processes and chemicals in place when it comes to disinfection. 

JONES: There is not much we can do with supply chain costs. However, we do have several contracts and most of our vendors are still honoring the price. I reduced my operating budget for next year mostly because I came in well under budget this year — due to overestimating the amount of hand sanitizer, cleaning chemical, paper products. etc. We do zero-based budgeting and I increased most of my unit cost to current inflationary prices, plus adding a line item for estimated inflation cost. 

WOODARD: As a result of staffing shortages, we were actually building a budget reserve due to salary savings. This allowed us to update aging equipment and/or purchase new equipment that we would have otherwise been unable to purchase pre-pandemic.

BEENE: As of now, if needed, we’ll have to do a variance. As far as next year’s budget is concerned, we’ll increase it and hope it’s approved. 

What challenges do you see on the horizon for cleaning departments as the months go on? 

WOODARD: I believe that helping people manage anxiety due to the stress created by the pandemic will be an ongoing challenge. Ongoing safety training and communication also needs to remain constant. Finally, the fact that not everyone is vaccinated and we’re still experiencing fluctuating mask requirements creates anxiety for those with pre-existing conditions.  

BEENE: Staffing will remain a challenge. We currently have a two-week training program, but I foresee increasing that to a month. While interviewing, I see the need and urgency of the applicant to work, but once hired, I don’t see the urgency to learn. I think increasing the training will hopefully produce a better outcome. 

KING: I hope someday soon we can see the staffing improve and continued evaluation of what we do in each organization to determine what is value added. I think we were all in a phase of comfort — we never worried about toilet paper, trash liners, hand sanitizer, etc. Now that we have been dealing with two years of supply shortages, we can prioritize what we need, when we use it and reduce waste.  

Ensure you have a plan in place for situations when your vendor cannot provide what you need. If you have a good relationship with your vendor as I do, they will call you weeks before you are impacted, tell you what is happening and give you time to put your plan B in effect. Ideally, no one will even know you were dealing with back orders. 

JONES: It will be a huge challenge to complete our normal summer restoration projects in buildings with our low staffing numbers. (Interesting: 2021 and 2022 have had the most retirements ever in the custodial department.) In addition to staffing, we are contending with construction projects, summer school, and normal summer activities and projects. I am hopeful the staffing market will improve through the summer so we can start next year somewhat close to fully staffed. 

Corinne Zudonyi has been the Editor-in-Chief of Facility Cleaning Decisions for 17 years. She also oversees, Sanitary Maintenance magazine and Contracting Profits magazine.

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