We sell cleaning products, not software.”

That was the answer Scott Smith kept hearing from distributors when he first tried to introduce them to end-user calculation software. The problem: jan/san distributors didn’t see how calculation software — computer programs that enable users to easily calculate time and cost for particular cleaning jobs — could be an asset to their businesses.

“They didn’t want to mess around with selling anything having to do with computers,” says Smith, president of Rimrock Technologies, Billings, Mont. “My vision for this was to sell the programs to distributors, who could then be a resource for their customers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get distributors to think outside their current inventory categories.”

Similarly, Larry Bier, founder of Breeze Software, Alpharetta, Ga., thought that his company’s brand of calculation software would be an ideal fit for distributors to sell to their customers. “I was a distributor for 28 years in upstate New York,” he says. “When we first went to market, we found that the distributors were just unwilling to sell software. We finally gave up on them because there were other sectors of the cleaning industry that were willing to provide that service for cleaners.”

Now, less than five years later, end users are calling distributors about calculation software, and the distributors are starting to listen. “We’ve sold a few calculation software programs to our customers,” says David Donnelly, jan/san director for Perkins Paper Co., a distributor in Taunton, Mass. “For people who are 35 and younger, computers are what they grew up on, so that’s the way they want to organize their cleaning operations.”

“I’m sure that we will be seriously investigating it in the near future,” says Robert McCann, vice president of American Chemical Co., a jan/san distributor in Charlotte, N.C. “As our contractors get more software-savvy, they’re learning that these programs can keep them from losing profit dollars.”

Time Is Money
Calculation software can be separated into two kinds of programs: bidding and time management. Bidding software is usually more appropriate for buildings service contractors (BSCs), and time-management software, also known as scheduling or workloading software, usually has more appeal for in-house cleaners. Time-management programs allow cleaning managers to calculate the average amount of time a job should require based on the number of employees, the surface area being cleaned, and other key information, such as the time requirements for cleaning fixtures.

“We call it workloading, and it allows managers to have a clear standard for what they expect out of their employees,” says Smith. Every cleaning manager has had employees who don’t log in consistent cleaning times for particular jobs. “A restroom of a certain size should always take a certain amount of time to clean, aside from the number of fixtures and items that require special cleaning,” says Smith. “When the workers are able to manipulate managers, that’s the tail wagging the dog. The software allows managers to enter the specifics of a cleaning job and know exactly how much time it should take.”

Interest in workloading software has increased significantly among both end users and distributors in the past two years, Smith adds. “We have quite a few distributors who purchase our workloading software, which we call SchedulePro, and they strategically use it to increase their business in two different ways: sometimes they resell SchedulePro to their customers, but often they get hired out to print time schedules for their customers. They’re able to sell that scheduling time as a value-added service, and they can make good money doing it.”

There are budgetary reasons for time-management software’s popularity with in-house cleaners, rather than contractors, says Smith. “The cleaning staffs for schools, hospitals and other buildings have a budget that they can spend on scheduling and that type of thing,” he says. “Contractors don’t have budgets. They’re out on a job, trying to make money, so they seldom hire other people to help them with efficiencies.”

Help Them Get the Job
The second type of calculation software, bidding software, allows end users — primarily BSCs — to make accurate bids on cleaning jobs without any guesswork. Cleaners prepare for a job by entering the time that each particular cleaning activity takes. “Just like a carpet installer knows how much time it will take to put carpet on a stairwell, a cleaner should know how much time it will take to clean a stairwell,” says Paul Bard, president of Bard Enterprises, a manufacturer’s rep based in Charlotte, N.C.

“Once an end user knows how much money is being spent for payroll and overhead, that number can be combined with the time for each job to come up with a [bidding] proposal,” says Smith.

Accurately calculating bid proposals may seem like a basic part of everyday business for BSCs, but many of the best cleaners are flying by the seat of their pants — even on some long-time accounts, says Smith. “I have a lot of customers who say, ‘I bought this software and entered in some existing accounts that we already serve, and I realized that we’re losing money on some of these jobs.’ Most end users don’t think about calculating the cost of overhead, and the program helps you do that very easily and effectively.”

“It’s better than just saying, ‘This job is going to be X cents or dollars per square foot,’” says McCann. “The old method has been working for a lot of end users, but they usually don’t realize the total cost of their business. They figure that if it isn’t broken, why fix it?”

A Thin Line
Despite the software’s accuracy, distributors should be cautious when making recommendations to cleaning contractors based on calculation software for bidding. “I feel like we, as distributors, can assist our customers in product selection or product usage — recommending towels, tissues and cleaning chemicals that they should use — but quoting jobs isn’t our area of expertise,” says McCann. “A distributor should be very careful about stepping over that line and making recommendations about quoting. They know how to do that better than we do.”

McCann is right to suggest caution to fellow distributors, says Smith, but he adds that providing bidding software to customers isn’t the same thing as making specific bidding recommendations. “It’s especially good for smaller customers or customers that are just starting out,” he says. “I know it’s surprising to many distributors, but a lot of their customers just don’t know how to bid correctly. A distributor can say, ‘OK, you have this need; you’re having trouble making accurate bids. Here’s a program that will crunch the numbers for you.’ That makes the distributor a great ally for the end user.”

In the end, the distributor has a stake in whether or not a contractor gets an account, Smith contends. For that reason, distributors should feel free to recommend technology solutions that increase customer efficiency while improving the end user’s bottom line.

“Every time a distributor has provided a customer with our workloading or bidding software, that end user has been able to lower the number of hours for each job and increase productivity,” says Smith.

Jan/san’s Calculation Software Vendors

Specific to the jan/san industry, there are two technology vendors that specialize in calculation software for end users: Rimrock Technologies and Breeze Software.

Both vendors started out with their eyes on jan/san distribution, but both were disappointed in the lack of response to the products.

“We do have a few distributors who offer the software for resale,” says Scott Smith, president of Rimrock, Billings, Mont. “Selling programs that crunch numbers for cleaners makes the distributor a valuable resource.”

However, most distributors don’t want to sell software — they’re too busy trying to sell cleaning and maintenance supplies. Not only that, but many manufacturers of cleaning products are beginning to give away calculation software for free, says Larry Bier, founder of Breeze Software, Alpharetta, Ga.

“Some chemical companies are giving out this kind of software package or they’re offering them at a greatly reduced price,” says Bier. “Their programs might not be as specialized as ours, but most distributors figure it’s the same thing.”

Jan/san distributors are wise to at least investigate the technology and find out if it’s something customers want.

For more information, contact Rimrock Technologies at (800) 826-1230 and Breeze Software at (800) 635-4570.




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