Manufacturers are continuously developing and tweaking product lines. Consider paper and soap dispenser technology. The market offers large-capacity or compact units, manual or motion-operated units, and the design styles and colors they come in are almost unlimited. Suppliers base product performance and design on what they see as the specific needs of diverse facility operations.

But are end users looking at the same criteria? They should be.

Depending on the facility type and traffic flow, managers might consider large-capacity dispensers designed to hold large volumes of soap or paper. One benefit of large-capacity dispensers is that workers spend less time maintaining dispensers and replenishing products; staff will have more time to focus on other areas.

For high-traffic facilities, like the Smithsonian Institution, a facility that hosted 12.4 million visits in the last six months, dispensers that hold jumbo-size rolls of paper and gallons of soap are a must.

“Since we are such a visited museum we have to look for something that holds the most product so we don’t have to change it as much,” says Nancy Bechtol, facilities manager of the Washington, D.C., museums.

Similarly, large-capacity paper and soap dispensers free up time for the janitorial staff at the Boeing Company to focus on other detailed work in restrooms, says Dave Wortman, workplace services housekeeper.

For some facilities’ restrooms, bigger is not always better. There is a challenge to make sure that the dispensers fit in the tight spaces provided and yet hold a substantial amount of toweling or soap, according to Everett McDonald, housekeeping supervisor of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. For managers in smaller facilities with restricted space, the idea of choosing a dispenser that is large enough to hold a 5- to 10-pound box of soap is unthinkable.

Aside from the limited space issues related to large-capacity dispensers, the larger units also can be difficult for workers to maintain. For example, Wortman says the larger boxes of product made for the dispensers can be cumbersome.

“The bigger boxes of soap were too difficult for the janitors to change,” he says. “[The installed dispensers] should have a large capacity ... but then they are harder to handle for a smaller person.”

Dispenser placement is also important, Wortman adds. If a dispenser is installed too high or too low, workers have a more difficult time filling and cleaning them.

Managers should also research dispenser quality, life cycle costs and product compatibility.

What customers want
In addition to making sure dispensers are staff-friendly, managers also must avoid irritating customers. The biggest complaints about dispensers: they don’t work and they don’t stay stocked with paper and soap. Obviously, customer feedback often determines whether or not a product is specified or survives the rigors of restroom use.

How can managers know before purchasing a product that it will meet performance expectations? McDonald uses a few different methods when selecting quality products. He bases the choice on manufacturer or product reputation; relies on past experiences with a dispenser or one similar; or requests a sample or prototype for testing in the facility.

“We usually test the product,” he says. “We place [the dispenser] in one extremely busy area first to see how it performs before we place it in other parts of the building.”

McDonald has had some products that did not reach his expectations: soaps clog up, which takes too much time to maintain. Visitors and occupants complain when they are left without soap.

Wortman also has his share of problems with dispenser mechanics. He says the biggest hurdle is realizing it is time to replace the system. The best way to prevent having to replace faulty equipment and frustrating the customers and the cleaning staff is to use the product before purchasing it.

“You have to make sure that it is user friendly,” Wortman says.

The latest technology
Some technology trends: touch-free, motion-operated and delay-timed dispensers.

Customers appreciate touch-free dispensers because they can access towel and soap without having to touch dispenser handles or surfaces. However, some managers report having problems with the automated dispenser mechanics jamming.

Managers looking to reduce the amount of wasted product might opt for dispensers with a delay feature. Users who want an extra “serving” of towel or tissue have to wait a few seconds before the dispenser offers more. Managers see the benefits in paper and soap product savings, but some customers complain about having to wait.

Having the sleekest-looking dispensers boasting the latest features may leave customers with the impression that they just visited a high-class facility. However, having the latest styles and designs will not matter if they do not work properly.

“If a [dispenser] leaves no impression at all, then it is a good dispenser,” says Bechtol.

Even class-A facilities choose function over design.

“The only time a dispenser leaves an impression is when it doesn’t work,” says Shawn Smith, hotel services manager, Harrah’s Atlantic City (N.J.) resort and casino.

Product compatibility
Before choosing a dispenser, managers should check into whether or not a variety of products can be used with the unit. Product suppliers might offer free dispensers with the purchase of a particular paper or soap product, but managers reap little benefit if they plan on changing brands of paper or soap down the road.

“The biggest challenge we have is to try to steer clear of dispensers that have one particular product it can use,” says Bechtol.

“There is a frustration that the market is going more towards exclusivity in their products and not keeping it universal. The reason for this is it doesn’t allow for price comparison and price shopping of different products.”

Bechtol — whose job entails running 16 museums — says price greatly affects decisions. She doesn’t want it to be difficult to find replacements or refills for dispensers.

If the dispensers are designed for one specific paper or soap product, managers are forced to stick with that one specific product — regardless of price. A dispenser may have a lower upfront cost and appear to be of great quality, but if it is triple the cost to keep the unit stocked then the dispenser is not cost effective.

“It would be great if [dispensers] were more universal in size and durability but that would take away from the competitive market,” Wortman says.

Managers may have a multitude of product options; however, they may find themselves stuck with a dispenser longer they would like, unless they are willing to buy a whole new unit.

Make careful decisions
“Buying dispensers may be complex because there are so many products on the market,” says Wortman. However, within that variety, managers will find the right dispensers for their facilities if they do their homework.