Productivity gears turning

One of the challenges distributors hear from K-12 schools is that cleaning and disinfecting practices are under scrutiny from parents, teachers and administrators. Increasingly, these stakeholders are voicing their concerns about the effects of cleaning chemicals on students and the environment. Furthermore, schools are introducing cooperative cleaning programs, which call for cleaning products that are safe for teachers and students to use in the classroom. 

For cooperative cleaning programs, Sweeney often recommends pre-saturated disinfecting wipes: “They’re great for wiping down kids’ desks and other high-touch areas — plus you don’t have to worry about having the right mix of chemicals to disinfect,” she says. She also reminds distributors to supply safety data sheets and insist end users have them on hand to address any questions or concerns from occupants about products that are being used in classrooms.   

“There’s a big emphasis being placed on accountability in these schools because people are asking what and how cleaning is being done,” says Mastriaco. “School officials are relying on distributors to make sure they have all that information and it’s accurate.” 

Mastriaco advises distributors to meet with their customers regularly to review their cleaning products. This should include a walk-through of the facility and interactions with the frontline staff.  

“Don’t be afraid to walk a building, look into a closet and see what’s in there,” he adds. “It’s not necessarily what you think should be in there. If you find something out of place, bring that up to the person who needs to know.” 

As with healthcare facilities, K-12 schools are having difficulties filling custodial positions with qualified candidates. At the same time, many school districts have higher cleaning standards as a result of COVID-19, which includes more routine cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces.  

In response, distributors are working with customers to introduce solutions that speed up cleaning and disinfecting, such as disinfectants with faster dwell times and disposable wipes. Distributors should also leverage technologies like autonomous autoscrubbers for gym floors and hallways, which can free up custodians’ time to focus on critical areas and infection prevention measures.  

In addition to product recommendations, school custodial departments are relying more heavily on distributors for training and education, as well as regulatory expertise. Herrera has noticed more user engagement with Maintex’s online learning academy among K-12 schools. And Royal Papers offers a variety of training sessions at its janitorial super center, including seminars on disinfecting and cleaning gym floors. 

“Training is big. It makes sure people understand what they’re using and how to use it,” says Licata. “We invite customers to bring their custodians to learn, ask questions, watch videos and take home as much literature as they need to.”  

Colleges and Universities 

One of the biggest differences distributors see between K-12 schools and higher education facilities is the size and number of buildings that require cleaning, as well as the variety of cleaning tasks they encompass. 

“Universities are larger than K-12 schools, so you have more people and more buildings to clean,” says Licata. “You may also have concerns that you wouldn’t have in K-12 schools, such as bedbugs in dormitories.” 

Indeed, colleges and universities have diverse cleaning needs that present challenges for both the customer and their distribution partner.  

“Colleges have different departments and types of buildings that may require specialty cleaning, such as labs and cleanrooms,” says Sweeney. “With K-12 schools, you’re usually dealing with the head custodian, whereas with colleges you may have to deal with four different people from four different parts of campus. You must figure out how each college operates and reach out to the appropriate person or people.” 

Universities, like K-12 schools, are also being held accountable for their choice of cleaning products and procedures. According to Herrera, this demand, which is primarily driven by students, is placing enormous pressure on administrators to implement sustainability initiatives. 

“We talk to a lot of facility directors, sustainability committees and purchasing officials about sustainable practices, and in many cases, it’s a foreign concept for them,” says Herrera. “We spend a lot of time educating them on why sustainable is better for people but also reassuring them that it can still get the job done.” 

Herrera recommends focusing on third-party certification programs, such as UL Solution’s ECOLOGO and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice, when discussing the merits of sustainable cleaners and disinfectants. Distributors should also encourage universities to look beyond cleaning products for opportunities to implement green initiatives.  

“They don’t just have to clean green,” notes Herrera. “Student housing and on-campus nutrition services have three-meal-a-day cafeterias throughout the campus, so waste management and food service packaging should have some sort of green story — whether they’re compostable or biodegradable.” 

Indeed, customers in both school and healthcare facilities are calling on distributors to serve as experts in their industries and go above and beyond product recommendations to solve their cleaning and disinfecting challenges. 

“End users are doing research to see what funds are available, what they have access to, and what qualifies them to spend money on certain things,” says Mastriaco. “We want to be a partner to our customers, not a vendor. We want to be able to answer their questions and support them in any way we can. It’s not always going to lead to a sale, but it will lead to a loyal customer for a long time.”  

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.

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How to Improve Efficiency While Meeting Cleaning Standards